08:37 – One of the rewards of doing what we do is getting emails like this one.
I just had to write to you right away and say that I am so glad to have found The Home Scientist! I am a homeschool parent, and have been looking for a lab component for my daughter’s chemistry studies next year. I love your book Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, but I was slightly intimidated by the job of choosing labs and especially procuring all the supplies. I just don’t have that much time to give to one of many subjects. So when another homeschooler on a homeschool forum I’m part of mentioned your ck-01, I checked into it and am thrilled.
In our “about us” section you write: “There is a crying need for affordable, rigorous, secular hands-on science lab curricula and science kits for homeschoolers.” This is exactly right on. The lack of such curricula is a continual source of frustration for homeschool parents who may or may not be religious, but who understand that evolution and an old universe that runs according to scientific principles are simply matters of scientific knowledge, not theories up for debate. And who don’t want scripture quotes at the beginning of a chapter on covalent bonding or dichotomous keys. And who don’t have an unlimited budget. And who want real, meaty labs rather than glitzy gee-whiz demonstrations that always seem to either bubble or turn colors.
You should know that you are getting a good reputation, at least among people on the large homeschool forum I use. People talk about how your labs actually work most of the time, about your quick turnaround time on orders, about your communicativeness when they have questions.
I was so pleased when I saw that your lab manual was all there on the internet for me to peruse at length. It felt like you were saying, “We have nothing to hide. Go ahead. Take a good, long look. We think you’ll like it and then you’ll want to buy our product to go with it.” Well, I did, and I do. Hence the order I just placed.
I am glad to read in your “about us” section that you are continuing to write for homeschoolers. I think–I hope–you may find a very grateful market. We’ll keep our eyes on your web site.
29 Comments and discussion on "Thursday, 5 September 2013"
Look at the English composition, writing style and literary perfection in that letter. You are certainly catering to the cream of the top.
And now for the other end of the spectrum, parental.
I love my daughter dearly and will do anything for her. Consequently, yesterday was the first day of the current school year that I went down to help her in the second grade class in which she teaches. The school is in a neighborhood of 100% Hispanic parents of recent immigration (illegal, of course). The contrast between those and your customers could not be more notable.
While I haven’t bought any of his kits yet, I’d like to thank our host for his fine work. Bob isn’t just talking about the dismal state of science education in the United States. He is doing something about it. There are already hundreds of kids out using his kits to learn about science.
I hope The Home Scientist continues to grow, not just because Bob is an online friend, but because his science kits will help make science education in the United States better.
Thanks. I keep thinking we need to do something for engineering as well, but I’m not sure how to go about it, especially since we couldn’t assume calculus.
I keep thinking we need to do something for engineering as well, but I’m not sure how to go about it, especially since we couldn’t assume calculus.
I would not worry much about the math. For engineering, I would look at working (stress, machining, cold roll, hot roll) various pieces of metal and looking at the results on the crystalline structure of the metal. I was fascinated about that at my strength of materials lab. I’m not sure how good the microscope must be.
I would also look at building something (a small truss or such) out of various materials (various woods, aluminum, iron, steel, brass, combinations of wood with steel joints) and measuring the crush strength. Very illuminating on why things break.
Also, wind shear in becoming a big deal in the engineering community for homes on the coasts or in the tornado alleys. Calculating such and demonstrating the effects of wind might be a very interesting series of labs.
Also measuring the effects of water damage to various common building materials might be interesting. Failure is always cool!
Yeah, that’s a nice letter to get from someone, and even I, a “hyper-literate” and recovering English major am impressed.
61 here today in Retroville and sunny with blue skies; a gorgeous day on the Bay. Mrs. OFD is sweltering down in Sarasota, Florida but will be back late tomorrow night for about sixteen hours, total, before leaving for three weeks in Kalifornia. Time to start lining up the hotties, the booze and the dope for some major-league partying here.
As I’ve said, homeschool parents tend to be much brighter than average, so it follows that they’re also more likely to be well-read and literate. This letter is pretty representative–in tone, writing quality, and otherwise–of the many similar letters I receive every month.
But it actually goes further, as Slim commented. Our materials tend to appeal to the brightest of the bright. Many homeschoolers are interested in meeting credit requirements and completing checklists, so anything good enough to qualify as a “lab course” will suffice. Our kit buyers tend to want very rigorous, wide-ranging labs that will challenge even very bright kids, and our kits qualify in spades.
If I were you, I’d skip engineering for at least the next couple of years. You have an obvious market, and I’d be inclined to keep targeting that market. You’re obviously targeting high school home schoolers and working to expand to junior high school home schoolers. I think you have enough on your plate with this.
I’d heed DaveB’s advice. You’ve obviously found a niche and are filling it well and word-of-mouth and web will only expand your orders. You’ve never yet hired employees and d0n’t know how to manage them. You’d think it would be simple, but it’s a really a pain in the ass. Fill your plate to over-flowing with what you’ve got, then expand when you absolutely must do so.
I like the brainstorming on engineering. Even simple explosions can be useful lab experiments.
How much CO2 is released when a Mentos gets dropped into a bottle of Coca-Cola? 😀
You’ve never yet hired employees and d0n’t know how to manage them. You’d think it would be simple, but it’s a really a pain in the ass.
AMEN!!!!! I’ve got 10 people at the moment (including self) and am a horrible manager. I’m even worse at hiring and the absolute worst at firing (got to do that last June 28 for someone trying to cook the books).
But, having multiple employees is the only way of getting multiple things done. Unfortunately, people’s effectiveness rapidly goes down with the size of the organization. I estimate that we are at 60%. Large organizations may go down all the way to 20% effectiveness for people. I used to work at an electric company with 16,000 employees, TU Electric (now kinda TXU / Luminant) where it was tough to get things done due to all the people standing in your way.
Actually, I have. Back in the late 70’s I ran operations for an industrial security company. Not a rent-a-cop operation. More rent-a-SEAL/rent-a-Ranger/rent-a-Green Beret/rent-an-SAS, literally. All of us were heavily armed, so everyone was quite polite.
I was responsible for scheduling, which isn’t as easy as it sounds, particularly when we had to have 24-hour coverage at each site and I never knew from one moment to the next, literally, how many sites I’d need to cover for the next shift.
I’d estimate I’m at 400% to 600% right now. You think that’d go down if I hired someone?
John McEnroe and all the other sports yappers do need an education in atmospheric physics. They love to pontificate on how high humidity renders the air “heavy” resulting in fewer service aces and home runs.
In reality, with a molecular weight of 18, water vapor reduces the density of dry air with a molecular weight of 28.8.
Outside of that, it’s yappity-yap and jabber-jabber until the next commercial.
They love to pontificate on how high humidity renders the air “heavy” resulting in fewer service aces and home runs.
What high humidity does do is make the ball heavier, so fewer HRs. It’s one reason why baseballs are kept in humidors in a couple of ballparks.
I’d estimate I’m at 400% to 600% right now. You think that’d go down if I hired someone?
Nope, you and Barbara are at 100% effectiveness right now. If you hire someone then they will be at 80% and you will drop to 50% while you train them. So then you will need to hire a couple more people and your effectiveness will drop even further. Sorry but management sucks.
The real problem is, how long can you keep hustling and building kits? Actually, it is probably good both physical and mental exercise so it is a benefit for you.
I could see RBT and BFT (initials?) as rated at 600% based on “average work completed accurately per 40 billable hours”. We’ve had this discussion here several times before, mainly relating to union work rules.
If I were writing a homeschool engineering lab book, it would make several points:
– application of theory and mathematics to design
– difference between theory and reality
– finding the best satisfactory solution for several competing requirements: cost, schedule, satisfaction curve, buildability. (eg, anyone can design a bridge that can withstand a 8.0 earthquake. The engineering comes in making it at minimum cost by a certain deadline, not butt-ugly, and not destroying or disrupting all infrastructure for a mile around during construction.)
– dealing with change – change in requirements, schedule bumped, parts no longer available, parts don’t meet spec
And probably more which I could think of if I’d gotten more sleep.
The good thing is that all of these principles are domain-independent. They apply equally well to circuit board design, bridge design, boat windshield design and manufacture, or software development.
“What high humidity does do is make the ball heavier, so fewer HRs. It’s one reason why baseballs are kept in humidors in a couple of ballparks.”
Perfect, but they do not explain it that way. Additionally, I would expect the fuzz wearing off the tennis balls has as much affect on drag as absorption of water vapor does. Of course, that is why tennis balls are changed every half dozen games.
While on the subject, another total myth of the tennis jabber jockeys, and Chris Evert was yapping it up, the issue of player touch on a short, drop volley up at the net. As if the player can feel the ball on the strings and with that touch, adjust the angle and motion of the raquet to make the winning shot.
Before engineering, how about a physics book? What about maths?
At the high school level, there’s a great deal of overlap between physics and engineering.
I could see RBT and BFT (initials?) as rated at 600% based on “average work completed accurately per 40 billable hours”.
Solar eclipse on Mars:
Wild, one of my mother’s neighbors got bitten by a rattlesnake last weekend:
Mom has visited him a couple of times and said that he is not doing well. He is 70+ years old. He said it was 5 ft long and and a inch and half thick.
The coast of Texas is real bad about rattlesnakes. About 24? years ago, my kids were playing in my parents driveway and suddenly came running in screaming “snake, snake!”. My brother and I tore out there and saw its tail disappearing under a concrete wall in the front yard. Lots of rattles. We found a 5 gallon can of diesel in the garage and poured it down the hole. Never saw a rattlesnake around there again. All we’ve seen are rat snakes and coral snakes. Had to buy my dad 5 more gallons of diesel for his tractor though.
98 F here in the Land of Sugar today according to the truck thermometer this afternoon.
It takes a particular mentality to be a good people manager (being a bad manager is all too easy). It requires people skills that seem to be completely independent of technical/scientific ones, or even of standard intelligence.
I love technical work. I made the classic mistake of running my own little IT company for a few years. Mistake, because I then had almost no time left to do technical work. It was all management, networking, marketing, accounting – horrible stuff. I don’t know how Lynn does it – it definitely wasn’t for me.
Managing people, even really good people, soaks up your attention and time. Hiring works best through networking: a mutual acquantence who knows both people can often judge if it’s a good fit or not. Otherwise it’s a real crap shoot. I hated having to fire people, no matter how bad they were…
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One thought on an approach to teaching engineering: Develop the mentality that everything is an engineering problem. An engineer’s life revolves around solving one-off problems that often have no mathematically perfect answers. Life is full of problems like that.
One recent example: My wife recently wanted to import some spent (used, but empty) whisky casks. To get an offer for transport, she needed an estimate of how much a spent cask weighs. Given different sizes, ages, and anyway how much whisky the things have soaked up, there is no “correct” answer. What’s a good number to work with? (For the record, I was off by 33%.)
Wild, one of my mother’s neighbors got bitten by a rattlesnake last weekend:
When I was a wee lad, about 16 years old, I get smacked in the foot by a rattle snake. Fortunately I was wearing boots and the fangs only got into the leather and not my skin. The snake died an immediate and horrible death. That was a mistake as snakes on the farm are good for rodent control. I have also been sprayed by a skunk and nothing protects you from such an event.
It takes a particular mentality to be a good people manager (being a bad manager is all too easy).
All too true. I was a manager of the data center for a large credit union. It was killing me and destroying my relationship with my family. I was not manager material. I was eventually fired as my responses to the software provider were less than politically correct when the provider did something stupid, which was often. Best thing that ever happened to me.
I am now back in a technical position, doing software. Dead end job. No advancement, ever. But it is low key, low stress and my nights and weekends are again mine. Pay sucks but it is enough to pay the bills and the rest of the shit don’t matter. My health and family are more important than prestige and money.
I was made a manager at 22 and put in total charge of night operations at an Indy TV station. When you produce or direct TV programs, you automatically manage at least a half-dozen people—in Chicago that expanded to about 30+ people. I did not have hire/fire authority early on, though, which made the situation more difficult. I did get that later in my career; it really is intolerable to be placed as manager over people some other incompetent hired.
In my work, it might be easier to identify people who know their stuff and separate them from the bullshitters; I never had any problems with my own hires. When I worked in Chicago, the big boss would not allow people to be fired, except for exceptional failures. He insisted that the person be tried in another job—as many as 4 times in one case—until some job worked and finally clicked with the individual. You have to be in a rather large organization to have that kind of latitude, although I always respected his method. We had to do incredible investigative work before someone was hired, but that was made easier when you knew somebody who had worked with the person and could get an assessment from them. Broadcasting is a small world really, and finding someone to give and evaluation was not as hard as it sounds. Once hired, that person was considered part of a family-like team, and it took a lot to get fired.
Of course, nowadays, the lawyers will not let most bigger organizations give out assessments of anyone. Enough companies have been sued over their employees’ recommendations that the company hiring found incorrect, that the last place I worked fulltime would only give out a person’s tenure dates and their job title for those dates. Everyone in management was cautioned never to discuss an employee’s work evaluation with anyone outside the company—ever. I am still bound by privacy agreements with former employers about such things—and my own salary, even though in one place, we were a non-profit funded in such a way that the salary of everyone on staff was required to be published in the newspaper once a year. Weird.
“All we’ve seen are rat snakes and coral snakes.”
Aren’t coral snakes more venomous than rattlers? Related somehow to cobras?
No venomous reptiles here in Vermont except for a couple of rock ledges way down in the southern paht of the state on the Vampire State border; timber rattlers. And of course the lawyers and lobbyists and politicians at the Snake House in the capital.
Coral snakes have small fangs (1/8″ to 1/4″) and are docile. Plus they cannot extend their jaw to bite and or eat large objects. That said, they are extremely poisonous. The largest that I have seen was 3 ft long which my neighbor promptly chopped up. Most are 1 ft to 1.5 ft long and skinny.
“Red and yellow kill a fellow, red and black friend of Jack”
My mother was talking to another neighbor one day and he reached down and picked up a snake. Mom said that she screamed “red and yellow, red and yellow” and he said “what?”. She replied “Coral snake” and then he dropped it and said “I thought it was a rat snake”.
Regarding engineering, there is an excellent pair of books written for the layman that might stir up some ideas. I first saw them mentioned in the old Whole Earth Catalog.
Note that used copies from half.ebay.com should be a lot cheaper. Great stuff!
(So did anyone else appreciate the Whole Earth Catalog as I did? Lots of sound stuff along with the hippy-dippy bits.)
I’m pretty sure I read the first one many years ago, but I don’t see a copy on my shelf. I put it in my wish list at Amazon for the next time I order. IIRC, it was good enough to be worth re-reading.
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