Saturday, 30 November 2013

08:57 – Barbara has finished installing and decorating the Saturnalia tree, which means I’m now free to walk Colin around the neighborhood wearing the Saturnalia antlers and little red blinking Saturnalia snout cover. I just realized that that sentence is ambiguous. It’s me who wears the antlers and snout cover, not Colin.

That also means it’s time to start planning the ASG (anti-Santa gun) installation for this year. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in previous years, it’s that the old bastard is FAST. So this year I’m thinking speed-of-light weapon, maybe a 4-megawatt UV laser. The utility feeds into our neighborhood can’t provide 4 MW of electrical power, so it’ll have to be a chemically-pumped unit.

Yesterday I decided to add another SKU for the earth science kit, a 30 mL bottle of ACS reagent grade 98% sulfuric acid. We’ll use that in the labs on chemical weathering and the effects of acid rain on plant growth. I thought about using technical-grade acid, which is cheaper and would have been fine for those purposes, but using the reagent-grade stuff will allow that SKU to do double duty. One of the forensic kits includes two presumptive drug test reagents, Marquis reagent and Mandelin reagent, both of which are reagent-grade concentrated sulfuric acid with a small amount of formaldehyde or ammonium metavanadate added, respectively. Both of those reagents are reasonably stable, but they do degrade eventually. So in the past I’ve been making them up on-the-fly as I shipped the kits. So yesterday I made up new batches of Marquis and Mandelin reagent bottles that contained only the formaldehyde and ammonium metavanadate. We’ll also include a separate bottle of sulfuric acid, which will allow kit buyers to make up those reagents themselves simply by adding sulfuric acid to the appropriate bottles, thus extending the shelf life and allowing us to pre-pack those two reagents rather than adding them at ship time.


Thursday, 28 November 2013

08:34 – One of the advantages of ordering so much stuff on-line is that I always have something handy to use for a gift. For example, I realized yesterday that I hadn’t ordered a Thanksgiving present for Barbara. No problem, though. UPS showed up with a delivery from Amazon. So Barbara ended up getting not one but two Thanksgiving presents: a D-Link wireless router and a 3.25 pound (1.5 kilo) restaurant-size box of Idahoan instant mashed potatoes. The beauty of this method is that Barbara, who likes surprises, never has any idea what she’ll get for a gift. It might just as easily have been a case of 1,500 bottles or 500 Petri dishes or 2.5 kilos of salicylic acid.

Barbara left work yesterday at 1500 and stopped on her way home to pick up the Saturnalia tree. We got it set up in the living room. She’s putting up Saturnalia decorations now, and will probably start working on the tree later today. Colin is helping.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

07:48 – Well, this is ugly. Following news that Obamacare has forced something like 10 million people to lose their individual health insurance plans in 2013 comes news that Obamacare may force up to 150 million more to lose their company-sponsored group health insurance plans in 2014. Things are already looking bad for the Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections, and are going to start looking a lot worse. Best case, the Republicans will take control of both houses of congress, repeal Obamacare, impeach and convict Obama for high treason, and send him, Reid, Pelosi, and the rest to Guantánamo Bay. That’s assuming the general public doesn’t catch, lynch, and hang them from lamp posts first.


14:22 – That’s interesting. Apparently, Amazon Prime 2-day shipping actually means two days, more or less. I ordered three items with Prime shipping at 1630 yesterday. Two of them arrived half an hour ago, 21 hours after I placed the order. The third item just shipped an hour ago and isn’t supposed to arrive until Monday, six calendar days after I placed the order.

Now that Amazon has added a watch list to Prime Video, it’s actually usable. I just checked, and we’ve watched a grand total of 86 minutes of Netflix streaming video in the last 16 days. Not that we’ll drop Netflix Instant any time soon. It has lots of stuff that Amazon Prime video doesn’t, and vice versa. At $8/month for Netflix streaming and $80/year for Amazon Prime, we’re not going to run out of things to watch. It’s no wonder that the broadcast and cable networks are quaking in their boots. Other than sports, there’s nothing keeping most people from dropping cable and OTA completely.

If I were a broadcast or cable network executive, what’d be keeping me awake nights is the fear that the sports organizations might abandon me and go direct to customers. If MLB, NFL, NBA, PGA, USTA, NASCAR, and the other sports organizations had any sense, they’d be selling direct to customers and cutting out the middleman. But if they’re going to do that successfully, they need to keep three essential principles in mind: no commercials, on-demand with no black-out, and all-you-can-eat. People don’t want to have the program interrupted by commercials. They want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it. And they want to pay by subscription rather than per view. The organizations that do all of those will make money hand over fist. Those that don’t will regret their decision.

If HBO, Showtime, AMC, and the other cable networks want to remain relevant a bit longer, they need to take the same approach. The sweet spot seems to be $7 or $8 per month for networks with a lot of original content and maybe $3 per month for those with less content. And, make no mistake, original content is key. You can use non-current movies and TV seasons to fill out your offerings, but it’s original content that draws viewers. And even doing that will keep these aggregators relevant for only the next few years. More and more, we’re seeing the actual content producers going directly to their customers, and that’s where the future lies.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

08:07 – We’re still under a winter-weather advisory, but it’s pretty much just cold rain. There may be some ice on bridges, but the temperature is hovering right at freezing and the streets are just wet. Barbara is driving the Trooper today. It weighs about three times what her car does, and if there’s ice I’m happier with her driving something with some mass.

More kit stuff today.


Monday, 25 November 2013

07:52 – Winter has definitely arrived in Winston-Salem. The overnight low was 23F (-5C) and our high today is to be around 41F (5C). We got the gas logs in the den cleaned out yesterday and lit the pilot light. Running unvented on low, they put out considerable heat. On high, they put out as much heat as the furnace. We tend to get ice storms rather than snow around here, and ice storms tend to cause power failures. With the gas logs, we can at least stay warm.

I’m building subassemblies for chemistry kits today.


12:02 – Of the many social-engineering features of Obamacare, here’s the one that offends me the most: ObamaCare slams smokers with sky-high premium costs, could backfire

Under Obamacare, you pay the standard premium if you’ve had eight heart attacks. You pay the standard premium if you are an alcoholic with terminal liver failure. Even if you’re still drinking a bottle of hard liquor a day. You pay the standard premium if you’re a heroin addict with AIDS and multiple organ failure, even if you’re still shooting heroin. But don’t dare use any tobacco products at all, or you’ll be assessed a 50% premium increase, and subsidies, even if you’re otherwise eligible, cannot be applied to that 50% increase. FTA:

“In a worst-case scenario, an older couple who smokes could be “literally impoverished” by ObamaCare premiums, said the report. That couple could pay an $11,352 health care premium, or one-half their annual income of $23,000. By comparison, a non-smoking person over 59 years old would pay 90 percent less, or just $952 after federal subsidies.”

What particularly annoys me is that I smoke a pipe, but they’ll lump me in with cigarette smokers. As any honest actuary will tell you, pipe smokers have fewer health problems than non-smokers, and pipe smokers live longer than non-smokers. That’s why, before political correctness and the demonizing of tobacco, insurance companies did not charge pipe smokers higher premiums for health or life insurance than they charged non-smokers. For that matter, they rated people who smoked 10 cigarettes a day or less as non-smokers, because there is absolutely zero evidence that people who smoke half a pack a day or less are any less healthy than non-smokers. That’s reality. But that son of a bitch in the Oval Office wants me to pay 50% more for health insurance. Not that we’d even be eligible for any subsidies, of course. Bastard.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

10:36 – I’d thought we had enough kits on hand to cover us through the end of the month, but we’re now down to five each of our flagship chemistry and biology kits. Those might last through the end of the month, but it’s also possible they could all disappear tomorrow. So we decided to do short runs of kits just to get our finished goods inventory up to more comfortable levels. We built a dozen biology kits yesterday, everything but the tubes. Because, as I discovered, I’d forgotten to order more tubes. So we decided to leave the dozen biology kits tube-less, along with the dozen chemistry kits we’ll build next. That way, we can allocate our inadequate supply of tubes to biology kits or chemistry kits, as the need arises.

I just cut a PO for cases of test tubes, 15 mL centrifuge tubes, and 50 mL centrifuge tubes, all of which we use in all of our kits. Fortunately, our usual vendor for these generally has them in stock and ships quickly, so we should have them by the end of the week. What annoys me is that the last time we built major batches of kits, I made a mental note to order these things and then promptly forgot to do it.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

09:11 – Kit stuff today, along with regular Saturday stuff. And we need to get Barbara’s new Kindle Fire HDX set up and working.

We just got another kit order from a customer in southern Alberta, which is Heartland country. This one was from a little hamlet about 10 or 12 miles from Okotoks, one of the primary shooting locations for the program. That’s five in the last year to this rural area south of Calgary, three that we shipped direct and two that we shipped to a receiving service just over the border in Montana. Given the relatively sparse population density, that’s pretty intense penetration. Homeschooling must be big in that area. It’s interesting to watch Heartland and know that people around there are using our kits.


12:35 – Very strange. I just had Barbara filling iodine solution bottles. We use 30 mL amber glass bottles for that. She ran out of bottles, so I went downstairs to bring up another case. The bottles are shrink-wrapped in sets of 168. As I cut the shrink-wrap, I noticed it was labeled “Made in Austria”. That’s simply weird. It’s weird enough for me to be ordering glass bottles from New York and having them shipped here, but I get free shipping. Ordinarily, low-value, high-mass items like glass bottles are produced and purchased locally. But these come from Austria? Geez.

Friday, 22 November 2013

07:57 – Fifty years ago today. I was in fifth grade. It was a Friday afternoon. We kids knew something very bad had happened because of the way the adults were acting. A lot of the kids were scared, thinking of the civil defense drills where they had us hiding under our desks from Russian atomic bombs. We knew from the Cuban Missile Crisis the previous year that the Russians wanted to kill all of us and that our parents were terrified. They finally announced that the president had been shot and sent us home early. By that time, the streets around the school were already parked solid with parents coming to pick up their kids. My mother picked up my brother and me and drove us home, where we and my dad sat glued to the TV watching the reports. I remember feeling sorry for the Kennedy kids losing their father at such a young age.


Thursday, 21 November 2013

09:45 – We’re running low on finished kits again, so we’ll spend some time this weekend building batches of chemistry kits and biology kits. I’ve intentionally run down our inventory of sub-assemblies because for 2014 ktis I intend to reduce the number of subassemblies by one by combining items that formerly went into X subassemblies into X-1 subassemblies. I’m also working hard on the earth science manual, with the goal of having a prototype kit/manual ready in time for the SPARK competition, which is to say by year-end.