Wednesday, 30 April 2014

08:45 – Imagine my surprise the other night when I fired up Netflix streaming and was presented with a screen of legal jargon. The icons below the boilerplate offered only two options: “Accept” or “Email me a copy”. So I emailed myself a copy, and was then down to one option: Accept. Whatever happened to decline?

As I was about to click Accept–since there was no other choice–I noticed that I did indeed have another option. I could view the next screen of the contract. I was on screen 1. Of 102 screens! I clicked through the first few screens and got the general sense that (a) Netflix isn’t liable for anything, (b) that we can use the “service” only by doing exactly what Netflix says we’re allowed to do, and (c) that we’re under no circumstances allowed to sue Netflix. By this time, Barbara was getting impatient, so I just clicked on accept.

I can’t believe that Netflix lawyers actually think this “contract” would be enforceable, particularly since they don’t (as Microsoft does) force you to scroll all the way through the whole thing before you can accept it. My guess is that about 99.999% of Netflix streaming customers (including attorneys…) will simply click accept at the first screen. In no way does that constitute a meeting of the minds. Unconscionable, more like. What was Reed Hastings thinking?


12:15 – I had a kit to ship to an APO address this morning. I’d never done that with the Stamps.com software, so I decided to give it a try with USPS Click-N-Ship, not really expecting it to work. It worked, accepting my credit card as though there’d never been a problem.

I’m still making up solutions and filling bottles. I have everything I need to build another two or three dozen each of the biology and chemistry kits, so it’s just a matter of getting them assembled. I want to go into June with at least 60 biology kits and 90 chemistry kits ready to ship, and into July with at least the same number in finished-goods inventory. That means we’re going to have to label and fill thousands of bottles and build quite a few kits between now and then.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

10:05 – Among other things yesterday, I filled and capped several hundred bottles for biology kits. I’ll do several hundred more today.

First up is Seliwanoff’s Reagent Part A, which is simply a dilute solution of resorcinol (AKA 1,3-dihydroxybenzene or m-dihydroxybenzene). I had two liters made up, but I didn’t like the looks of it. When I made it up some time ago, it was colorless, indiscernible from water. It now has a very pale tan cast. Upon reflection, I realized that the other two isomers of this chemical, 1,3-dihydroxybenzene (AKA catechol or pyrocatechol) and 1,4-dihydroxybenzene (AKA hydroquinone), are both used in developers for silver halide black-and-white film and paper. As anyone who’s done black-and-white darkroom processing will remember, film and paper developers oxidize and turn brown as they age.

So I did a quick check and found that the Seliwanoff test worked properly with the tannish solution. Still, better safe than sorry, so I disposed of the aging solution and made up fresh.


Monday, 28 April 2014

08:01 – Barbara is headed back to work this morning, after being off for a week. That means Colin is likely to be a bit demonic today, expecting more attention than I’ll be able to give him. I’ll be working on filling the backlog of labeled bottles, starting with ones for biology kits. Costco shipped the second identical Core i3 laptop to me this morning. I’ll be a lot happier when it’s here and set up to produce shipping labels.

I guess I’m just not as interesting as I used to be. Over the weekend, I happened across some archived web site stats, so I compared them to my current ones. Nowadays, 1,000 page reads per day is a pretty good day, and I seldom have more than 1,200 per day. Ten years ago, a good day was 10,000 to 15,000 page reads, and my heaviest days were routinely over 20,000 page reads. Making matters worse, now each day is its own page, while back then I had an entire week’s entries on one page. I conclude that my audience now is maybe 5% of what it was back then. Oh, well. As I’ve said before, I write my journal for me. If anyone else chooses to read it, fine. But I really don’t care how many people read it.


10:45 – Yuck. I just realized that among the biology kit chemical bottles I need to fill are 90 each of glyercol and 1.5% methylcellulose, two of my least-favorite chemicals to fill. The problem is that they’re both extremely viscous. That means they’re difficult to fill bottles with. Using my automated dispensers is difficult because it’s a struggle both to fill the dispensing chamber on the upstroke and to dispense into the bottles on the downstroke. At times, I’ve tried filling manually, but the problem with that is that I’m using narrow-mouth 15 mL bottles and the glycerol or methylcellulose tends to blurp over the mouth and run down the sides.

With glycerol, I can at least heat it before filling the bottles. The viscosity of glycerol at 50C is about one tenth what it is at 20C, albeit still about 200 times the viscosity of water. Methylcellulose, conversely, actually becomes more viscous as the temperature increases. There’s no point to cooling it, because the viscosity is essentially level from room temperature down to the freezing point.

Every time I have to fill glycerol and methylcellulose bottles, I swear that next time I’ll use 30 mL bottles instead of 15 mL bottles. The mouth of a 30 mL bottle is enough wider than that of a 15 mL that it’s much easier to fill manually. But I always forget, so this time I’ve gone out and noted that in the procedures list while I’m thinking about it.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

09:30 – The morning paper reports that as many as half, HALF, of our public school third grade students are not able to read at grade level and will be required to attend summer school. After that, they’ll be re-tested to determine if they are promoted to fourth grade or are held back in third grade. Is it any wonder that homeschooling is booming?

The Dell laptop works fine for generating postage labels, but the engineer in me immediately recognized that I just created a single point of failure. If that laptop dies, I’m out of business. So today I’m going to order a second, identical laptop.


Saturday, 26 April 2014

09:02 – The morning paper reports that a 32-year-old woman who was killed Thursday in a head-on wreck was shooting selfies and posting to her Facebook page immediately before the wreck. She should be a serious contender for the 2014 Darwin Awards. We even have her last words: “The Happy Song makes me so HAPPY.” Nice that she died happy. Fortunately, the driver she rammed was not injured.

The Dell laptop arrived yesterday. I fired it up and was immediately reminded why I hate Microsoft. But I got the Stamps.com software installed, and will use it today to ship packages. I did try firing up IE and connecting to the USPS site to try to pay for the labels in my cart. As expected, it refused to accept payment. Now I just need to get the Stamps.com software configured and get a bunch of postage labels printed and science kits shipped.


12:28 – Success! I was running out of space to stack outgoing kits, but they’re all ready to be picked up. The Stamps.com software worked, and I was able to get postage labels and customs documents printed.

I’m not completely happy with Stamps.com. For one thing, the woman I spoke to when I signed up a couple days ago flat-out lied. I asked her (a) did their service do postage only by using a script to send the postage label to my printer, or did it allow me to save the postage labels as PDF copies, and (b) did the discounts on postage that Stamps.com claims to offer customers refer to the standard Click-N-Ship on-line rates or the higher counter rates. She told me that their service did allow customers to save the postage labels as PDF files, which it doesn’t, and that they discounted postage from the Click-N-Ship on-line rate, which they don’t.

Furthermore, their site and software also flat-out lie. They claim that USPS allows only one reprint attempt, after which you have to apply for a refund. That’s clearly untrue, as anyone who has ever used Click-N-Ship can attest. You can print the label(s) as many times as you wish from the screen that comes up after you pay for the label(s). You can also go back later and reprint the label(s) as needed. And you can save each label as a PDF file. There are two icons on the page, one to Print and the other to Save as PDF.

On the plus side, only some USPS services are available with Click-N-Ship. I can (or I used to be able to…) print Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express postage labels, but not First-Class or Media Rate postage. Stamps.com supports all of those, which is a minor plus for me. I seldom use anything other than Priority Mail, but there are times when I need to send out a replacement item. That might cost $10 in postage with PM and only a couple bucks via First-Class.

Friday, 25 April 2014

12:00 – I just issued our first-ever response to an RFQ for someone who intends to buy our kits via purchase order. We’ve never sold on credit before, but I’m tired of turning down business. The exposure on this one isn’t huge, 30 chemistry kits ($5,220 worth) to a state 4-year college that has 20,000+ students. So I decided to offer them 30-day terms. I’ll do the same for other public and private institutions that appear credit-worthy. In other words, I won’t sell on credit to, say, the bankrupt Detroit public school system, but I’ll happily sell on 30-day terms to, say, Penn State University or Cal Tech.

We’ve sold a lot of kits to public and private high schools, community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and various local, state, and federal government agencies, but always either via credit card or on a pro-forma invoice and pre-paid by check. The problem with that is that it’s a major hassle for the would-be buyers, who simply want to get their purchasing departments to buy the stuff. Many of them simply can’t do it other than by purchase order, so we end up missing out on hundreds of kit sales.

I’m fully aware that we’ll probably end up writing off a few bad debts or submitting them to a collection agency, but as long as I use reasonable judgment I don’t think that’ll be a major problem. When we started this business we had no credit history, but our two major wholesalers automatically granted us credit lines of $1,000 to $2,000 without any kind of formal credit application. At this point, I could probably issue a purchase order to either of them for $5,000 without anyone blinking an eye. They know we pay quickly. So, I figure if they can trust us, we can trust public universities and similar organizations.


Thursday, 24 April 2014

08:54 – Barbara was over at her sister’s house yesterday, when I was struck by a cunning plan. I asked if Al would be willing to let me borrow his Windows laptop overnight, to which he kindly agreed. So I waited until this morning in case we got orders overnight, and then fired it up and attempted to pay for the postage labels in my cart. No joy. I got the same “payment method declined” error message on Al’s Windows laptop. Apparently, it’s not Linux that USPS hates. It’s me personally. USPS will not accept payment from me using any credit card or PayPal on any computer running any browser. I even tried creating a new USPS account and re-entering the label data. When I tried to pay, I got the same error.

Costco says my new Windows notebook system is to arrive tomorrow. It probably won’t work either. But I already have a stamps.com account set up, so I’ll install their client software and just start using stamps.com to generate my postage labels. They charge $16 per month, which’ll probably be less expensive than paying USPS directly because stamps.com discounts postage.


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

08:15 – Yesterday, I signed up for stamps.com after talking with one of their reps. I told her that I was running Linux, so I couldn’t run their software. No problem, she said, their software runs only under Windows, but they have many Mac customers who use their web-based service. And, she told me when I asked, their site provided the labels as downloadable PDFs rather than using a server-side script to send the label directly to my printer. So I signed up, logged on to the web site, signed in, and promptly got an error message that I was running an unsupported OS. Crap. So I changed the user agent to tell their site I was running Mozilla 26 under Windows. I was then able to use the site, until I tried to print a label. It then told me that I needed to install a plug-in and to click the icon to install it. No icon was visible, of course.

So, at least until my Windows laptop arrives, I’m stuck trying to generate labels on the USPS site. Sometimes that works, but very seldom. Meanwhile, I have kits stacking up in the shipping queue. I’m going to try wiping out everything Chrome has stored and see if that’ll let me generate labels.


Tuesday, 22 April 2014

09:41 – Sankie’s funeral is Thursday. I’ve arranged with the neighbors to walk Colin while we’re gone and keep an eye on our house. Barbara is heading over to her mom’s apartment this morning to meet Frances and get the place ready to meet people after the funeral.

Meanwhile, it turns out that the Opera workaround for getting labels printed on the USPS website was not the permanent fix I’d hoped it was. I had kits to ship yesterday, so I fired up Opera and entered the data for the labels. When I attempted to pay for them, I got the old “payment method denied” message. So I fired up Chrome or Firefox, I forget which, and clicked on the link to pay for the labels in my cart. This time it worked, and I was able to pay for some of the labels, get them printed, and get the kits shipped. Not all of the kits, though. The USPS web site choked on the foreign shipments, so I have two kits going to Canada that are still sitting in the cart.

So I tried using PayPal shipping for the Canadian kits. No dice. It appeared to work normally. It let me pay from my PayPal balance. But PayPal uses Pitney-Bowes, which doesn’t produce a downloadable PDF label. Instead it runs a script that is supposed to send the label to your printer, but doesn’t allow you to save a copy of the label. Long story short, I could not get the label to either printer no matter what I tried. Bastards.

I decided to give up trying to make this work. I checked the Costco site for Windows notebook systems. Barbara is going to pick one up for me while she’s out today. Assuming that solves the USPS label problem, I will dedicate that system to printing labels.


13:19 – Barbara called from Costco to say they had literally no Dell laptops. Apparently, they’re in the midst of a model-year changeover. They did have a few Toshiba and HP laptops, but I told her I wasn’t interested in any of those and that I’d just order on-line.

I checked Amazon, which of course had slews of laptops, but everything they had in Dell models was more expensive than Costco. And Amazon doesn’t have the doubled warranty or the easy return. I ordered a model that was a couple steps up from the bottom model Costco carried. It has an Intel Core i3 rather than a Celeron. Only a 500 GB 5400 RPM hard drive and 4 GB of RAM, but that’s fine for what I want it for. No touch screen, which I explicitly didn’t want. The total, with $30 shipping and sales tax, was just over $400. Not bad.

It comes with Windows 8.1. If there’s an option at first boot to choose Win 7, I’ll do that. Otherwise, I’ll probably install the shell program that several readers have recommended.

Oh, and a guy just showed up at the front door with flowers for Barbara. I called to see how her day was going, and mentioned the flowers. I also made it very clear that they’re not from me. (Barbara has told me in the past that if I ever buy her flowers she’ll know I’ve been up to no good…) She claims that she doesn’t think I’m funny (although just about every other woman I know does think I’m funny…) but she did laugh at that.

Monday, 21 April 2014

09:00 – Barbara’s mom died last night at her apartment. We knew that Sankie couldn’t last much longer, but we were still surprised at how quickly it happened. Although her sudden death was a shock to everyone, particularly Barbara and Frances, it was actually a good thing. The Hospice nurse had started her Saturday night on morphine for severe pain, so at least she didn’t linger on in pain for days or weeks.