Tuesday, 18 February 2014

07:33 – We’re running out of room on the foyer table, with boxes stacked up awaiting shipping that have been accumulating since last Friday. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that USPS will actually show up today, so I’ll print postage labels for all those that aren’t yet labeled.

The lead article in the morning paper is about the textbook shortage in local schools. The state pays for school books, and apparently state funding has dropped over the last five years from $60/student/year to $14/student/year. The average textbook costs between $50 and $75. Some courses have no books at all, and others have only classroom sets that kids can’t take home. Books used to be replaced annually on a five-year rotation for each course, but the last time they did a replacement for any course was six years ago. Local officials are not soliciting donations because they’re afraid that if they replace books themselves the state will cut funding further. And North Carolina has adopted Common Core without providing any funding to support it. No mention in the article of the excellent (and free) CK-12.org textbooks.


10:48 – USPS seems determined to drive me to using UPS or FedEx. I ran a batch of postage labels this morning. When I attempted to pay for them, the USPS Click-and-Ship website rejected the credit card I had on file. I knew it was good, but I entered another credit card and used it to pay for the labels. So then I went to run a second batch of labels. This time, it rejected the original credit card, the new one I’d just entered, a third one I entered then, AND my PayPal account. So I called tech support, who told me that there was a problem on their end, but that he’d “submit your information” to their support group, who wouldn’t take any action on it for the next 48 hours. He said my only option was to wait, and it’d be at least 48 hours before I could print any postage labels.

I told him that wasn’t my only option, and that although I’d been a loyal USPS customer for years and shipped literally tons of packages with them, as soon as I hung up I was going to start looking into switching to UPS or FedEx. Which I did. The change isn’t going to be fast or easy, it’s going to end up costing more, and I don’t even know for sure that I’ll be able to use UPS or FedEx, but USPS’s total non-performance since last Wednesday has been intolerable.

So then I decided to call the local post office and ask it they thought they might get around to delivering our mail today. The woman I talked to was very defensive, and interested only in making excuses. I told her that I understood Thursday. I kind of expected USPS to show up, but I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t. But there was no excuse for not delivering on Friday, and not delivering on Saturday went beyond inexcusable. Her explanation for Saturday was that even though the roads were completely clear, a lot of people hadn’t shown up for work. I was going to ask if they’d all been fired, but it was pointless to waste any more time with her.

So now I need to waste more time looking at alternatives. The change, if indeed I can even make it, will take months. Among other things, I’ll need to get an e-commerce package installed and configured and tested, not to mention redesigning many of our procedures. I’ll need to look into UPS and FedEx requirements for shipping small quantities of hazardous materials, which may be a show-stopper.

But the first thing I need to do is contact my customers to let them know that their kits won’t go out as promised today. Thanks, USPS, for making me look bad to my customers.

Monday, 17 February 2014

09:18 – We’re now in Day Four of no USPS service. I’ve just added three more boxes to the stack awaiting pickup from orders that came in yesterday afternoon and overnight.

We did a Costco run and then dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. They didn’t get mail Friday, but they got mail Saturday. Apparently everyone got mail service Saturday except our little part of our neighborhood.

Barbara’s mother is still acting out, determined to force Barbara and Frances to allow her to live with one of them. That’s not going to happen, and they’ve made it very clear to Sankie that if she doesn’t stop this they’re going to have to move her over to the assisted living or nursing facility at Homestead Hills, and that once that happens she won’t be coming back to live at Creekside. Despite the high cost, Barbara and Frances plan to continue the round-the-clock home health aide for a while longer, to give Sankie every chance to clean up her act. I don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s nothing more they can do to help their mother as long as she’s not willing to do anything to help herself.

As I’m doing laundry every Saturday, it strikes me how badly the loss of US textile manufacturing has affected the quality of clothing and towels. Barbara has been buying most of our clothing from LL Bean and Lands’ End for 30 years now. It used to be that all or nearly all of it was made the USA, most of it in factories within a hundred mile radius of us. I still have a US-made sweatshirt from Lands’ End that Barbara bought for me probably 20 years ago. It’s still in very good shape. Conversely, I have sweatshirts bought from Bean or Lands’ End just a few years ago that are badly worn. Those were made in Mexico, China, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Peru, and so on. I’m disappointed that Bean and Lands’ End sell this third-world garbage. I’d prefer to buy only items made in the US or other first-world countries, where quality still means something. Yeah, US-made stuff costs more. So what? It may cost 50% more, but it lasts three times as long.

Science kit sales are still slow in absolute terms, but running at twice the rate of last February. I need to get more kits built, so that’s what I’ll work on today.


Sunday, 16 February 2014

08:02 – Incredibly, USPS did not deliver mail on our block yesterday, despite the fact that the roads were clean and dry and that they delivered elsewhere in our neighborhood, both yesterday and Friday. I saw a mail truck two blocks down our street at about 4:00 p.m. yesterday, and assumed that they’d be getting to us soon. But no. I finally gave up at 9:00 p.m. and turned off the porch light. Barbara’s sister, who lives in a similar residential neighborhood across town, with similar street conditions, got delivery Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, as have others in our area. But we’ve been without service since Wednesday.

This catastrophic service failure is simply unacceptable. The postmaster responsible should be fired. I’m going to mail our congressman and the Postmaster General demanding that he be held accountable. On Thursday morning, we had about 6″ of snow on the ground. I halfway expected delivery that day–USPS delivery vehicles have chains–but I wasn’t really surprised when it didn’t happen. On Friday morning, things had improved, so I processed kit shipments as usual and had them waiting for pickup. I was expecting USPS to be running late, but I was shocked when they didn’t show up at all. Yesterday, the roads were clear and dry. Ordinary cars had no trouble on them. I was stunned when USPS didn’t show up. With Monday being a federal holiday, we’ll have to wait until Tuesday for mail service. Being without service for five days is simply unacceptable. Heads need to roll.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

08:32 – USPS did not deliver or pick up here Thursday or Friday, the first time that’s happened in 27 years. I’ve had kits sitting in the shipping queue since yesterday morning. I hope they’re picked up today, because USPS is off on Monday for the federal holiday.

It’s not just USPS. FedEx and UPS weren’t running yesterday here, and the county officially closed its offices for the first time in 20 years or more. There’s still a lot of ice and snow on the roads. We’ve yet to see a plow in our neighborhood. Fortunately, we have no need to go out today.


09:26 – I was wrong. They actually have plowed the streets in our neighborhoods. Now that I think about it, I remember kind of waking up at 3:00 a.m. to the beeping of the plow truck. Now USPS has no excuse not to run today. Barbara is out shoveling the drive. I’m not sure why, because most of it should have melted off by Monday morning.

Friday, 14 February 2014

09:59 – Barbara hates to let the weather alter her plans. So this morning she headed to work in the Trooper. She called when she arrived to say that the residential streets were a complete mess, but the main roads were in pretty good shape. The high today is forecast to be well above freezing, so some of the mess on the roads will begin to melt. But tonight is to be very cold, so the mush will refreeze into solid sheets of ice with deep ruts. Tomorrow morning is likely to be a worse mess than this morning.

We’re shipping kits steadily. February is always the slowest month for us, but at least we’re on track this month to more than double last February’s sales. For the first half of the month we’re at about 1.2 times last February’s total sales. Our kit inventory is in pretty good shape for biology and forensic kits, but we’re down to less than a dozen chemistry kits. Getting more of those built is a high priority.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

08:24 – It’s currently sleeting, on top of about six inches (15 cm) of snow. More frozen precipitation is forecast through this afternoon, shifting from sleet and freezing rain back to snow. There’s been zero traffic on our street since before we took Colin out last night.

Colin isn’t used to snow in significant amounts. When I took him out early this morning, he was obviously surprised when he stepped down off the porch and his legs sunk deep into snow. He tried making snow paws, but even that didn’t keep him on the surface of the snow. I just walked him halfway down the block and he kind of staggered at each step. As I just said to Barbara, we won’t yell at him if he has an accident in the house today. There’s enough snow on the ground that if he tries to squat he’ll be squatting his nethermost regions into the snow. Talk about freezing one’s testicles off.

All of the schools and many businesses are closed today, but Barbara’s law firm doesn’t close no matter what. So she’s taking a vacation day today, and will just watch TV and work on kit stuff.


09:29 – I just got email from someone who’d ordered some chemicals from Elemental Scientific. When they arrived, he found that the cap was cracked on a bottle of concentrated sulfuric acid, and wanted advice about how to proceed. So I replied to him and then carried a box of chemicals that arrived yesterday from Elemental Scientific down to my lab. I unpacked the stuff, including a couple liters each of reagent-grade concentrated hydrochloric, nitric, and sulfuric acids and 30% hydrogen peroxide. No leaks, thank goodness.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

07:51 – Colin turns three years old today. Barbara has a new chew toy for him and he’ll get lots of human food for dinner, but other than that we don’t make a big deal about birthdays.

The lead article on the front page of the paper this morning featured one of victims whom Forsyth Hospital accidentally exposed to CJD. She’s 27 years old and has a 2-year-old child. When the hospital called, she thought they were calling to tell her she’d left her slippers there. Geez. And the ambulance chasers are already at it. Barbara noticed an ad from a local law firm soliciting business from those who’d been exposed to CJD. I liked it a lot better when attorneys were not allowed to advertise because it was unprofessional and unethical to do so. It still is, but now they’re allowed to do it.

The forecasters say we’re going to get nailed today and tomorrow with a major winter storm. They’re expecting 6 to 10″ (15 to 25 cm) of snow, a tenth of an inch (2.5 mm) of ice, and stiff winds. For around here, that qualifies as a blizzard. The snow is supposed to start falling around noon and become heavy this evening and into tomorrow. Local schools are closed, and many businesses will close early.

The problem is that they’re not sure of the mix. If we get 10 inches of snow and a tenth inch of ice, there won’t be too many problems with power outages. If the mix skews more toward an ice storm, we could have widespread power outages. Oh, well. We have a generator and natural gas logs, so we’ll manage regardless.


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

09:06 – Barbara’s mom was released from the hospital yesterday. Frances picked her up at the hospital and got her home late in the afternoon. Barbara went over to Sankie’s apartment at 4:00 and met the home health people to get things ready for Sankie’s arrival. They got Sankie settled in, but then had to wait for the guy to deliver the oxygen concentrator. Barbara finally got home around 9:30. She’s not sure if Sankie is doing any better mentally, and is concerned that this will turn into a “revolving door” situation.

Speaking of Forsyth Medical Center, this was the lead story in the morning paper. Since 18 January, they’ve exposed 18 patients to the invariably fatal CJD because they failed to sterilize instruments properly. Not that getting rid of prions is easy. Since they’re not alive, “killing” them is problematic. Prions are proteins, so the only solution is to denature them irreversibly, which isn’t easy. IIRC, the best procedure is to autoclave instruments at 136C or higher for an hour in a bath of one molar sodium hydroxide or sodium hypochlorite. That’s fine for hand instruments, but difficult for major pieces of equipment. I’m surprised they don’t make those with disposable tubing, chambers, and fittings for everything that comes into contact with body fluids.


10:40 – I just got email from someone at fedbid.com telling me that the Detroit Public Schools were soliciting bids for commercial electronics kits. We don’t sell such kits, so we have no interest in the RFQ, but what amazed me is that the Detroit Public School system apparently expects vendors to respond. What company in its right mind would deliver products to the Detroit Public School system on Net 90 terms? I wouldn’t ship products to a bankrupt school system even if they pre-paid by check, at least until I was certain that check had cleared irrevocably. Even then, I probably wouldn’t take the chance. Bankruptcy managers have a nasty habit of reaching out and reclaiming payments, leaving vendors holding the bag.

Monday, 10 February 2014

08:06 – Barbara doesn’t know whether her mom will be released from the hospital today. She’s expecting it, but they haven’t gotten final word yet. Frances called from the hospital last night and told Barbara that their mom was acting up again. Barbara thinks that Sankie is angling to get Frances to agree to let her come to live with Frances and Al, which isn’t going to happen. They both work, and there’s no way Sankie could stay in their home unsupervised all day long. With Sankie, one is never entirely sure how much of her behavior is real and how much is an act.