Wednesday, 21 August 2013

09:41 – I shipped the first half of the virtual school AP Chemistry kit order this morning, a week before the promised ship date. That was 40 kits for the lab component of their AP Chemistry A course. Now we need to get 40 AP Chemistry B kits built and shipped. I gave them an estimated ship date for those of 6 September, but we’re going to try to beat that by at least a week as well.

Abby is stopping over today to show me some sketches of ideas for a logo and handout sheet. Of course, Colin will think she’s come to visit him.

12:58 – I download a lot of free Kindle books from Amazon, who frequently sends me emails like this:

Hello Robert B Thompson,

An updated version of your past Kindle purchase of Misplaced Loyalty (Meredith & Hodge Novels) by Marcia Turner is now available.

The updated version contains the following changes:

–Improved formatting for readability.
–Significant editorial changes have been made.

You can receive the improved versions of all your books by opting in to receive book updates automatically. You can do this by going to Manage Your Kindle at and clicking on the Manage Your Devices section. You will find the option labeled Automatic Book Update.

Alternatively, you can get the updated version of this book by going to Manage Your Kindle. Find the book in your Kindle Library, click on the “Update Available” link next to the book’s title, and then follow the update prompts. All your devices that have the eBook currently downloaded will be updated automatically the next time they connect to wireless.

Amazon is missing the point. I don’t want an option to auto-update titles like this; I want the option to auto-delete them from my Amazon library, along with everything else by that author. If the author didn’t care enough to get it right in the first place, I have no desire to read an updated version of the book, or indeed anything else by that author. There is no excuse for publishing a book riddled with typos, formatting issues, poor grammar, nonsensical plots, and other errors. If the author is too lazy or too sloppy to get it right prior to pushing the Publish button, why would I waste any time on anything else that author has done?

A few typos, sure. I’d bet there’s never been a book-length manuscript published that didn’t have at least one error. But that’s not what Amazon is talking about here. Many free books, and not a few of the commercially-published ones, are rampant with typos, horrendous formatting problems, and other errors. Several I’ve seen are so bad that it’s almost certain that neither the author nor anyone else ever even bothered to load the book on a Kindle and page through it.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

08:09 – Jasmine started her junior year of college yesterday. When I talked to Jas over the weekend, I asked if she was looking forward to starting classes. She waffled a bit, and finally said that she was looking forward to seeing her friends again but returning to classes also meant returning to a very high stress level. It sounds like college isn’t much fun for Jas, just constant work. She doesn’t have much time or energy for parties, or even for socializing with her friends.

I ran into Kim while I was walking Colin yesterday, and we had a long talk about Jas, college, jobs, and so on. Kim expects Jas to do well in her final two years of college, but she also expects Jas to move back in with her after college because she’s afraid Jas won’t be able to find a real job. She said it’s not just Jasmine who’s stressed out and working herself to death. All of her friends are terrified about their job prospects after college, and with good reason. Something like 70% of the new real jobs that will be created over the next couple decades are going to require STEM degrees. Jasmine and her friends–all non-STEM majors–are going to be competing for that remaining 30%, and there’ll be a lot more of them seeking real jobs than there are real jobs available. Most of these kids are going to end up competing for mini-jobs, part-time and temporary minimum-wage jobs at Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and McDonalds. And most of them will be starting out under a crushing burden of student loans. Welcome to the post-employment economy.

Work on science kits continues. We need to get started on a new batch of chemistry kits this weekend. For the first half of the year, we sold about three chemistry kits for every two biology kits. That ratio has changed lately. For the last month or more, chemistry kits have been outselling biology kits about three to one.

Monday, 19 August 2013

12:57 – Have I mentioned that I hate working with hygroscopic solids? I just finished filling 80 bottles with anhydrous calcium chloride, which is not just hygroscopic but deliquescent. Fortunately, the stuff is prills rather than powder. Prilling reduces surface area enough that I was able to fill bottles without going to extremes to keep the stuff dry. Also fortunately, I’d ordered ten 500 g bottles rather than one 5 kg bottle. That was pure chance; one 5 kg bottle cost more than ten 500 g bottles. But boy am I glad that I got the smaller bottles. I’d forgotten how much of a pain in the ass anhydrous calcium chloride is to work with, at least if you want it to stay anhydrous. As it was, I was able to open a 500 g bottle, quickly fill and cap sixteen 30 mL pharma packer bottles, and then move on to the next batch. I’ve also filled batches of petroleum ether and 95% ethanol, which I now need to label and tape the caps of.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

09:18 – This is pretty cool. We started selling science kits in June 2010. In the first 18 days of August, we’ve sold more science kits–units and revenue–than we did in all of 2010. For that matter, to-date August sales exceed our cumulative sales for the first six months of 2011, and for the first three months of this year.

And what’s really cool is that we’re starting to see a fair number of repeat customers, people who bought a biology kit last year and ordered a chemistry kit this year, or vice versa. I think our original plan of building the business slowly and depending on word-of-mouth is working pretty well.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

11:31 – We’re still building and shipping science kits. This weekend, we should be able to finish labeling containers for the state virtual school order and get at least a good start on filling them. We told the customer we’d ship their first 40 kits before month end and the remaining 40 in the first week of September, but I hope to be able to get them all shipped by the end of the month.

I just activated Barbara’s new GSM phone. She’s playing with it now, setting ring tones, entering her phonebook, etc.

Friday, 16 August 2013

14:36 – I’m still building and shipping science kits. Today marks the start of our busiest 30-day period of the year, from mid-August to mid-September. We’re still in pretty good shape on kits, both in terms of finished-goods inventory and the subassemblies needed to build more kits on-the-fly. Unless something completely unexpected happens we should be able to avoid back-ordering kits.

People who see something I’ve printed may think I’m a tweenage girl. I use blue, black, red, green, and brown Sharpies for routine stuff. One of them died this morning and I was looking for a replacement. I thought about ordering a dozen in mixed colors, but that’d be gratuitous. I have a gross of them sitting on the foyer table that UPS delivered yesterday and a bunch more in an inventory bin downstairs. The only problem is, they’re purple. We use purple Sharpies in the chemistry kits because the purple ink works well for paper chromatography. So I decided to ignore my preference for non-purple colors and just grabbed one of them from stock. I’m practicing dotting my i’s with little hearts.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

09:50 – Mid-August and it’s currently 61F (16C) outside, with the highs over the next few days to be in the low- to mid-70’s (~ 22C). That’s more like October or even November weather for us. No let up in the rain, either. We’ve had 3+ inches (7.5 cm) since last Saturday, and the next few days have more rain in the forecast. A cool, wet August is very unusual for us. Usually, we’d be baking, with high temperatures in the 90’s or even triple digits, and worrying about the drought.

I’m still working on science kits. Today, I’m packaging some of the chemicals for that state virtual learning AP Chem order. For some reason, the AP Chem manual specifies a lot of anhydrous chemicals. The problem is, a lot of anhydrous chemicals are hygroscopic, which is to say they suck water out of the air to hydrate themselves. Many are deliquescent, which is to say they’re so hygroscopic that they’ll continue sucking water out of the air until they have enough water to go into solution. You can actually watch this happening with many anhydrates: pour some into a weigh boat on the balance pan, tare the balance, and watch the mass increase as the anhydrate sucks water out of the air. Trying to package these anhydrates while keeping them anhydrous is no fun at all. And it’s a losing battle.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

09:33 – I’m busy building and shipping kits. As of yesterday, our 2013 YTD sales exceeded those for January through November of 2012. We should pass total 2013 sales later this month, leaving us September through December–four of the busiest months of the year–to go. Our original goal was to have 2013 sales double those of 2012, and it looks like that should happen.

13:42 – Here’s an interesting column by AEP about what’s happening in solar. Solar power to trump shale, helped by US military

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

12:23 – Things are a bit hectic around here. We’re shipping lots of kits, and we just got an order yesterday from a state distance-learning program for 40 custom AP chemistry kits, which will ship the last week of August and the first week of September. So far this year, we haven’t had to back-order even a single kit for a single day, and I’m hoping to keep it that way. Our current finished-goods inventory is in pretty good shape for now, although we’re about to head into the crazy time–the last half of August and the first half of September. With a couple of exceptions, we have all the raw materials on hand that we need to make a bunch more kits, so it’s just a question of getting bottles filled, subassemblies built, and finished kits made up.

Monday, 12 August 2013

07:23 – I got email over the weekend from a long-time reader who, like more than a few of my readers, is becoming increasingly concerned about societal breakdown. He wants to store a year’s worth of food for him and his family, but they’re a young couple with a toddler and can’t afford to spend much. He looked at the emergency food page on Costco’s website and was horrified at how much it’d cost him to store a year’s worth of freeze-dried foods for his family.

I told him, in short, not to worry about buying expensive freeze-dried food. Instead, he should be buying canned and regular dry food. I told him to ignore the “best-by” dates on canned foods. We just bought some canned food at Costco that has a best-by date in 2015. The reality is that that canned food will be just fine–nutritionally and taste-wise–for at least 20 years, and probably much longer. I remember back in the late 60’s or early 70’s when they raised a riverboat that had sunk in 1865. Among the many items they recovered were numerous cans of food. Scientists evaluated that food for safety and nutritional value and found that it was still safe and still provided good nutrition. In some cases, the appearance and taste were a bit off, but not enough to make it inedible, particularly in an emergency. So those cases of canned pork and beans, vegetables, fruit, and so on from Costco are going to be fine for 20 years, minimum. About the only nutritional loss over the next 20 years or more is likely to be vitamins A and C. Big deal. Stock up on multivitamins and keep them in the freezer. Same deal on dry foods. Costco sells 20-pound bags of white rice in heavy plastic bags. I told him they’ll be fine 5, 10, and 20 years from now, even stored in the original heavy plastic bags. Same thing with stuff like dry beans, macaroni, and so on. Vegetable oil has among the shortest shelf-lives of common foods, and even it should be good for at least five years in an unopened container.

And, with a few exceptions, the same thing holds true for storing medicines for an emergency. I have, for example, some amoxicillin, metronidazole, sulfadimethoxine, and other antibiotics in the freezer. The expiration dates are mostly in 2014 or 2015. The truth is that all of those drugs will still be safe to use and effective 20 years or more from now. There may be a slight loss of potency, but not enough to matter. Same thing for the dozen or more other classes of drugs I have stored, from antihistamines to analgesics to antdiarrheals. Particularly when frozen, these drugs maintain potency for decades.

So, I suggested that each time they make a Costco run, they buy at least two at a time. If they’d ordinarily buy one bag of rice, buy two or three or four. If they’d ordinarily buy one case of canned corn or baked beans, buy two or three or four. Stick one of each in the pantry for current use, and the rest on the shelves in the basement. That avoids one mistake people often make, which is to buy emergency food that isn’t stuff they regularly eat. This way, they’re buying only stuff that they eat regularly, and they can cycle it through so that the new stuff they buy always goes into storage. Once they reach steady-state, they’ll have a year’s supply of food on the basement shelves, and they’ll be eating canned and dry food that averages a year old. Which will be indistinguishable–nutritionally or otherwise–from the same items immediately after purchase. And, of course, the other advantage is that if any of the food you purchase ends up being recalled for contamination or whatever, you won’t have eaten any of it yet.

Finally, he was worried because he hadn’t found much information about storing food for their dog. I told him not to worry about that, either. Dog food wasn’t even invented until something like 1935. Until then, dogs ate human food from their masters’ tables, and they got along just fine for 35,000 years. They were just as healthy and lived just as long on human food as they do on all this specially formulated dog food. In fact, I suspect that dogs still lament the invention of dog food, because every one I’ve ever known much preferred table scraps. And, having read about what goes into dog food, I can’t say I blame them.

I continue to be amazed by just how inexpensive decent scientific equipment can be nowadays. A couple weeks ago, I ordered a scale from Amazon with milligram (0.001 g) resolution and a 20 g capacity for twenty bucks and change. A little while ago, I ordered a pH meter from Amazon with 0.01 pH resolution and automatic temperature compensation for $105.

Barbara and I got a lot done over the weekend, including building another small batch of the CK01A chemistry kits. We’re in pretty good shape now on all of the kits except the CK01B chemistry kits, of which we have only five in stock. So today my first priority is to build some more of those. I have everything on hand to build another 13 of those, so that’s what I’ll do. Then it’ll be back to working on the next batch of 60 biology kits.