Month: February 2014

Friday, 28 February 2014

11:31 – The Lawnmower Medic is out back working on Barbara’s mower, sharpening the blade, changing oil, and otherwise getting it ready for spring. When I met him at the door, out of the blue he said, “You know, with your voice, you should be on the radio”. People have been suggesting that for 40 years or more. Perhaps I missed a career as a libertarian talk-radio host.

We’re out of the supplementary chemical bags for the international version of the chemistry kit, so I’m making up and bottling chemicals for 60 more sets. That may be a year’s supply, which is fine because all of those chemicals are dead stable.

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Thursday, 27 February 2014

09:06 – With two days left in the month, we’re only about $200 short of doubling revenues over last February. This time of year, things are pretty slow and sporadic. We’ll probably sell two or three more kits over the next couple days, but it could be five or eight kits or it could be none. It makes no real difference. Overall, we’re doing twice the business YTD that we did last year. If that holds up all year we’ll have a very good year, assuming we can keep up with demand.

Having finished all three seasons of The Borgias on Netflix streaming, I was looking around for something to replace it in the queue. Years ago, I’d added The Shield to our Netflix DVD wait list. At the time, they didn’t have it on DVD, let alone streaming. They now have it on DVD but still not streaming. Amazon Prime, however, does have all seasons available for free streaming, so we started watching it last night. So far, it seems to be a typical FX series, which is to say top-notch. A lot of the actors and crew associated with it later did series like Justified and Sons of Anarchy. We’re also about halfway through Friday Night Lights, which is similar to but not quite as good as the later One Tree Hill.

13:09 – The USPS Click-and-Ship website is still screwed up. Sometimes, Chrome works but Firefox doesn’t. Other times, it’s the reverse. But this morning I had to use both. Chrome would let me enter the address information and other data, but would not accept payment so that I could generate the postage label. Firefox wouldn’t allow me to enter the address and other information, but it would let me pay for labels already in my cart. So I ended up having to use both browsers just to get a label printed. Then a little while ago I was attempting to do another postage label. Chrome wouldn’t let me enter the address information. I crossed my fingers, fired up Firefox, and used it to enter the address information. When I got to the part where I pay and generate the label I figured Firefox would give me the old “this payment method declined” error message, but it actually accepted payment and let me print the label. This is getting ridiculous.

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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

10:34 – As I was making up chemicals yesterday, I thought again about how different chemists pronounce chemical names differently. The first time I remember this happening was my freshman year of college. I used the chemical name strontium and my roommates, also chemistry majors, started making fun of me. I’d pronounced it strawn-chum, whereas they thought it should be pronounced strawn-tee-um. They pointed out that I pronounced calcium cal-see-um. I pointed out that “ti” was not “ci”, that they did not pronounce action ak-tee-on, and that anyway a foolish consistency was the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

A standards body called IUPAC defines official chemistry nomenclature, but the pronunciation of these standard names differs from chemist to chemist. For example, I was making up three liters of dilute acetic acid yesterday. Probably 99% of the chemists I’ve known pronounce that uh-SEE-tik, but I have known more than a few that use different pronunciations, including uh-SETT-ik, ay-SEE-tik, ay-SETT-ik, and probably others. Same deal on many other chemicals, such as phenol. I pronounce that FENN-all, but I’ve heard other pronounce it FENN-ole, FEEN-all, FEEN-ole, feen-OLE, fenn-ALL, and so on.

And when a chemical becomes a functional group name, all bets are off. For example, of the 99% of chemists I know who use uh-SEE-tik, all or nearly all pronounce acetylene as uh-SETT-uh-leen. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard it pronounced uh-SEE-tuh-leen. For that matter, one seldom hears acetate pronounced other than ASS-uh-tate. But I’ve heard acetyl (as in acetylsalicylic acid) pronounced uh-SEE-tul, uh-SETT-tul, and even ASS-uh-TEEL.

The interesting thing is that, as long as there’s no ambiguity, no one seems to care. Everyone just keeps pronouncing chemical names as they wish. No one ever thinks, “Wow. I’ve been mispronouncing that name all these years.”

11:00 – Oh, yeah. I should have mentioned that all bets are off with the Brits, too. One of my favorites is their spelling and pronunciation of aluminum/aluminium. Americans use aluminum and pronounce it al-OOM-ih-num. Brits use aluminium and pronounce it al-you-MINN-ee-um. What’s really odd is that the first spelling and pronuciation was originally British and the second was originally American. They decided they liked ours better about the same time that we decided we liked theirs better.

Of course, with the Brits it’s not limited to chemical pronunciations. Sometimes I think they pronounce words differently just to annoy us. We noticed this frequently while we watching The Borgias recently. Americans pronounce contribute cun-TRIB-byute. Brits apparently pronounce it CON-truh-byute, I think just to be annoying. But my personal favorite is urinal (American YOUR-in-nal), which the Brits apparently pronounce yur-INE-al.

Speaking of annoying, how is that Firefox, currently in something like version 27.0, still uses a British English dictionary rather than a US English dictionary? I mean, US English became Standard English a long time ago. British English is now a dialect.

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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

11:09 – Busy morning so far, issuing purchase orders for kit components. I decided that restocking to a level sufficient for 500 kits would take too much storage space, so I’m instead placing orders sufficient for 300 kits, in addition to what we already have in stock. That means I’ll probably have to re-order a couple more times in 2014, but better that than being buried in kit components.

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Monday, 24 February 2014

10:19 – The morning paper reports a murder in Winston-Salem, our second of the year. I find it interesting how the newspaper code words have changed. Forty years ago, the paper would probably have reported that the murder took place in a “white neighborhood”. Twenty years ago, it would probably have reported it as a “middle-class neighborhood”. Now, they report it as a “quiet neighborhood”. However they word it, this is a pretty unusual murder. The vast majority of murders, in Winston-Salem and elsewhere, occur in poor areas.

I now have everything I need to build three dozen more chemistry kits. It’s just a matter of boxing them up. Rather than do that today, however, I’m going to spend some time checking inventory and placing purchase orders for more components. I have to balance keeping sufficient supplies on hand with storage space.

For example, the chemistry kits include a 9V battery and a purple Sharpie. We’re down to zero 9V batteries and half a dozen purple Sharpies in stock. I used to order both of those five dozen at a time, but I’ve just cut purchase orders for twenty-five dozen of each. That should be enough to carry us through our busy period next autumn. Same thing for 24-well and 96-well reaction plates. We’re down to 75 and 61 of those, respectively. The time before last, I ordered 100 of each of those. The last time I ordered 250 each. This time, I’ll probably order 500 each. If it weren’t for storage space, I’d probably order twice that number, but even 1,000 reaction plates require a non-trivial amount of storage space.

16:07 – The news headlines say that SoD Hagel plans to cut the headcount of the US Army back to “pre-WWII” levels. Not even close. Before WWII, the US Army had about 180,000 people, and that counted the Army Air Corps. Hagel proposes to cut the Army to about 440,000 to 450,000, about 2.5 times the actual pre-WWII headcount, and roughly four to five times what it really should be. I propose that he cut our total military forces to 220,000. Call it 100,000 each for the Army and Navy, and 20,000 Marines. The Air Force should be eliminated as a separate force, with air/space arms of the two major services taking over those duties.

Hagel also proposes to eliminate the A-10’s, which are one of the few warplanes worth having, but to keep all of our fleet carriers. All of the carriers should be eliminated as one of the key steps in rendering US military forces (read “the US government”) incapable of interfering overseas. Eliminate the subs, both hunter/killers and boomers. Close all overseas military bases and bring all of our troops home. Close most of the domestic bases as well. They’re not needed. Transfer the tanks and APCs and warplanes to the state militia organizations. Bring back the DCM, and give an assault rifle and 1,000 rounds to any US adult citizen who wants one, no questions asked, no strings attached, and no records kept.

Withdraw from the UN and all other entangling alliances. Let the rest of the world do what it wants. We don’t need them. We are self-sufficient. If they want to trade with us, fine. But don’t expect us to clean up other people’s messes, and don’t expect us to continue giving away trillions of taxpayer dollars in “foreign aid”.

Patch up our relationships with Canada, Australia and our other traditional friends. We have treated our real friends badly, particularly Canada. We owe them a sincere apology and our best efforts to fix what we’ve broken.

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Sunday, 23 February 2014

10:32 – Today, we’re assembling chemical bags for another three dozen chemistry kits. I was down in the basement binning bottles for the chemical bags and Barbara was taking her shower. Suddenly, I heard scrabbling on the hardwood floor upstairs. Ruh-roh. Colin was on a tear. He runs flat out until he runs into something at top speed–a wall, the sofa, whatever, at which point he reverses course and tears away at top speed again, with his ears back flat and his eyes bugged out. As it happened, the upstairs door to the stairs was open, as was the door from the finished area to the garage area. Colin decided to add downstairs to his route. I heard him thunder down the stairs, run into the wall at the bottom of the stairs, bounce off, hang a left, and come roaring into the basement area. He circled both our vehicles twice at top speed and then headed back toward the stairs, he couldn’t quite make the turn onto the stairs, so he skidded on the concrete floor in the garage, rolled into the carpeted finished area, came back up without a pause, reversed course, and thundered up the stairs, where he continued his tear. A moment later, I heard him thundering down the stairs again, where he repeated his earlier circuit and then headed back up the stairs. As I tried to stay out of his way, I was reminded of those old Western films where the cattle stampede and trample everything in their way.

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Saturday, 22 February 2014

08:26 – Another science study, this one confirming something that ordinary people have known for about 30,000 years now: Dogs can detect emotion in human voices, study shows

Humans and dogs have lived in mutualistic symbiosis for more than 30 millennia. It’s facultative symbiosis, yes, but at times it approaches obligate in either or both directions. Of course we can understand each other and are each sensitive to the other’s moods and emotions. Without Canis lupus familiaris, H. sapiens sapiens might never have achieved civilization.

10:40 – Talk about inflation. The 56-quart (53-liter) Sterilite bins that we’d been buying at Home Depot back in November and December and early this year for $5.97 each are now $6.97 each. That’s 16.75% inflation. With the eight we brought home today, that takes us up to 23 of them, which should suffice.

11:04 – In Arizona right now, we have some people—mostly religious-right Republicans—trying to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. They’re opposed by another group of people—mostly gay rights groups and Democrats—trying to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. The issue is presented as whether businesses should be forced to serve everyone who wants to buy their products and services, regardless of the personal religious beliefs of the owners. Across the country, there have been numerous prosecutions and lawsuits lately targeting businesses owned by religious people who refuse to, for example, provide a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. A pending Arizona bill, supported by governor Brewer, would allow such businesses to refuse to provide goods or services to some customers, based on the religious beliefs of the business owners.

As much as I support gay rights, I have to side with Governor Brewer here. But she has not gone far enough. Personal religious beliefs should have nothing to do with it. Any business should be completely free to choose which customers it serves, based on any criteria that business owner chooses. If a restaurant, for example, wants to exclude gays (or straights) or blacks (or whites) or men (or women), that’s the owner’s right. Any owner who exercises such criteria is ignorant and stupid, but we have a Constitutional right to be ignorant and stupid.

The problem, as is nearly always the case, is that most people conflate discrimination by governments with discrimination by individuals and private companies. The government should never be free to discriminate against any citizen for any reason whatsoever. The government should not even be keeping data on age, sex, race, and other labels. Individuals and private companies, on the other hand, should be completely free to discriminate (or not to discriminate) for any reason or for no reason at all. It’s their business, not the government’s.

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Friday, 21 February 2014

08:23 – I never did hear back from USPS tech support, but things started working normally again as of this morning. We now have our backlog of kits labeled and ready to be picked up.

One would think USPS would have learned a lesson from the catastrophic rollout of the Obamacare website, but apparently not. They did a system “upgrade” with insufficient testing, and that caused show-stopping problems for a whole lot of people. Nor was it just the USPS Click-and-Ship website affected; eBay shippers were having the same problems. Here are just a few comments about what was going on. I hope they have the problem fixed, but who knows? Maybe I was just lucky this morning.

At least now we can get back to building and shipping science kits. Things are still going pretty well. With a week left in February, we’ve already exceeded kit sales for the first four months of 2013.

10:14 – Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention. Before I was able to print postage labels this morning, I had labels in my cart from as early as Tuesday morning. The USPS site correctly updated the shipping date to today’s date, but they didn’t change the expected arrival dates. So, I ended up with labels with a ship date of 2/21/14 and an expected arrival date of 2/20/14 or 2/21/14. Geez.

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Thursday, 20 February 2014

07:29 – There was an article in the paper this morning about the collapse of USPS here since the winter storm. Incredibly, some people still did not receive delivery on Tuesday. Heads should roll over this, starting with the postmaster. Meanwhile, I’m still not able to print postage labels. I’ll try again today. If it still won’t let me print postage labels, I’ll try to create a new account and use it.

At least we’re getting inventory built up.

10:17 – I called USPS tech support again. They said the problem was a “system error” and that I should hear back from them by the end of business today. Not that the problem would be fixed by then, mind you, just that they’d contact me. So I tried creating a new account in Barbara’s name. Everything apparently went normally until I tried to pay for and print postage labels, at which point I got the same error. This is beyond unacceptable.

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Wednesday, 19 February 2014

07:42 – I managed to get five kits shipped yesterday. The others will just have to wait until the USPS Click-and-Ship website will allow me to print postage labels again. I’ll keep trying throughout the day. Meanwhile, I have kits to build, solutions to make up, and thousands of labeled bottles that need to be filled.

Barbara is heading over to meet her sister and mom after work and go out to dinner. Sankie isn’t doing any better, and from what I’ve seen and heard I think the chance of any dramatic improvement is nil. Sankie is either unwilling or unable to cooperate, or both, so I suspect Barbara and Frances will have to move her over to the Homestead Hills facility sooner rather than later. They’re doing everything they can to keep her at Creekside, but they can’t do that if Sankie remains unwilling to do her part.

11:56 – I’m going to have to figure out what to do about mixing containers. The largest bottles we use in most of our kits hold 30 mL, which means a 2-liter batch is sufficient to fill 60+ bottles. Our international kits and some of our forthcoming kits will use several 100 mL bottles, which means I need a 6-liter batch to fill 60 bottles. In the past, I’d simply make up three 2-liter batches, but that’s a lot of extra work. So I think this time I’m going to make up 6-liter batches in 5-gallon (20 liter) polypropylene buckets from Home Depot.

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