Saturday, 21 December 2013

08:16 – With Christmas so near, kit orders have tapered off a lot. We shipped only three kits yesterday and have only one outstanding order so far today. Orders should pick up again the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, presumably because people have Christmas money to spend. Last December we did about 25% of the month’s business in that period. Meanwhile, we have a bit of a breather.

10:11 – It’s been a bad week for bigots. On Thursday, gay marriage became legal in New Mexico, and on Friday it became legal in Utah. Gay marriage is now legal in a third of the states. I suspect it’ll be legal in all states by the end of 2014. Let’s hope so, anyway.

Friday, 20 December 2013

08:06 – A USPS representative called me back yesterday to say that my lost package probably wan’t actually lost, but just temporarily misplaced. He said that the very high volume of package shipments combined with severe weather was giving USPS fits. That’s also why some of the “2-Day” PM packages are taking three days. He suggested I give it a couple more days before assuming the package is lost. I told him that I’d already shipped a replacement to the customer and that that replacement had already arrived. He suggested I just tell the customer to mark the second one “Refused” when it eventually arrives, and it’ll be shipped back to me.

Interestingly, USPS appears to be back on schedule. The orders I’ve processed this morning for shipping today are “Priority Mail 2-Day” and are scheduled to arrive Monday, as I would normally expect. If that holds up, it means any orders I ship today and tomorrow should arrive by Tuesday.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

07:54 – We’re in good shape again on biology and chemistry kits, so today I’ll focus on forensic kits. We have everything we need to put together another 30 forensic kits, except half a dozen or so chemicals that we need to make up and bottle before we can assemble the chemical bags.

11:48 – I just finished making up the last two solutions I need to make up more forensic science kits: one liter each of phosphate extraction reagent and molybdate reagent. The first is ammonium sulfate in a solution that’s about 33% sulfuric acid, about the same concentration as battery acid. The second is ammonium molybdate, also in 33% sulfuric acid.

The phosphate extraction reagent made up with no problems, yielding a nice clear pinkish-tan solution. The molybdate reagent was obnoxious, as always. Even with reagent grade chemicals, a scum forms on the top of the solution. Oh, well. At least it’s reagent-grade scum.

I was about to filter the solution when I came to my senses. Pouring 6 molar sulfuric acid into a filter paper cone would char the paper very quickly, so filter paper is a no-go. The first time I made this stuff up, several years ago, I ended up building a sand filter. That worked, at the expense of considerable time and effort, not to mention losing a fair amount of the solution to the filter itself. Subsequently, I’ve always done what I eventually did today; carefully decanted off the clear solution, trying to keep as much of the scum as possible in the beaker. Good enough.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

09:52 – I’m building chemistry kits today. When I got up at 0645, I had four in stock. I’ve shipped two of those so far this morning. I’ll build another dozen today and hope those’ll hold us for at least a couple days. Then I need to get to work on more forensic kits.

Yesterday, when I handed that replacement kit to Danny, our mailman, I mentioned that the first one had disappeared somewhere between Winston-Salem and the Greensboro sorting facility. He was extremely apologetic, but I told him that I wasn’t at all upset. Losing one out of 500 packages is an acceptable loss rate as far as I’m concerned.

What is strange is that in the last couple of weeks the USPS has apparently changed its definition of “days”. Until a couple of weeks ago, if I shipped a package Priority Mail 2-Day, it’d show the delivery date as two days after the mailing date. Now, although the label still says “Priority Mail 2-Day”, the delivery date is shown as three days after the shipping date. I haven’t shipped any packages lately that show Priority Mail 3-Day, but I assume that they’d in fact take four days. I’m not sure what’s going on.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

07:57 – Yesterday I sent out the Polarizing filter sets that I’d backordered on several forensics kits we’d shipped. I sent email to each of the recipients to let them know their backordered filter sets were on the way to them. One of them emailed me to say that his kit hadn’t arrived yet. It shipped the 9th and was scheduled for delivery the 12th. When I checked the USPS tracking, it turned out that they had it being picked up on the afternoon of the 9th and then transferred to the processing center. After that, nothing. They’ve apparently lost it.

Oh, well. I’ll ship a replacement kit today and ask the buyer to refuse a second kit if one eventually shows up. Nothing to get upset about. Just a cost of doing business. I just checked, and USPS has sucessfully delivered about 500 kits since the last time they lost one. A loss rate of about 0.2% is close enough to zero not to matter.

14:06 – I just finished making up enough subassemblies to build another couple dozen chemistry kits. We’re in decent shape on biology kits, but we’re down to one forensics kit in stock. So I’d better get to work making more of those.

Monday, 16 December 2013

07:53 – Other than late August and early September for the start of autumn semester, this week may be one of our heaviest weeks of the year for shipping science kits. What’s interesting is how the mix has changed. Ordinarily, we ship roughly equal numbers of biology and chemistry kits, with just a few forensic science kits, maybe 8%. This month, it’s been 35% or 40% forensic science kits with almost all of the remainder chemistry.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

10:57 – I still can’t find the Polarizing filters that I apparently misplaced. The forensic science kits include a set of two in a coin envelope. My inventory says I’m supposed to have 15 sets and 40 individual slides in stock, for a total of 35 sets worth. I don’t doubt they’re around here somewhere. They’ll turn up, no doubt. It’s not like they have a limited shelf life.

So, at any rate, desperate for Polarizing slides to make up forensic science kits, I ordered another 100 slides a week ago today. I kept waiting for them to show up. Finally, this morning, I checked the USPS tracking number on them and learned they’d been delivered Wednesday. Crap. So I checked the pile of stuff in my office, all of which I thought was Saturnalia gifts. Sure enough, there the slides were. Oh, well.

12:31 – I hadn’t read any details about the Colorado school shooting until this morning. I knew that the shooter was an 18-year old male student and that he’d shot one other student, who was in critical condition. As it turns out, that student was a 17-year-old girl named Claire Davis, who is now fighting for her life.

Having any bystander shot this way is tragic, but it bothers me even more when the victim is a girl. What was this punk thinking? Too bad he didn’t shoot himself first.

The anti-gun folks can’t say much about this one. None of their proposed “solutions” would have had any effect whatsoever. The shooter used a legally-purchased shotgun with a standard magazine capacity. Not even the lunatic-fringe anti-gunners would ban such weapons. There’s no way to stop such outrages. Even if every teacher and administrator had been armed, they could not have prevented what happened, short of shooting the kid simply because he was carrying a firearm.

The solution, if there is one, is to change the entire culture of public schooling to reduce stress on students. Shift the standard school day forward by two hours. The school day should start at 9:00 or 9:30 a.m. and run until 4:30 p.m. or thereabouts. Don’t start schoolbus pickups until 8:00 a.m. Teenagers need at least eight and preferably nine hours of sleep. Reduce homework to at most two hours a night. Most homework is simply busy-work anyway. Let these kids get the sleep they need. Eliminate all standardized testing until the SATs in the senior year. Re-introduce tracking systems, and divide kids early into academic and vocational tracks. Consider re-introducing single-sex classrooms. There are a lot of things that could be done to reduce student stress levels. Something needs to be done. Gun control laws aren’t the solution. In fact, they’re part of the problem.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

09:42 – Rainy and chilly today and tomorrow. Good days to stay inside. I’m doing laundry and kit stuff right now. Barbara’s sitting out in the den watching Glee on Netflix streaming while she does kit stuff.

We desperately need to get more kits built this weekend. We’re currently down under half a dozen CK01A chemistry kits and negative three FK01 forensic kits. By Monday morning, we should be in good shape again.

Friday, 13 December 2013

08:02 – Friday the 13th falls on a Friday this month.

If last year is any indication, we expect to see pretty heavy kit sales this coming week. We’re down to only 16 of the BK01 biology kits in stock, eight of the CK01A chemistry kits, and zero of the FK01A forensic science kits. Today and over the weekend, we’ll build six more of the forensic kits–which is all we have components ready for–and build subasssemblies for another dozen. I can use those to build more forensic kits on-the-fly if we run out of finished kits. We’ll also build a couple dozen more chemistry kits and, if we have time, build a batch of subassemblies for more biology kits.

14:21 – Good grief. I see on the CNN and FoxNews websites that there’s apparently a big brouhaha taking place over the skin colors of Jesus and Santa Claus. In the interest of sanity prevailing, I must point out that both of these characters are imaginary. They exist only in lies told to children and other credulous people. There is absolutely zero evidence that either of them ever existed. What kind of moron gets upset over the skin colors of his imaginary friends?

Thursday, 12 December 2013

08:23 – Netflix Instant is obviously under pressure from Amazon and other video streaming vendors. Netflix is having to pay much more for the rights to stream programming, and it’s really starting to show in their selection of new titles. For the last few months, I’ve noticed that their new material is heavily skewed towards material from Korea and other Pacific Rim countries. For at least the last three months, their “Recently added in TV Shows” category has been more than half Korean and other dubbed material. I’m sure they get this stuff for almost nothing, and I’m equally sure that almost none of their subscribers have any interest at all in watching it. It’s simply a cheap and cheesy way of padding their catalog. Even so, at eight bucks a month Netflix streaming continues to offer incredible bang for the buck.

I’m not sure what’s going on with kit sales to foreign customers. Over the past year our sales have been steadily about 95% domestic, with nearly all of the remainder going to Canadian customers. Lately, 15% to 20% of sales have been to customers outside the US, with Canadians, Australians, and Brits about evenly split.

I read an interesting report yesterday about generosity by nation. The generosity in question was not foreign aid, but individual generosity, measured not only in monetary contributions but in willingness to help others, contribute time and work, and so on. The PDF included a table of the top 10 over the past five years. Positions 1 through 6 were held by the US, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, and the UK. It’s probably not a coincidence that all of these are English-speaking countries.

09:46 – Congratulations to John Farrell Kuhns, whose Heirloom Chemistry Set Kickstarter project has nearly reached four times its original $30,000 goal. That’s with only a month gone and two weeks remaining.

Several people have asked me why I’m supporting and promoting a competitor’s project. The short answer is that I don’t really consider John to be a competitor. We focus on different markets. But even if John were our competitor, I’d still support his project because I think it’s important that kids have as many good options as possible for getting involved with hands-on science.