Month: March 2014

Monday, 31 March 2014

09:29 – As of this morning our inventory of FK01A forensic science kits stands at -1. Fortunately, we have 16 more ready to box up, so that outstanding order will ship today and we’ll have 15 left in stock, assuming no more are ordered today. Barbara got a good start yesterday on labeling bottles for 60 more FK01A forensic kits, so making up solutions and filling those goes on my to-do list with all the other stuff.

Colin missed his calling as a tracking dog. Border Collies are frequently used as tracking dogs, search & rescue dogs, corpse dogs, drug-sniffing dogs, and so on. Their noses aren’t quite as sensitive as those of Bloodhounds, but the BC’s much higher intelligence offsets that. BC’s are, for example, capable of discriminating between the odor of a human corpse and that of animal corpses and understanding that they should ignore all but human corpses. Colin is a natural tracker. Particularly now that it’s spring, our walks consist mostly of Colin trotting along, nose to the ground, following one thing or another. I’m tempted to have Barbara go for a walk, wait until she’s well out of sight, and have Colin attempt to track her.

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Sunday, 30 March 2014

10:17 – I somehow had it in my mind that today was to be a pretty nice day. Not so far. I got back from walking Colin around 09:00. The wind chill was well below freezing, and it was drizzling. I even saw some white stuff floating past, mixed with the cold rain.

Barbara just finished the weekly house cleaning. After her shower, she’ll get started labeling more bottles. I’m still working on the manual for the earth/space science kit. I’m also stubbing out some ideas for an AP Biology/biotechnology kit that I plan to enter in the SPARK Competition late this year, assuming they hold it again for 2015.

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Saturday, 29 March 2014

09:31 – Our current inventory of forensic kits is down to zero, so we’re building more today. I’d intended to build two dozen forensic chemical bags the other day, but I had enough of everything needed to build only 16. Still, even at the increased run rate on forensic kits 16 should hold us for at least a month, which gives me time to make up more chemicals.

My father used to do something that drove my mother absolutely nuts. If he was sitting at the kitchen table using, say, a jar of honey, he’d carefully balance the lid on top of the jar and give it about a sixteenth of a turn. Just enough so that if someone then picked up the jar by the lid, the lid would come off and the jar would go rolling away. He didn’t do it consciously, which is probably the reason my mother never assassinated him.

And I do something similar, but I’m the one that I end up annoying. When I empty a chemical bottle, instead of discarding it I carefully replace the lid (screwing it down completely) and set it aside. I think by keeping it I’m trying to remind myself to order more, but it never works out that way. Instead, I end up with a collection of empty bottles, which look exactly like full bottles.

So, yesterday I was making up two liters of Hucker’s crystal violet stain, which requires 20 g of crystal violet and 16 grams of ammonium oxalate. I had five-count-’em-five bottles of crystal violet in stock, sitting right there together on the shelf, exactly where they belonged. Four of them were 5 g bottles, and one 20 g. I thought I had enough to make up four liters. But when I started weighing out the crystal violet, I found that the 20 g bottle was partially used, with only 15+ g remaining. Three of the 5 g bottles were empty. Fortunately the fourth was still full, so I was able to make up the two liters with a bit to spare. So I just tossed those empty bottles in the trash, where they belong.

At least while I was making up the Hucker’s I solved the Mystery of the Missing 100 g Bottle of Eosin Y. There it was, in the Hucker’s bin. What it was doing there, I have no idea.

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Friday, 28 March 2014

11:15 – Among other things today, I’m trying to get purchase orders done for a lot of stuff we buy in bulk–cases of beakers, graduated cylinders, test tube brushes and clamps, microscope slides and cover slips, and so on. It’s still only March, but I want to get enough component inventory to allow us to start building finished-goods inventory in serious numbers in time for the summer.

We just finished season 3 of The Shield on Amazon streaming, and started Life Unexpected on Netflix streaming. It seems we always have one gritty, violent series in progress along with a “teen drama”. Both of these are no longer being made, which is an advantage because Barbara and I have both come to prefer binge-watching series from start to finish. We have a few in our queue that are still being made and that we’ve watched all available episodes of, but I really prefer not to do that. For example, we’ve watched the first two seasons of Reven8e and are waiting for season three to become available. The problem with doing it that way is that we can never remember what’s happened in earlier seasons. It feels like we should go back and re-watch all the older stuff before we start the new season, and I don’t want to waste time doing that when I could be watching Heartland reruns instead.

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

09:54 – Spring may finally have arrived. March came in like a rabid weasel on meth, but according to the forecasts March will go out like a soft, cute, fuzzy panda, with highs in the upper 60’s (~20C) and lows well above freezing. I blame it on global climate change.

Speaking of which, the climate-change nutters are at it again. I actually saw one story that blamed that enormous mudslide in Washington on global climate change. Geez. Science is supposed to be predictive, not postdictive.

Science kit sales remain slow. We’ll be lucky to do 130% of the revenue this month that we did last March. Still, 2014Q1 revenues will be close to double those of 2013Q1, so I can’t really complain. If the past is any indication, sales will remain slow on a relative basis through April and start to pick up again in May.

I’m still accumulating items for our car emergency kits. I’d considered adding a classic Zippo lighter to each kit, but on second thought I decided not to. The Zippo lighters are extraordinarily reliable and can burn ordinary gasoline but they’re not sealed, so the fuel evaporates over just a week or so. That means I’d also have to include cans of fuel for them. Instead, I’m just going to include a three-pack of filled Ronson Comet refillable butane lighters in each kit, and perhaps a small can of butane. The Comets will hold gas indefinitely even at the high temperatures reached in a vehicle during summer. I’ll also include a 35mm film can of strike-anywhere matches and a magnesium/flint firestarter.

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Wednesday, 26 March 2014

08:04 – Synchronicity. Until I used the word “graupel” yesterday, I don’t believe I’d ever seen it used in an English-language setting. Growing up in Pennsylvania, we called it “soft sleet” or “slush”.

So when Barbara checked her mail and regular web sites after dinner last night, she shouted “graupel?” to me. I told her what it was. A short while later, she told me that a National Weather Service Local Weather Alert on the Weather Channel website was forecasting graupel. Indeed.

Issued by The National Weather Service
Raleigh/Durham, NC
Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 6:11 PM EDT



Work continues on building more forensic science kits. We need to get another dozen or two built this week, and then get to work on building more biology kits. We’re in good shape on chemistry kits for now.

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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

09:49 – I just returned from walking Colin. Talk about a wintry mix. It was about 95% cold rain, but with other stuff mixed in. There was snow, sleet (in the US/Canadian sense of tiny ice pellets), sleet (in the UK sense of mushy snow/rain), and I think maybe even some graupel. Fortunately, nothing is likely to stick. Barbara drove her car to work today.

I’m going to go make up some bottles of crystal iodine, which is the only thing I’m short of to make up more forensic kit chemical bags.

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Monday, 24 March 2014

12:10 – Science kit sales are extremely slow at the moment, better than last March but not by much, so we’re focusing now on building inventory. Right now, we can build kits a lot faster than we can sell them. Come the summer/autumn months, we’ll be selling them a lot faster than we can build them. So, other than making up and filling chemicals with limited shelf lives, we’re doing all the stuff now that we won’t have time to do later.

Barbara and I have talked about relocating once she’s ready to retire from the law firm and her mom is no longer around. One of my primary candidates, which I think Barbara agrees with, is the mountains up near the North Carolina/Tennessee border. We want a small town, but not too small. We want services like municipal water and sewer, a reasonable local hospital, and so on. Broadband Internet is obviously a requirement, and it’d be nice if there were competing ISPs. Natural gas would be nice, and Barbara insists on garbage pickup, either municipal or private contractor. A Costco within reasonable driving distance would be nice.

The other issues are religiosity and diversity. We were watching an episode of Friday Night Lights the other night. The high school football team traveled to an away game in Kingdom, Texas. As one of the characters commented, “92 churches, no bars”. Although I won’t say I’d prefer the converse, we certainly don’t want to be the only non-churchgoers in whatever community we relocate to. That’s one of the main reasons I was thinking about Boone, which as a university town has a fair degree of diversity and a considerable secular presence.

Barbara has made a couple other suggestions. Sometime this spring or summer, we may do a day trip or weekend trip up to the mountains to look around.

15:34 – As I mentioned, science kit sales have been pretty slow overall. What’s odd is that forensic kits are selling at several times the normal rate. The percentage varies month to month, but ordinarily forensic kits make up 7% to 12% of total orders. So far this month, they’re close to a third. As of this morning we had only three in stock, and that’s now down to two. I need to get more built this week.

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Sunday, 23 March 2014

10:43 – We had a warm sunny day yesterday, but now we’re back to chilly, windy, rainy weather, with lows near or below freezing and snow forecast for Tuesday.

There’s an interesting article in the paper this morning, about people with ObamaCare finding out that it doesn’t cover the drugs they need. The insurance companies are using tiering to avoid covering expensive drugs, and who can blame them? Some of those drugs cost $30,000 to $100,000 a year or more. My attitude is that this is the way it should be. If someone can afford to pay for these drugs and chooses to do so, fine. But forcing others to pay for them is simply wrong. I understand that some people need those drugs, and may die sooner without them. Tough luck. Their need doesn’t give them the right to force everyone else to pay for them.

The real problem is that pharma companies’ economic model makes no sense, and the FDA approval process encourages wasteful development. It can cost literally billions of dollars to develop a new drug and get it through the approval process. And that approval process sets a very low bar. Essentially, the FDA requires only that a new drug be safe and effective. Not safer than existing alternatives, if any. Not more effective than existing alternatives, if any. Merely safe and effective. So we find ourselves in a situation where a new drug that sells for, say, $3,000/month may actually be less safe and less effective than a current drug that sells for $30/month. And you can bet that the pharma company pulls out all the stops to promote their expensive new drug, with splashy ads in magazines and on TV, reps visiting every physician to encourage them to prescribe their new drug, and so on. The pharma companies have little choice. They have to recoup the billions they spent developing that new drug, not to mention the billions and billions more they spent developing new drugs that never made it though trials and the approval process. It’s insane.

I hasten to add that I don’t blame the pharma companies or their researchers. It’s the process itself, mandated by the federal government, that’s broken.

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Saturday, 22 March 2014

10:19 – It’s to be a nice day today, sunny and with a high around 73F (23C). Alas, the next several days are to be much colder, with highs in the 40’s (~ 5 to 8C), lows near or below freezing, and snow forecast for Tuesday.

Amidst laundry and other normal weekend tasks, Barbara and I will be working on kit stuff today.

11:05 – I’m thinking about what to include in the medical kit, and I’ve decided to include a heat-sealed ziplock bag of oral rehydration salts sufficient to make 20 liters. That may seem an obscure choice, but serious diarrhea can kill in very short order. The contents needed to make up 20 liters are:

sodium chloride – 52 g
dextrose – 270 g
potassium chloride – 30 g
trisodium citrate dihydrate – 58 g
zinc sulfate (150 mg of zinc)

Actually, zinc sulfate isn’t included in the standard ORS formula, but zinc at 10 to 20 mg/day is recommended in conjunction with ORS therapy, so I decided to include it.

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