Friday, 31 January 2014

09:44 – Barbara is picking up her sister this afternoon and heading down to the hospital in Thomasville to visit their mom. Sankie is not doing very well, and they’ve decided she’ll be better off at home. Barbara and Frances are going down to Thomasville again tomorrow morning to meet with a home health care provider that will be providing sitters to stay with Sankie around the clock when she returns home Monday. Barbara and Frances think she’ll do better if she’s surrounded by her own stuff in her own apartment and can get back into her regular routine. I hope they’re right.

I’m still making up and bottling chemicals for kits. I’m trying to take some time to work on the two new kits we plan to introduce this year, Earth & Space Science and AP Chemistry. We’ll produce the latter kit in two forms, a standard kit for homeschoolers and a classroom kit designed to support four workgroups–eight to twelve students–in a formal public or private school setting. The classroom kit will be consumables only, assuming that standard lab equipment–balance, glassware, etc.–is already available.

Derek Lowe has posted the first decent write-up I’ve seen about the chemical spill in West Virginia. It’s worth a read, particularly if you’re not a chemist.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

09:09 – It’s currently 17F (-8C) with a stiff breeze. The forecast high today is a degree or two below freezing. We had maybe an inch (2.5 cm) of snow from about noon yesterday through late evening. I’m sure the main roads are plowed and salted, but secondary roads and residential streets are still in bad shape. Barbara drove the Trooper today. She didn’t even bother to take it out of 4WD when she got home yesterday afternoon. Today I’ll be making up solutions and filling bottles for more kits.

I just got back from walking Colin. We just went down to the corner and back, but I took him off-leash this morning, for the first time since he was a small puppy. He followed our usual route, and came on the run each time I called him. I’d trust him off-leash routinely except for one thing: there are a couple of dogs in the neighborhood that he really, really doesn’t like. One of them, Jack, a full-size poodle, lives down at the corner. Jack is extremely aggressive, and nearly attacked Colin once. Jack approached us on a dead run, snarling as he came. Colin’s hackles rose and his fangs bared as he prepared to do battle, and I had actually started my turn to snap-kick Jack and break his spine when he veered away and took off running. No one ever said that poodles aren’t smart.


10:46 – Oh, yeah. I installed the Roku 3 box yesterday and put the old Roku box on the shelf to serve as a spare. The new one works fine with Amazon Instant and Netflix streaming, which is all we care about. Amazon looks the same as it did on the old box, but now we have the new Netflix interface. I’m still not sure whether I like it or not. Supposedly the Roku 3 is much, much faster than our old Roku, but I don’t see any difference. The new Roku drives our TV at 1080P versus 720P for the old one, but again I see no difference. One nice feature of the new Roku is the USB port and the box’s support for playing back MP4, MKV, and a few other video formats. I haven’t tried that yet, but I’ll probably copy season 7 of Heartland to a 32 GB flash drive and see what it looks like.

I just ordered six bottles of 1,000 each 650 mg sodium bicarbonate tablets from Amazon Prime for about $17.50 per bottle. That’s sufficient for about 240 chemistry kits. Amazon showed another vendor that sold the tablets at $11.00 per bottle of 1,000, but their shipping charges were outrageous. I think it was something like $8.95 for the first bottle, which was fine, but additional bottles added something like $6 each to the shipping cost. That company is advertising an unrealistically low price for the product and making up the difference in shipping. I hate that.


14:37 – Geez. I just tried to order three kilos of bacteriology-grade agar from BioExpress, who’d sent me a catalog a couple months ago. I’m always on the lookout for new vendors, and these guys carry some interesting stuff.

So I added the agar to my cart and clicked on checkout. The site insisted I set up an account, which I did. But when I finished it wouldn’t let me complete the order. Instead, it said that my application for an account would be reviewed within 48 hours. So I called them and left voicemail for the guy who approves new accounts. He mailed me back to say that their agreements with their vendors do not allow them to ship “chemicals” to residential addresses. He suggested that he might be able to get an exception from the company that supplies their agar, but he thought that was a long shot. This is agar we’re talking about. The stuff is EDIBLE, and about as innocuous a chemical as I can imagine.

I emailed the guy back and told him it wasn’t worth either of our time and hassle and that I’d just order the agar from one of our regular vendors, which I did.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

10:30 – Cold weather has moved back into the area. The high today is forecast to be 36F (20C) lower than yesterday’s high. There’s also a winter weather advisory out, with 1″ to 3″ of snow expected starting this afternoon and into the evening.

We shipped half a dozen kits yesterday, including three in one box to a Canadian customer. That’s the first time I’ve ever used a Regional Rate Box C. That box is next to useless for domestic shipping. It’s about three times the volume of the Regional Rate Box B that we use for most kits, but postage for the C box is at the 17-pound rate, versus the 4-pound rate for the B box. But the C box is also usable for international shipping, and is large enough to fit three kits.

I’m building more kits today, which is the story of my life recently.


Monday, 27 January 2014

09:53 – We have two chemistry kits left in stock, and two orders for chemistry kits came in overnight. Fortunately, we have all the components needed to build another 14 quickly, so that’ll be the first priority today after we get outstanding orders shipped. Then I need to assemble another couple dozen biology kits and build another two or three dozen subassemblies for chemistry kits.

Postage rates go up today. I haven’t looked at them in detail, but it looks like our average shipping cost will increase by about 5%. I’ve taken a quick look at the 2014 price lists for our major vendors, and it looks like the components we use a lot of will increase by 3% to 6%, with an average around 4.5%. That excludes chemicals, most of which show significant price increases every year. I’ll have to do some detailed calcuations, but it looks like our 2014 kit prices will increase by an average of maybe 5%.

Barbara labeled about 800 bottles yesterday afternoon. She probably would have gone over 1,000 except that I ran out of labels for the bottles. But, using our patented AIT (almost-in-time) inventory management system, I have another 7,500 bottle labels due to arrive today. Not to mention empty bottles. We’re down to only a couple thousand in inventory, but I have several more cases due to arrive this week.


Sunday, 26 January 2014

10:18 – I finally got Barbara’s new Kindle Fire HDX working yesterday. The problem was, attempting to connect via Wi-Fi to our D-Link DIR-615 WAP/router reproducibly crashed the router. Not just the Wi-Fi, you understand, but the whole router. The only fix was to turn off the Kindle and power-reset the router. As it turned out, the fix was easy. The WAP had been set to support 802.11b/g/n. Simply turning off the support for 802.11n fixed the problem. So now we have an n-less WAP, but Barbara’s Kindle works.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

11:33 – Barbara didn’t get home until 10:10 p.m. last night. She took her mom to see her psychiatrist, who decided she needed to be hospitalized. The hospital he uses is about a 45 minute drive from Winston-Salem, so by the time Barbara, Frances, and Al got Sankie settled in and grabbed a quick meal the day was pretty much over. They’ve no idea how long Sankie will be in the hospital. The psychiatrist is trying to balance her medications to deal with her depression, bi-polar syndrome, and some degree of dementia.


Friday, 24 January 2013

08:06 – It’s cold this morning, 8F (-13C) not counting wind chill. Not that I pay much attention to publlished values for wind chill. They’re entirely arbitrary because wind chill values are subjective. That is, they’re calculated by a formula, which varies from country to country, but those formulae use constants that really should be variables whose values vary according to individual perceptions.

Barbara’s mom is not doing well, either physically or mentally. Barbara’s taking her to the doctor this afternoon. Barbara and Frances are looking into getting Sankie on the waiting list for another facility that provides assisted-living services. The issue is that they need to get something lined up before Sankie really needs those services, because otherwise they may end up having to take whatever is available, which may not be very good. Frances visited once facility called Homestead Hills, which has an excellent reputation and is closely associated with Sankie’s doctor. Frances was very pleased with the facility. They want $1,500 to put Sankie on their waiting list, but I told Frances I saw no downside to getting Sankie on the list. That $1,500 will keep Sankie on the list forever, and if a place does become available they don’t have to take it. If they subsequently change their minds or move Sankie elsewhere, Homestead Hills will refund their deposit in full. Homestead Hills costs about $1,000/month more than where Sankie is now, but Dutch’s VA insurance should pay at least part of that difference.

We’re low-stock right now on both biology and chemistry kits. I have everything I need to make up a couple dozen more biology kits, but I need to fill bottles and make up chemical bags for the chemistry kits. So that’s what I’ll be doing today.


11:16 – I opened my last box of 200 half-sheet mailing labels yesterday. This morning, I was printing bottle labels when the printer ran out of paper, and I loaded my last 50 or so sheets of those labels. So it was time to order labels.

I went to the ibuyofficesupply.com web site. Two or three years ago, they had good prices on those labels and other supplies I use a lot of, so I’ve been ordering from them ever since. I noticed that they’d lowered the bar for free shipping from $75 to $45. It crossed my mind that Amazon was affecting their business, which made me realize that I could probably just order what I needed from Amazon. Sure enough, Amazon Prime had both types of labels, as well as the printer paper I needed. So I ordered all of that, and threw in a Roku 3 streaming video player. When Barbara’s TV remote died the other day, I realized how dependent we are on our original Roku XL|S box. If the box failed, we’d be SOL until we replaced it. Even if the remote failed, we’d be SOL, since there are no controls on the box itself. After checking reviews and comparisons, it was pretty clear that the Roku 3 was the standout choice, at least for our viewing habits. It’ll be here early next week. I’ll replace the old box, and keep it as a spare.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

10:34 – As it turns out, we won’t be using that U-Line packing foam I mentioned yesterday. I called U-Line to ask about shipping cost for the bundle of twelve 6″x2000′ rolls. The product itself costs only $26 for 12,000 square feet. The problem is that it has to be shipped by motor freight, which adds nearly $100 to the final price. The U-Line guy suggested an alternative, a single 12″x1,200′ roll, which is UPS-able. The problem with that is that it costs $47 per roll, not counting the UPS shipping charges, which’d probabably be around $30/roll. So, I could get 12,000 square feet for something over $100 delivered, or 1,200 square feet–one tenth as much–for around $75 delivered. What a deal.

So I’m going to go the low-tech route. USPS specifies that “Sufficient absorbent material that will not react chemically with the hazardous material must fully surround each inner receptacle and be capable of absorbing the entire liquid contents of the inner receptacle(s) in case of leakage.” For all of the regulated chemicals we ship other than sulfuric acid, paper towels meet that criterion. So we’ll just use paper towels to pad everything other than sulfuric acid, for which we’ll use thin bubble-wrap. I don’t even have to buy the bubble-wrap. We get plenty of it in incoming shipments.


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

08:36 – Winter is back in Winston-Salem, or at least the cold weather. We haven’t gotten any frozen precipitation and none is in the forecast. Last night, though, the wind chill was supposed to be -4F (-20C), and the next three days are to have highs around freezing and lows in the 10F to 20F range.

One thing about this business is that we go through bottles by the thousands. The number per kit varies by kit type, but typically when we build a batch of 30 kits that accounts for a thousand or so bottles. So we generally order several cases at a time, with one case being anything from 1,100 to 1,650 bottles, depending on size.

Our current kits use mostly 15 mL and 30 mL PE cylinders and 30 mL PE wide-mouths, with an occasional 125 mL PP cylinder and 30 mL amber glass. When we start shipping the advanced chemistry kit that mix will change to include a lot more of the 30 mL glass bottles, which are needed for chemicals like concentrated acetic, hydrochloric, nitric, and sulfuric acids, 30% ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, and so on. There’ll probably be a dozen or more glass bottles in that kit, which brings up the problem of breakage during shipping. There’s really no alternative to wrapping each bottle in foam padding. I think this is what we’re going to use, one 6×12″ sheet per bottle. The foam is only 1/32″ thick, but rolling each bottle up in one sheet and taping it should provide enough foam thickness to protect against breakage.