Monday, 30 September 2013

09:25 – Paul and Mary weren’t available yesterday, so Barbara and I did a Costco run by ourselves. As usual, we picked up three more cases of 35 half-liter bottles of water. We’ll keep that up until we have at least 500 liters of stored water. Call it 30 cases. The stuff was on sale yesterday for $2.09 per case, or six cents a bottle.

Barbara labeled and filled a bunch of containers yesterday, and left me with a bunch more that are labeled and need to be filled. I’ll work on those today.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

09:36 – Barbara is ironing and cleaning house this morning. I’m filling bottles. The 5 mg of prednisone that Barbara gave Colin yesterday pretty much stopped the itching. She gave him another 5 mg this morning, which we hope will clear things up for good. No more after today, or possibly tomorrow. It does make Colin pee buckets, though. Last time out last night, he stood there for literally two minutes peeing on a bush.

I’m trying to get back up to reasonable inventory levels on all of the science kits. We’re past the big start-of-semester rush, so at a guess we’ll sell 40 or 50 kits/month through December, but it could be 60 or 70. Most of the chemicals we include in the kits are stable, so there’s no downside to having a bunch in stock. For example, there’s no detectable difference between a bottle of 6 M sodium hydroxide solution that’s five years old and one that’s five minutes old. Since labeling and filling bottles is the most time-consuming part of building kits, that lets us get a jump on things.


Saturday, 28 September 2013

11:13 – Still working on kits. I’m doing laundry. Barbara just headed out to run errands. Among other things, she’s going to pick up a couple of 120 liter bags of vermiculite, which we use as an asborbent for packing chemicals. She was also going to pick up some 1% hydrocortisone spray for Colin’s legpits, which he’s scratching raw from allergic itching. We’ve tried diphenhydramine, loratidine, and most recently chlorpheniramine, none of which work very well. But this morning Barbara found a dozen 20 mg prednisone tablets that I’d squirreled away in the freezer. She just gave Colin a quarter tab, which may be enough to knock down the itching. I asked her if I should give our vet, Sue Stephens, a call and ask her to prescribe another 30 or 60 20 mg tablets, but Barbara said not to bother. Those dozen tablets she found are sufficient for 48 doses, which she probably won’t use up in a year or two. The 5 mg dosage is very low and she seldom administers it for more than a couple of days, so we don’t need to worry about tapering Colin off.

I’m still spending spare moments designing our new kits for 2014/2015. I’m well into Earth Science, which’ll be teachable as a middle school or high school level lab course, and I’m stubbing out AP Chemistry and AP Biology. And I keep thinking that we really need to do at least a first-year level physics course.


Friday, 27 September 2013

11:13 – Barbara had a scare last night. At 1958, the phone rang. It was Barbara’s mom, who was apparently confused and feeling faint or dizzy. Barbara told her to pull her alert cord and sit down to wait for help. Her mom apparently hung up on her. Barbara ran back to get her cell phone to call the managers at Creekside to ask them to go check on her mom, and asked me to call her mom back. Barbara then headed for car to drive over there. I called, Sankie answered, and I told her who I was. I asked if she’d pulled the alert cord and she said she hadn’t. I asked if she was sitting down. She said she was standing, and then apparently dropped the phone. I shouted her name, but there was nothing but dead air. So I hung up. This was at 2003. I was about to call Creekside again when the phone rang. It was one of the managers at Creekside. He said he was with Sankie and said that in his opinion he should call 911. He asked my permission, since 911 charges several hundred dollars if they’re called out and don’t have to transport the patient. I told him that he was there and I wasn’t, so if he thought she needed 911 to call them. A few minutes later, Barbara called on her cell and said she was following an ambulance that she suspected was the one responding to the 911 call for her mom. A while later, Barbara called to say she was with her mom and the 911 responders were checking her. Apparently, they decided she didn’t need to go to the emergency room, so they left. Frances showed up around then, and she and Barbara sat with Sankie to make sure she was okay. Barbara finally made it home about 2230. I really, really hope this was an isolated incident. For a year or more, Barbara and Frances were on 24-hour call for Dutch, having to drop everything and rush over to the apartment or the emergency room. They simply can’t go through that again.


I just finished making up 10 liters of fertilizer part A concentrate, which is sufficient for 1,000 liters of working-strength solution, or 80 biology kits worth. I have 75 bottles already labeled, so I’ll probably fill those today, along with a few hundred other chemical bottles.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

10:37 – CBC posted four short video clips yesterday of Heartland star Amber Marshall’s wedding. Within a few minutes they were also up on YouTube. My impression of Amber’s new husband, Shawn Turner, is that he’s a solid guy. When he’s on camera, I can tell what he’s thinking, “I can’t believe she’s going to/has married me!”

Amber is her usual down-to-earth self. The wedding was held at her/their ranch. On the morning of her wedding, Amber wakes up and mucks out her chicken coop. She then drives into town to buy the flowers for her own wedding. Whatever the opposite of Bridezilla is, Amber’s it. As of a week before the wedding she hadn’t actually planned anything, although she said she “had some ideas.” On the laid-back to stressed-out continuum of brides, Amber definitely anchors the laid-back end. On the morning after her wedding, she’s cleaning out her barn, disposing of the refuse from the wedding and reception. I predict a long and happy marriage for those two. And, yes, she literally did ride in on a horse instead of walking down the aisle.

Work on science kits continues. At this point, things have slowed down, but we’re still shipping 15 or 20 kits a week. That means we have to keep building kits constantly to keep up. I’m not sure what happened in June and July. Ordinarily, those would be heavy months, but this June and July we barely beat the results for June and July of last year. I suspect it had something to do with the expiration of tax cuts and the sequester because we’re by no means the only business that saw volume tail off during those months. The other months have been good, with sales of 1.5 to 10 times as much as the same month in 2012.

All in all, it looks like 2013 will be pretty decent year for us, and 2014 should be considerably better. Which is good, because the morning paper listed the ObamaCare rates for us and the surrounding counties. It looks like a “platinum” policy will cost Barbara and me somewhere around $1,500 per month before the tax rebate. Of course, we won’t get any subsidy because we make too much money. Bastards.

I think it’s interesting how political correctness impacts rates. The single factor that trumps everything in true health insurance is pre-existing conditions, but ObamaCare policies won’t take that into account. A terminally-ill 27-year-old pays the same rate as a healthy person of the same age, which of course means that all the healthy young men are being forced to pay much more than they should to subsidize the ill men. Another major factor in real health insurance premiums is sex. Women cost much, much more to insure, particularly those of child-bearing age. A 27-year-old woman should pay at least two or three times as much as a man of the same age, but that would not be politically-correct, so under ObamaCare she pays the same premium as a man. Then there’s smoking. Cigarette smokers do and should pay much more for life insurance, because they don’t live as long as non-smokers (or, come to that, cigar and pipe smokers). But cigarette smokers should pay lower health insurance premiums than non-smokers, because smokers tend to die younger and of diseases that kill quickly. Non-smokers are the ones that cost the insurance company money, because they live longer and tend to suffer chronic diseases that are very expensive to treat. Of course, smoking is totally non-PC, so smokers get hammered under ObamaCare. The one thing that surprises me is that ObamaCare doesn’t penalize people for being overweight, which is about as non-PC as smoking.


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

09:13 – It’s a cool, drizzly morning and it’s down to about 71F (22C) in the house, about where we keep the temperature during heating season. I drink hot drinks only during cool or cold weather, and I just started making a pot of Earl Grey tea for the first time since last spring.

Kit sales are sporadic. We shipped four kits Saturday, eight kits Monday, three yesterday, and only one so far today. But there’s apparently no way of predicting. We could ship ten kits today, or we could ship just the one. Tomorrow, we might ship none at all, or we might ship half a dozen. Whatever happens, our inventory of kits is now at a comfortable level and, as always, we’re in the process of building more.


11:39 – Well, kit orders just reached five for today, so far. I’m busy building and shipping kits, but I’m still trying to devote some time to planning/designing future kits. I could spend all my time for at least a year or two doing just that.

I already know what the first two new kits for 2014 are doing to be. First, Earth Science, which I’ve been working on as I have time available. Second, I need to design a kit for the state virtual school AP chemistry course. I’ve been shipping stuff directly to the school in bulk, sufficient for them to assemble 40 AP chemistry kits. This year, the state virtual school is providing the kits to homeschool parents, but in 2014 the state is getting out of the kit business. Parents who want their students to take the virtual school AP chemistry course will need to buy the kits themselves, and we’ll ship directly to them. That raises a stocking problem for us because no one, including the virtual school staff, has any idea how many students will be taking the course next year. This year, it was 40. Next year it could be 22 or 222. And, of course, all the orders are likely to come in within the space of a week or two, and all of the customers are going to want their kits Right Now. I think what we’ll probably do is build 30 or 60 kits in anticipation of a flood of orders next May and just make sure that we can build more relatively quickly.

I also want to do a CK02 chemistry kit in 2014 for AP chemistry students, and a BK02 biology kit for AP biology students. Neither of those are likely to sell as well as the corresponding first-year kits and both will require signicant design work and time to write documentation, but both are kits that I want to have in our stable. Finally, although it probably won’t happen in 2014–even the AP Bio & Chem kits may not happen in 2014–I want to do kits for first-year physics students and AP physics students.

Obviously, I have a lot on my plate. Current jobs like building and shipping kits have to take priority, which limits how much time I can spend on new stuff. Barbara currently puts in several hours most weekends on kit stuff, but she still works full-time at the law firm. We’ve discussed her retiring from the law firm or perhaps going to flex-time and shorter hours there, but I suspect it’ll be at least the end of 2014 (when she turns 60) until we see any movement on that front. Eventually, I’d like to see Barbara working full-time for our company six or eight months a year and having the remaining four to six months a year free to travel and do other things she enjoys doing.

That means I’ll need to get Barbara up to speed on all aspects of the business other than designing kits and writing lab manuals. I’m the one who has to do that, but Barbara can do everything else. Everything from filling out sales tax and corporate reports to processing orders and shipping kits to maintaining raw-materials and finished-goods inventory and cutting purchase orders to making up solutions. Barbara is smart and sensible. She can do all this.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

08:06 – I just shipped the last biology kit we had in stock. Fortunately, I finished building more biology kit subassembies yesterday, so I’ll get another batch of the biology kits assembled today. We’re also getting low on chemistry kits and forensic kits again, so I’ll get started on more of those.


14:09 – Hmmm. As I was assembling a biology kit, the phone rang. It was someone from Microsoft, although he had a very thick foreign accent. He told me that their monitoring had detected that my Windows computer was infected with a horrible virus. Not to worry though. He was going to direct me to a website where I could download and install a scanning utility that would find and remove the virus. I wish I’d had time to screw with him a little, but I’m too busy. So I just told him that I had no interest in installing his hostage-ware and that it wouldn’t run under Linux anyway.

I’ve actually thought about starting to answer the phone, “Federal Trade Commission, Telephone Fraud Investigation Division, extension 2549, Thompson speaking, how may I help you?” I’ll bet I’d get a lot of hang-ups. In fact, I’ll bet I wouldn’t make it all the way through my greeting on many of the phone calls I get.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

11:16 – Autumn is here and our weather reflects that. Our highs over the next week are to be mid-70s F (~24 C) and our lows in the mid-50’s F (~13 C).

Which reminds me of a little-known fact. One of my undergrad chemistry professors was adamant that “C” stood for “centigrade” rather than “Celsius”, no matter what any standards body said. As he pointed out, on the centigrade scale water freezes at 0 degrees and boils at 100, whereas on the Celsius scale water freezes at 100 degrees and boils at 0. So, to this day, I speak the name of the scale as centigrade rather than Celsius.

I picked up Barbara at around 1800 yesterday. I got there at 1705, just in case. I didn’t want her and Marcy to end up standing in the rain waiting for me. Colin and I are delighted that she’s home. Colin’s behavior changed while Barbara was gone. If there was one thing his mother taught him as a puppy, it was that paws require frequent washing. Ordinarily, Colin washes my front paws every chance he gets, several times in the evening while we’re watching TV and at least a couple of times in the middle of the night I’ll wake up to find him washing my front paws. And he does a good job. It normally takes him at least four or five minutes per paw. If they’re particularly dirty, he’ll chew gently as well as licking. The whole time Barbara was gone, he didn’t wash my paws even once. Last night, he started back in on washing them. It took him much longer before he was satisfied, seeing as how they hadn’t been washed for a week. He finally called it done and went to sleep again, but he woke up later and did a second pass on them.

I’m still working on stubbing out the manual for the EK01 Earth Science Kit. Public schools teach earth science as both a middle-school course–usually grade eight–and as a high-school level course. I think the middle-school level courses are pretty much wasted. The rigor is typically very low, and the expectations correspondingly so. Few colleges even consider the middle-school level science courses in a student’s transcript, and rightly so. So I’m going to do this manual and kit at the high-school level, if not first-year college physical geology. There’s nothing there that a bright 14-year-old shouldn’t be able to handle.

But “earth science” as taught in most schools isn’t just geology. In fact, the course is often named “earth and space science”. So, although there’s no need for a kit for astronomy, I think I’m going to include an astronomy lab component. Of course, for astronomy, “lab” is really observational astronomy. I’ll keep the “labs” simple and try to require only a binocular or perhaps an inexpensive telescope like the 4.25″ Orion StarBlast. Or perhaps I’ll just make the kit cover geology labs and perhaps one or two on topology and so on.

I frequently hear from homeschool parents with kids who are destined to major in STEM. They’re concerned because four years of high school gives them time for only four lab science courses, unless they double up. But there is an alternative, and it’s what I did when I was that age. I spent summers dividing my time between playing tennis and doing science. In other words, I did a full year’s worth of science every summer. A semester is 18 weeks or 90 school days, basically a quarter of a year. Kids typically do classes 180 days a year, or half a year, spread over two-thirds of the year. That’s roughly 500 school hours per semester, or 1,000 school hours per year. But homeschool parents have complete scheduling flexibility. Trying to do four full semesters a year would be really pushing it, but doing 2.5 or even three is within the realm of possibility. Assuming a summer break of roughly 12 weeks and running summer school three hours a day five days a week is sufficient time for the equivalent of one full-year course or two one-semester courses over the summer. If that time is devoted to science, that means a student has time in grades 9 through 12 to take eight full years of lab science rather than only four. Even at only 1.5 hours per day five days a week, that’s six years of science instead of only four.

That’s time to do two full years of chemistry, two full years of biology, and two full years of physics. And if the kids do two semesters’ worth of science every summer rather than one, that leaves time for four full semesters of additional science. Things like microbiology, molecular biology, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, physical chemistry, an engineering course or two, and so on. Knowing what I know, if I were 14 years old now, that’s what I’d do. My real goal would be to skip undergrad entirely, be accepted into grad school at age 17 or 18, and get my doctorate at age 21 or 22.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

07:16 – Barbara gets back today. Colin will be delighted when she walks in the door. So will I.


11:50 – Ruh-roh. It looks like I’ve come to the feds’ attention.

I got a forensic kit order this morning. When I ship kits, I send email that provides supplemental information and asks purchasers where they heard about the kits. So, here’s the response I just got…

[…] I actually ordered the kits for my senior level high school forensic science class. I attended a forensic conference in California where an ATF agent did a power point presentation on drug analysis. He used one of the drug labs in your book to analyze over-the-counter drugs. I already purchased your book last year. There are a lot of great labs in the book that can be done in the classroom. I teach biology also and will be ordering the biology book at the end of this year.[…]