Monday, 21 October 2013

09:45 – Our inventory of biology and chemistry kits is getting low, so I’ll take time today to build another dozen or so of each. We have all the components and subassemblies in stock, so it’s just a question of boxing them up.

I was actually surprised this morning by Charles Krauthammer’s column, Redskins and Reason. As far as I’m concerned, he nailed it.

14:12 – I’ve been doing some casual analysis of our revenues this year versus 2012, and I conclude that the actions of the federal government in 2013 have had a tremendous impact. In 2013Q1, our revenues were about six times those of 2012Q1. In 2013Q2, the sequester kicked in and our revenues were 192% those of 2012Q2. In 2013Q3, the government shutdown and debt limit crisis hit just at the end, and our revenues were only 161% those of 2012Q3. Interestingly, the second half of September was the real killer. If the second half of September had only maintained the run rate of the first half, we’d have finished Q3 at close to the 192% gain of Q2. Sales fell off a cliff around 9/15, presumably in expectation of the October budget crisis. October sales may equal those of October 2012, if we’re lucky. It seems that people are postponing or cutting back on consumer spending due both to the higher taxes that kicked in in Q1 and the uncertainty spawned by this month’s budget crisis.

Our original goal was to double revenue in 2013 versus 2012. We may still make that, but it’s not a lock by any means. But if things had continued all year as they started the year, we’d have at least quadrupled revenues and possibly hextupled them. So, I think our modified goal for 2014 will be to increase revenues by 50% year on year. Even that may be optimistic, depending on what the damned government does.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

11:11 – I’m writing up lab sessions for the earth science kit. To meet the end-of-year deadline for a first draft of the manual, I need to complete two or three lab sessions per week from now until the end of the year. I can do two or even three short, simple lab sessions per day, but a longer or more complicated one might take two or three days, or even longer. Still, the goal isn’t to have a finished manual and kit by December 31st. It’s to have a rough draft of the manual and a prototype kit assembled. That should be doable.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

10:14 – More work on kits this weekend. I’ll have Barbara get started on packaging 30 sets of chemicals for the earth science kits, starting with 30 g bottles of copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate, magnesium sulfate heptahydrate, and general-purpose water-soluble fertilizer, not to mention baggies of pea gravel, sand, clay, marble chips, and Plaster of Paris. As a matter of fact, she just left to run errands, including picking up several of those items at Home Depot.

Friday, 18 October 2013

07:36 – I just ordered 12 cases of dehydrated water to add to our emergency stocks. Restaurant suppliers like Bernard Foods are often overlooked as a good source of emergency storable food. The quality of the products is generally excellent–restaurants can’t afford to alienate customers by using poor-quality foods–and the prices are generally quite reasonable.

We’re now in good shape on science kit inventory, so I’m turning my attention to getting the earth and space science kit designed and prototyped. Mostly, that means designing and testing lab sessions and writing the manual. The goal is to have the prototype completed by the end of the year and the first batch of 30 kits ready to ship by February.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

07:36 – As expected, the Republicans caved. They got nothing, literally, out of the “deal”. Less than nothing. It may finally be time to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.

11:26 – Well, that’s interesting. I just got email from an MIT science professor who had nice things to say about our science kits and books, and encouraged me to enter this science kit competition. Our current science kits are ineligible because they’re already commercially available, but the earth science kit I’m working on now is eligible for submission as a prototype/work-in-progress science kit.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

09:16 – You won’t read about it in the MSM, but a lot of people are hoping that the government gridlock will continue, ideally until the next president takes office. As far as I’m concerned, the Republicans’ job at this point is to cut off the oxygen to Obama, Reid, Pelosi, and the rest of that bunch. Don’t give an inch on the budget, the debt limit, or anything else. Force them to spend within their means. If that means the size of the federal government is cut in half, well that’d be a good start.

I’ve just been reading about the case in Florida where a 12-year-old girl killed herself by jumping from a tower in a disused concrete plant, apparently because she was depressed by other girls posting mean things about her on Facebook. As sad as death of any child is, the response of the sheriff was outrageous. He’s charged two other girls, aged 12 and 14, with felonies for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment. From the reports, these other girls are despicable little weasels and poor excuses for human beings. But they didn’t kill the victim; she killed herself. And there’s no excuse for the sheriff violating the Constitutional rights of these other girls, or indeed anyone else.

I made up two dozen chemical bags for chemistry kits yesterday. Today, I’ll make up two dozen chemical bags for biology kit. After we get those four dozen kits assembled, it’ll be back to bottling more chemicals and making up more subassemblies. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

09:29 – We finished watching series 8 of Bones on Netflix streaming last night. Series 1 was, as I recall, pretty decent. It was a serious fictional forensics series, and they usually got the science pretty much right. It started to go downhill fast in series 2 and 3. IIRC, I downgraded my rating from three stars to one star around the beginning of series 3, and ever since I’ve been wishing I could award it negative stars. For the last several series, the writing has been horrible. Not just getting the science laughably wrong. The plots are horrible, as are the characterizations. The dialog is the worst part. The writers apparently pick words at random from a science dictionary and string them together into nonsensical phrases. The dialog will peg the bogosity meter of anyone who has even a minimal background in science, any kind of science.

I’d have stopped watching it in series 2 or 3, but Barbara likes to watch David Boreanaz. I understand. I’d watch something even worse if it featured Emily VanCamp. In fact, I have watched something worse that featured Emily, albeit only a two-hour movie.

Monday, 14 October 2013

09:39 – There was a follow-up article in the paper this morning about a disturbing incident that occurred in Charlotte a month ago. A young man crashed his car at 2:30 in the morning. It was not a minor crash. He had to kick out the rear window of the car to get out. He headed to a cluster of homes and pounded on the door seeking help. The woman whose door he was pounding on called 911. Three Charlotte police officers responded. When they arrived, the man ran toward them. They tried unsuccessfully to stop him with Taser fire. One of the officers then fired 12 shots from his pistol, hitting the man 10 times and killing him.

What’s extremely unusual about this case is what happened next. Ordinarily, one would expect a full investigation of the shooting before the police made any public comment. The NC SBI and other neutral investigators would be involved, and it would be at least several days, if not weeks or months, before a formal conclusion was released. Instead, the Charlotte police department announced that same day that the shooting was not justified and charged the officer with voluntary manslaughter. Neither of the other two officers fired, and a dashcam apparently recorded the whole incident, although the footage has not been made public. On that basis, I assumed this was pretty much an open-and-shut case of an inexperienced cop who panicked and used excessive force.

Unfortunately, the cop is white and the dead man was black, which raises the race issue. Did the cop shoot this guy because he felt more threatened than he would have had the man been white? Did the other officers not fire because they didn’t think the threat level warranted use of deadly force, did they not fire because they froze, did they not fire because they didn’t have a clear field of fire, or what? Why did the cop in question fire 12 times, hitting the guy 10 times? Was the guy still on his feet after being hit nine times, or did the cop continue shooting him after he was down? Did the Charlotte PD rush to judgment trying to avoid another public spectacle like the Trayvon Martin case?

Sunday, 13 October 2013

09:39 – Understanding finger pointing is an extraordinarily complex cognitive function. Until recently, only two species were known to understand it: humans and dogs. Dogs don’t have to be taught to understand it; they do so naturally. Not surprising, given that humans and dogs have been living as symbiotes for more than 30,000 years. Nor is the behavior one-sided. Sometimes, for example, when I throw the ball down the hall it’ll go into Barbara’s office and roll behind her filing cabinet or somewhere else inaccessible to Colin. He’ll come and get me to let me know that he can’t get the ball. He’ll lead me down the hall and stand pointing at the ball with his snout. If he had an index finger, I don’t doubt that he’d be using it to point.

Even our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, do not understand finger-pointing, and cannot be taught to do so. It’s simply beyond their cognitive abilities. But now it seems that there is at least one population of elephants that understands finger-pointing naturally, without being taught. The implication is that elephants are extremely intelligent, more so than chimpanzees but probably not as intelligent as dogs.

I say that because as far as I know there’s no evidence that elephants are capable of deductive logic, let alone inductive logic. Dogs routinely use deductive logic. For example, Colin is excited by anything that makes noise, unfortunately including my laser printers. Many of our science kits have things added immediately before shipping, so when I get an order I carry a kit from the stock room to the kitchen, add whatever needs to be added, tape up the box, and carry the box to the foyer, where it sits on the table to await pickup. Colin watches me doing that, and then trots to my office, where he stands staring at the bottom drawer of my desk. That’s where I keep the shipping labels. After he watches me pull out a label, he shifts his attention to the manual-feed tray, waiting for me to insert the label. I send the label to print and yell at Colin to warn him not to fang the printer. He then leads me back to the foyer and watches me stick the label on the package. Some kits don’t require anything to be added before shipping, so they sit in the stock room taped up and ready to ship. When I take one of those from the stock room and put it on the foyer table, Colin heads for my office because he knows I can’t ship the kit without printing a postage label for it first.

It’s impressive enough for a dog to be able to watch a process and predict the next steps that must occur in sequence to lead to a particular result. What’s even more impressive is to watch a dog use inductive logic–to observe a result and know the steps that must have occurred to lead to that result. And I’ve seen our Border Collies do that often enough through the years to become convinced that they actually do use inductive logic. I know that people think I’m kidding when I say that Border Collies are smarter than some people, but I’m entirely serious.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

08:29 – Netflix sends me emails when a new season is released of something in our queue, but for some reason they don’t send emails to warn when something unwatched in our queue is about to expire. For that, I have to go in periodically and scan the queue. When I did that the other day, I noticed that two concert films I’d put in our queue for Barbara were going to expire on the 16th, Jackson Browne and America.

Guys my age will remember the pop/soft-rock group America from their college days. Most women loved America; most guys couldn’t stand them. Their lyrics generally made no sense at all, and appeared to have been constructed with the aid of a rhyming dictionary. But I fired up the concert film during dinner last night, because I knew Barbara had been one of those many girls who liked them back then. When it started, I commented that the only track they’d ever done that showed any musical merit was Sister Golden Hair, and that they’d probably close with it. Sure enough, they did. They didn’t do a particularly good live performance of it, so I came into my office to find the original studio version on YouTube. (Apparently, Jackson Browne had a lot to do with that track, including I suspect writing the music and lyrics.) But what I also found was a video of a bunch of teenagers doing a cover version. No surprise there. What was surprising was that this bunch of kids did a better version live than America did in the studio.