Wednesday, 21 May 2014

09:37 – We’re getting low on biology kits, so I’ll get started on a new batch today. We got a good start last weekend on cleaning out the upstairs work/inventory room. Once we finish that, I’ll have room to store a couple hundred or more kits there.

14:03 – I found this surprising: Only 56 percent of Americans can perform the five core swimming skills

The article notes that 86% of Americans believe they can swim, which apparently means that 30% of the people you encounter believe they can swim, but can’t. Hmmm. I believe I can swim, but perhaps I’m wrong. I learned to swim before I started elementary school. Our junior high school had an indoor pool, and half our gym classes took place in the pool. In high school and college I spent lots of time every summer swimming and diving, and I passed the Water Safety Instructor test in college. But I haven’t tested the hypothesis in probably 35 years or more, so perhaps I’ve actually forgotten how to swim.

But apparently nearly half of Americans lack even basic swimming skills, which is disgraceful. How can parents not teach their children to swim? How can schools not require that children demonstrate the ability to swim? Talk about a fundamental skill. If in fact 44% of Americans can’t swim, I’m surprised that only 10 people a day drown in this country.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

08:16 – We’re apparently getting a new mailman. Danny Hughes, who’s been our carrier for the last couple or three years, started working a new route yesterday. Tammi, Danny’s regular replacement, told me that she wasn’t completely sure who’d be the new regular carrier, but the one she expects to get this route is a good one. I’ll have to get him used to picking up a lot of packages here.

I’m still building up inventory by filling bottles. Lots and lots of bottles. When I finally get through this latest batch, we’ll have enough for 60 forensics kits, 90 biology kits, and 150 chemistry kits.

Monday, 19 May 2014

07:50 – I learned something from a front-page article in the paper this morning. I’d assumed that North Carolina had a modern medical examiner system. Not so, as it turns out. We have what are called medical examiners, but in fact the setup is more like the old, obsolete coroner system. Medical examiners are appointed by the state medical examiner, and there are no qualifications required. We apparently have nurses, paramedics, and morticians working as medical examiners. And, incredibly, they’re paid piecework, a flat $100 per body. They don’t even get mileage for visiting the scenes, so they usually don’t. In one of the cases described, the medical examiner ruled the cause of death a car accident. Fortunately, the funeral home noticed four stab wounds in the guy’s back. The medical examiner said she’d looked at the guy’s body at the morgue, but hadn’t bothered to turn it over. Quincy wept.

10:39 – We have a contractor doing some work today. They showed up around 8:30 and got to work replacing the columns on the front porch, which were rotting. They installed aluminum replacements. That took a couple hours. Now they’re chiseling out the rotting threshold of the back door, replacing it, and replacing the storm door out to the deck. Barbara’s been wanting to do these projects for a while now, so I’m sure she’ll be happy when she gets home and sees that they’re complete. Colin is not happy about what’s going on, though. I have him penned up to make sure he can’t help with the projects.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

09:25 – I just finished reading Alan Bradley’s latest Flavia de Luce mystery, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. It’s as good or better than the earlier titles in the series, which is to say top-notch.

Flavia lives, with her father and two older sisters, in a stately old country home that is gradually rotting away because of the family’s reduced circumstances. Flavia, age 11 (almost 12), is a budding scientist who adores chemistry and uses her knowledge of chemistry to solve crimes. She’s fortunate enough to have “inherited” her late uncle Tarquin’s fully-equipped laboratory and makes the most of it, running investigations based on the state of chemistry, biology, and forensic science at the time.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

09:18 – Dentist yesterday. I was home by noon, and decided that I had time to get postage labels printed for the 30 kits stacked up waiting to ship. I’d been using the USPS Click-and-Ship website successfully to print postage labels for a week or more, but of course this time it decided not to cooperate. So I fired up the software and used it to generate and print postage labels.

We’ve had a month’s worth of rain this week, with more to come tomorrow. While I do laundry this morning, Barbara’s heading out to do yardwork before the rain shows up.

Friday, 16 May 2014

09:21 – I have those 30 kits boxed up and ready to ship. I started with filled and labeled chemical bottles, but otherwise I built those kits from scratch in two busy days. That tells me that without additional labor we can build at least 30 kits a week every week if we need to, or about 1,500 kits per year. That’ll do for now.

That leaves storage as the only issue. Barbara nixed the idea of parking my Trooper outside. She doesn’t want it sitting out in the weather. As an alternative, she suggested expanding our storage area into the finished area downstairs. That’s fine with me. That means I can get most of the stuff out of the work/storage room upstairs and use it mostly for finished goods inventory and partially as a staging area for building kits. Bulk stuff like cases of bottles, beakers, tubes, etc. can go into the finished area downstairs. Problem solved, at least for the next year or two.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

09:54 – Yesterday, I finished making up all the subcomponents for 30 chemistry kits, including 30 shipping boxes. Today, I’ll get those 30 kits boxed up and ready to ship.

When we started this business, I expected to sell science kits almost exclusively to homeschool families, with perhaps a few being purchased by DIY science hobbyists, private high schools, homeschool co-op groups, and so on. It turns out that our potential market is a lot broader than I expected. We’ve sold kits to many public high schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities, as well as local, state, and federal organizations. It appears that our potential market is easily ten times the size I expected, and could very well be 100 times or more. Rather than selling hundreds of kits per year, we could be selling thousands. Assuming that we want to do what it takes to do that.

We made three decisions starting out: we didn’t want to borrow money, rent space, or hire employees. I still don’t want to do any of those, but I realize that those decisions limit us to shipping perhaps 1,500 kits per year, and that’s working flat out on building and shipping kits, leaving no time to do anything else.

I still don’t intend to borrow money, ever. I don’t want to be beholden to a bank, and we can easily fund reasonable growth from cash flow. Space and labor are another issue. Eventually, if we want to continue growing, we’re going to have to rent or buy space and hire employees. Right now, space is the main constraint. And that’s easily solved for now. I can simply park my Trooper at the end of the drive and use the space that frees up to install industrial shelving for storing raw materials, component inventory, and finished-goods inventory. As to labor, we can make do for now. If necessary, we can subcontract out some of the time-consuming stuff, like labeling bottles. Eventually, when Barbara retires, she’ll be able to put in more time on kit stuff. But I don’t doubt that the day will come when we’ll have business premises and hired employees. I’m really not looking forward to all of the hassles involved in doing that.

Meanwhile, we’re going to do some stuff aimed at increasing sales to public schools, universities, and so on. The first thing is accepting purchase orders, which we’ve already started doing. The second thing is designing and building classroom kits. A course-based classroom kit doesn’t differ much from our current individual kits. It’s simply designed to support four workgroups rather than just one for a lab course that covers an entire semester or year. Topic-based classroom kits, which we’ll also eventually create, are different. Rather than cover, say, a year-long first-year chemistry lab course, a topic-based kit covers only a particular topic, such as chemical equilibrium, forensic blood analysis, or photosynthesis and respiration in plants. Topic-based kits make it easy for a teacher to pick and choose the topics to be covered.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

09:33 – Yesterday, I binned and bagged 30 sets of unregulated chemicals for chemistry kits, and binned 30 sets of regulated chemicals. I’ll bag those today, make up 30 small parts bags, tape up 30 boxes, and start building the kits. I also need to make up four liters of iodine solution, which we’re running short of.

I also spent a lot of time yesterday getting my main system configured, restoring data, and so on. Everything works now. I’m content with Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, which is good considering that I intend to continue using it for the next five years. I already like it better than I did Linux Mint 15.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

08:40 – I’m now running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS on my main system. At the moment, I don’t care much for it–they seem to take pleasure in making simple things difficult–but it’s supported for five years and I’m sure I’ll get used to it. Fortunately, the Firefox and Thunderbird data transferred seamlessly. I just fired them both up and was back where I was.

Linux Mint 15 shot craps on me late yesterday afternoon. Suddenly I had no network connection. At first, I thought our Internet connection was down, but it wasn’t. So I rebooted the system, and it still didn’t work. At that point, I began to think that the Ethernet adapter had died. Only a couple days ago, I’d downloaded the ISO for Ubuntu 14.04, so I stuck the DVD in the drive and rebooted again. Ubuntu came up in try-before-you-buy mode, and was able to access the Internet with no problem. Okay, enough of Linux Mint, which has always been flaky anyway.

I had multiple recent backups, both to external hard drive and USB flash sticks, but I decided to pull another full copy to another hard drive. That ran overnight. This morning, I disconnected the external hard drive, rebooted the system to the Ubuntu 14.04 DVD, and installed. That took only a few minutes, and I was up and running. I still have to transfer over the bulk of my data, get printers configured, and so on, but on balance I’m glad to be back on Ubuntu.

Kit-wise, this has gone from a slowish month to a reasonable one, all because we just got an order for 30 CK01A chemistry kits from a Florida state university. Unfortunately, we have only a couple dozen of those kits in stock at the moment, so I’m just going to build another batch of 30 specifically for this order.

Monday, 12 May 2014

10:01 – Yesterday, of course, was very hard for Barbara, as it was her first Mother’s Day without her mom. We did a Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul. Neither we nor they actually needed much at Costco, but I think it did Barbara good to see them and relax over dinner.

Kit sales remain very slow, although we’re building like crazy. Come July, August, and September, things will reverse. We’ll be shipping kits much faster than we can build them. We’re in pretty good shape on component inventory, so for now I’m concentrating on bottling chemicals that have long shelf lives.