Thursday, 31 October 2013

07:57 – I hate Halloween. I’ll have to spend time today hanging garlic sprigs over all the doors and windows and taking other steps to keep the zombies, vampires, and ghosts outside, where they belong.

Whatever happened to the concept of a secured/senior creditor? Detroit proposes to pay its (unsecured/junior) retirees 16 cents on the dollar while defaulting on bonds and other senior obligations. That 16 cents on the dollar is being stolen from senior creditors, just as the Obama administration stole from senior creditors during the GM/Chrysler bankruptcies. Detroit should be paying retirees zero cents on the dollar.


10:49 – I built my first computer back in about 1976 using an 8080A processor, 256 bytes (not KB) of discrete memory chips, toggle switches for input, and LEDs for output. When I was in business school (1983 – 85), a lot of my fellow students were surprised that I hadn’t bought a PC yet. I told them that I was waiting until I could afford to buy a desktop PC that was at least as powerful as the DEC VAX 11/780 I used at work. They told me I’d be waiting a long, long time. They were wrong, obviously.

Although no one has asked me why I haven’t bought a 3D printer yet, the same principle applies. Affordable consumer models are currently itneresting toys rather than serious tools. No slam on them; they’re capable of doing some amazing things. But I want better, faster, more capable, larger, and cheaper. And consumer-grade 3D printers are, of course, getting better, faster, more capable, larger, and cheaper every year. It won’t be long now.

Okay, I’ll admit that I actually did buy an IBM PC/XT back in the day, mainly because I wanted to get some experience with personal computing while I waited for the PC I really wanted. And I may do the same with 3D printers, but I don’t think they’re to the PC/XT stage quite yet.

I suspect that 3D printing is going to be the next “intellectual property” battleground, and those IP owners are going to lose to FOSS and Pirate Bay, just as they have with music, movies, and increasingly ebooks. I’d guess that five years from now there’ll be freely-downloable templates for millions upon millions of items. The next time I need to replace the plastic dogs in the washing machine agitator, instead of ordering them from a website I’ll just print them. And millions of other people will be printing millions of other items every day. The cat is already out of the bag.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

07:35 – There was an article on page two of the paper this morning about using blackface in Halloween costumes. There was, of course, a shot of Al Jolson wearing blackface in The Jazz Singer.

Just to set the record straight… Although Al Jolson is invariably portrayed nowadays as a vicious racist, that couldn’t be further from the truth. From the 1910’s until his death, Jolson was at the forefront in the struggle against bigotry and racism. He was a hero to American blacks and did more than anyone to help break down the barriers that kept blacks out of Hollywood and mainstream music. Jolson was a hero in the struggle for racial equality, and that’s how he should be remembered.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

07:45 – HT to Benjamin Disraeli:

The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Barack Obama fell into the Potomac, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.

The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Harry Reid fell into the Potomac, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged him out again, that would be a calamity.

The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: If Nancy Pelosi fell into the Potomac, it would be a misfortune. But if someone dragged her out again, that would be a calamity.

And to Henry II (although often misquoted):

Will no one rid us of these asshole politicians?

Tie them all up in a sack, tie it shut, and toss it in the Potomac.


Monday, 28 October 2013

09:41 – Al was moved to a regular room yesterday. Frances called yesterday to tell Barbara that Al’s temperature was a bit elevated. They’re keeping an eye on that, obviously, but haven’t moved him back to ICU. We’re hoping that Al will be released later this week and can return home to recuperate.

I have the first-draft design of the earth science kit pretty much complete. That is, I pretty much know what’s going into the kit and have enough of those items either on hand or on order to build a prototype and an initial batch of 30 kits. Items may be added or deleted as I actually write and test the lab sessions, but at least I have a starting point.

One of the items that’ll be on the “You Provide” list is a tub of Crayola Air-Dry Clay, which is widely available locally and on-line. Among other things, that’ll be used to make a 3D landscape model for a lab session on topographical mapping. At least, I think it will. I need to do some testing first, not least to make sure that the clay model, once dried and hardened, will remain hardened if it’s reimmersed in water.

So I asked Barbara to put a tub of the stuff on her shopping list for the next time she goes to Wal-Mart. She informed me that she’s no longer going to Wal-Mart unless she absolutely needs to for something no one else carries. She’s boycotting Wal-Mart, which is fine with me. I don’t like how they do business, and I’d as soon not buy from them. Barbara says she now goes to Target instead. No problem. Target also carries the Crayola Air-Dry Clay, and I’d much rather buy from them.

The last week or so has been pretty chilly for around here. One day, the high was only 50F (10C) and the low was 28F (-2C). But it appears that Native American Summer has arrived. For the next week or so, we’re to have highs in the upper 60’s to mid-70’s and lows in the upper 40’s to lower 60’s. Still, it’s time to make sure the natural gas logs in the den are clean, tested, and ready to go. Every year, I have to use canned air to blow out the tube in the oxygen-depletion sensor. Even the tiniest bit of dust plugs it and cuts off gas to the pilot light. Unless that pilot light is burning, the bimetal strip it heats won’t allow gas to flow to the burners.


Sunday, 27 October 2013

09:25 – Barbara just talked to Frances. Al had emergency surgery yesterday to fix a bowel obstruction caused by a twist in his small intestine. The surgeon removed his appendix while she was at it. She got the bowel resectioned before it burst, but apparently peritonitis was imminent. Al is in ICU, but doing very well. He’s sitting up and talking, and even took a tech-support call on his cell phone from another driver who was having trouble getting the Wi-Fi working on his bus. I suspect that may be the first tech-support call ever handled by a patient in ICU. They may move Al to a regular room today. He’ll probably be in hospital for another few days and then off work for most of the rest of the year, but everyone is pleased at how well things have turned out. Barbara is going to head over to pick up her mom this afternoon and take her to visit Al.


12:56 – The FBI is investigating the police shooting of that 13-year-old boy in California. I’m at a loss to understand why. As far as I’m concerned, that boy should be a favored Darwin Awards Candidate. If I’d been the cops present, I’d have shot him, too. I’d have shot him a whole bunch of times. I’d have kept shooting him until I was sure the threat had been eliminated. Carrying around a pellet gun that looks very much like an AK-47 is going to draw attention. Ignoring the police when they ordered him to drop the weapon, instead turning towards them and raising the barrel, goes beyond stupid.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

09:59 – Barbara met her mom and sister for dinner after work yesterday. She’d talked about stopping at her mom’s apartment after dinner to do a re-scan of the TV channels, so when she called I thought maybe she needed some help getting that done. As it turned out, that wasn’t the problem.

Barbara’s sister’s husband, Al, drives tour/charter buses. He’d been having some GI problems for the last couple of weeks, and apparently things came to a head around dinner time yesterday. He was returning from a charter trip with a bunch of kids, when the GI problem really acted up. He got as far as Statesville, about 45 minutes west of Winston-Salem on I-40, when he decided it wasn’t safe to try to drive any further. So he pulled over. There was a second bus with the charter. The other driver called 911, and the EMT’s showed up. They transported Al to the Iredell County Hospital in Statesville. The other driver stayed with his own bus and Al’s to await a replacement driver. They notified Frances. Barbara didn’t want her driving to Statesville herself, so Barbara drove her there.

The doctors at Iredell consulted with Al’s doctor here in Winston-Salem, and they decided to transport him here to Forsyth Memorial Hospital to determine whether surgery was necessary. Barbara brought Frances back to Winston-Salem and they waited at the hospital until the doctors told them what was going on. Barbara then took Frances over to pick up her car. Frances went back to the hospital and Barbara arrived home about 0230. As it turns out, Al will need surgery, so Barbara just headed back to pick up their mom and go to the hospital. Poor Colin can’t figure out what’s going on.


Friday, 25 October 2013

08:08 – I see that the FDA is proposing to reschedule Vicodin, Oxycontin, and other drugs that contain opioids in combination with acetaminophen from Schedule III to Schedule II. Now, granted, acetaminophen is an extraordinarily dangerous drug. I won’t have it in the house. But hydrocodone and oxycodone? Come on. They’re benign, and shouldn’t be subject to any controls at all. In fact, nothing should be subject to any controls. We should be able to walk into a drugstore and buy a kilo–or a metric ton–of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or whatever we want. It’s our business, not the government’s. And if you doubt that, just look how well their “war on drugs” has worked out, not just for them but for all of us.

I just got a query from someone who wanted us to ship a science kit to Bolivia, and asked if we could do it via DHL. Apparently, theft is rampant in the Bolivian postal service, and any kit we shipped by USPS Priority Mail would likely be pillaged by Bolivia Post and arrive empty. I told the guy that unfortunately we can’t ship via DHL, UPS, FedEx, or other private carriers, both because it’s an administrative nightmare and because of the extremely high shipping charges and additional fees charged by all of the private carriers for international shipments.


Thursday, 24 October 2013

10:26 – Things are kind of peaceful around here. Back during the craziness in August we were routinely shipping four or five kits a day, and some days as many as a dozen. Even though we had plenty of subassemblies queued up, just boxing up and shipping kits kept things kind of hectic. Things have calmed down now. We might ship one or two kits a day, and some days none at all. I think the biggest day we’ve had this month we shipped only three kits.

The good thing about that is that it gives me time to work on the earth science kit, not to mention administrative stuff that I’ve been letting slide. For example, as I was making up kits yesterday I opened our next-to-last case of 100 goggles and noticed that we’re now down to about 150 thermometers. I’d been meaning to re-order, but this morning I finally took the time to get 200 more goggles and 350 more thermometers on order.

I spent some time on the phone yesterday with a guy who teaches an on-line chemistry course at a large community college. He’d been building chemistry kits for students, but said that it had become just too much work. As I said, tell me about it. So, starting with the January 2014 semester, they want to start ordering our chemistry kits, probably 30 kits to start and then 30+ every semester after that. This is starting to become a regular thing, and I’m thinking we might need to shift our focus from only homeschoolers/hobbyists to meet the needs of public and private schools and colleges. I can easily foresee getting to the point where we’re shipping hundreds or even thousands of kits in bulk orders to such institutions.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013

10:04 – I was just looking up some of the “official” definitions of “bullying” and they’re simply bizarre. They include, for example, not choosing a student for a pickup team or not inviting a student to an impromptu party or other social event. The real definition of bullying is a lot simpler than they’re making out. It’s assault and battery or simple assault that would lead a reasonable person to believe he was in danger of death or injury. Teasing, no matter how vicious, is not bullying. Bullying requires that an actual threat of death or injury be conveyed, by words or actions. In other words, “Drink bleach and die” is not bullying; “I’m going to force you to drink bleach and die” is, if that threat is credible.

There are two equipment items that I’d like to include in the earth science labs, but it’s just not practical to supply them with a kit. The first is a stream table, and the second is a wave/ripple tank. Commercial products are extremely expensive, a minimum of several hundred dollars. They’re also large, heavy, and expensive to ship. And, if designed properly, one piece of equipment can serve both purposes. Not ideally, but adequately. So I’m going to have customers build their own combo unit from a 1×12″ and some 1×6″ boards, using nothing but hand tools, screws, glue, paint, and caulk. And, of course, duct tape.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

10:01 – Until now, we’ve been tracking sales both as unit sales and revenue, but I think we may bag the unit sales aspect and just track revenues. When I was analyzing 2013 versus 2012 sales yesterday, I noticed something odd. We were selling more kits in October 2012 than we are this month, but revenues this month are noticeably higher. As it turns out, that’s because we introduced the prepared slide sets last October and a lot of people ordered them alone. In fact, about 1/3 of our unit sales in October 2012 were for just a slide set. That’s why the average revenue per kit for October 2012 was only about $132, versus about $200 this October. Back in January, I changed the way I counted kits. Instead of recording one $52 slide set as a unit sale, I started grouping stuff, such as recording every four slide sets as one unit sale. Obviously, that cuts down this year’s unit sales numbers noticeably. But on a YTD revenue basis, we’re holding at just a bit under twice last year’s sales, which is what really matters.

Most of our increase in 2012 to 2013 revenues has been a result of having additional types of kits available. If we’re going to maintain a year-on-year doubling of revenues in 2014, we’re going to need more types of kits. That’s why I’m working hard right now to get the Earth Science kit ready to go.


12:24 – I was talking to Kim about the latest school shooting, tying it in with what she’d told me earlier about bullying in local schools. Jasmine attended Mount Tabor high school which is one of the “good” local schools. From what Kim said, even there bullying is rampant. Jas wasn’t victimized badly compared to some, but Kim said she “had her moments” of being harrassed by “mean girls”. Fortunately for her, Jas was popular and well-liked so she sufferred much less than many students.

Much though many “educators” try to deny it, boys are not girls and cannot be turned into girls. Boys have Y chromosomes and testosterone. No matter how much they have been “socialized” and drugged-up on prescription pharmaceuticals, boys are genetically warriors. When a girl is pushed too far, she may fight back physically, but she’s liable just to give up and kill herself. When a boy is pushed too far, there’s a real danger that he will arm himself and go berserk, in the original sense of that word. Note that school shooters are boys, not girls.

Unfortunately, I see no way to fix this problem. Doing so would require big changes to society in general and public schools in particular. Those changes aren’t going to happen, so the discussion centers around useless measures such as how to keep guns out of the hands of would-be berserkers, which isn’t going to happen, or how to secure sites that are not securable. I see no future for public schools. Political considerations have made them nearly useless at their putative tasks. Public schools are losing the bright kids in droves, as their parents abandon public schools for private schools and home-schooling. The ratio of kids on the left side of the bell curve to those on the right enrolled in public schools has skyrocketed just in the last ten years, and the departure of the best and brightest continues to accelerate. Before much longer, the overwhelming majority of kids enrolled in public schools will be those whose parents are too stupid or lazy to care.

The way out of this mess is to let the traditional public schools collapse of their own weight. Public schooling has come to be considered a right. North Carolina, for example, enshrines that right in its Constitution. But, although the Constitution says the state has to provide an education to all children, it’s silent on how to provide that education. Nothing requires that the government operate the schools. North Carolina could go to a 100% voucher-based system. Let the public schools compete head-on with private schools and home schools. Let the vouchers be paid for by having state and federal funding belong to each student, to be spent how and where the parents choose. When a public school loses a student, it also loses the funding for that student. As always, the free market will allocate resources immensely better than any government bureaucracy.