Monday, 30 June 2014

09:32 – We visited Sam’s Club yesterday with Frances and Al, who are members of both Costco and Sam’s. On items that both carry, the prices were very similar, a bit higher or lower, but nothing that would make it worth driving across the street. In this case, literally. The two are within about a quarter mile (400 meters) of each other.

From the appearance of the customers and the cars out in the lot, the two obviously have different customer demographics, albeit with a fair amount of overlap. Costco is mostly middle-class to upper-middle-class customers, while Sam’s is mostly middle-class to lower-middle-class. I did notice that Sam’s staff seemed a lot friendlier than typical WalMart staff, although not nearly as friendly as Costco staff.

At any rate, we ended up filling a shopping cart with mostly canned goods–cases of Campbell’s creamy and chunky soups, canned meats and vegetables, Chef Boyardee, and so on. Barbara also picked up some frozen stuff and a couple gallons of orange juice. The total was only $264, so it wasn’t a big run.

If Frances is willing to take us, we may try visiting the other Sam’s Club in town, which is much closer to us. But I think Barbara and I are agreed that we probably won’t bother joining. We get most of what we need at Costco, and Frances said we were welcome to meet them at Sam’s any time we wanted to do a run there.

11:24 – The guy just showed up to replace our garage doors. The existing ones are uninsulated single-layer steel, and have been there since not long after we moved into this house in 1987. The new ones are also steel, but two-layer with a layer of R10 insulation between them.

We got two quotes, the first from Costco and the second from the company that replaced one of the openers a couple years ago. The two quotes were within $50 of each other, straddling $1,700 including tax. The Costco contractor was going to replace the tracks. The second guy said he could replace the tracks if we wanted but the existing ones were perfectly good, and in fact were better than new tracks, which are made of lighter-gauge steel. The second contractor also showed us the difference between the hardware they used and the hardware the Costco contractor would use. The second guy’s hinges and rollers were significantly better, and the opener they planned to install was also heavier duty. So we went with the second contractor for $50 or so more.

Supposedly it’ll take three or four hours for the installation. Colin is outraged at what he hears going on down there, and I suspect I won’t get much done until late this afternoon.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

10:24 – We’re doing the usual Sunday stuff.

Yesterday I moved the canned dry goods we purchased from the LDS store off the steel shelving unit and onto a pallet I built along one wall from 2×2 spacers and 1×6 boards. Keeping that stuff on the steel shelving unit was a waste of heavy-duty shelving that we can use for canned soups, vegetables, fruits, etc. The LDS store stuff is in cases of six #10 cans each, and the cases stack just fine without shelves to separate them. A space 8 feet (2.5 meters) wide by 40″ (1 meter) high by 13″ (33 cm) deep is sufficient to stack 25 cases 5×5. Depending on contents, the cases range in weight from about 13 to 37 pounds (6 to 17 kilos), so stacking them five high isn’t a problem.

I’ve also claimed some unused space in our full-size vertical freezer, which I’ll use to store small, high-value items, particularly those with shorter shelf lives. The rule of thumb in chemistry is that each change of 10 degrees Celsius doubles/halves the rate of a reaction. In a freezer at -20C versus room temperature of 20C, that 40C difference is four doublings, or a factor of 16X. In other words, an item that has a one-year shelf life at +20C can be expected to have a sixteen-year shelf life at -20C. And there’s no drawback to keeping that unused space filled. The converse, in fact. If we have a power failure, the more mass that’s in that freezer at -20C, the longer the contents will stay cold.

11:21 – I hate it when updates break stuff. Barbara has a Sansa Fuze MP3 player. For years, every two or three months I’ve refilled it with music simply by connecting it to a USB port and having it recognized as a USB mass storage device. This morning, I plugged it in and got an error. Ubuntu 14.04 said it was “unable to open MTP device”. A quick search turned up the solution. I had to go into settings on the Fuze and change the USB settings from Autodetect to MSC. I wish that Linux developers would adopt as their Prime Directive “DO NOT BREAK SOMETHING THAT ALREADY WORKS”.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

08:41 – Another front-page article in the paper this morning about the death of the child in the school bus incident, this one describing how the prosecution’s case fell apart. Everyone seems to agree that the prosecution was not at fault and did the right thing by going for the misdemeanor plea deal after the case ended in a mistrial. I disagree. I think they should have dismissed the charges and let the guy walk. They had no evidence that he’d committed any crime whatsoever, and strong evidence that what the driver had claimed happened was exactly what had happened.

All of that said, this guy is a moron. Who else drives at 45 MPH past a stopped school bus with its yellow lights flashing? Any normal person in that situation would take his foot off the accelerator, slow down, and be ready to brake. This guy just blew past the bus at 45 MPH, struck the child, and tossed his body 125 feet. So, we have a dead child who’d done nothing wrong and two adults who at the very least showed no sense. One of those adults will spend 30 days in jail, which at least may give him the opportunity to think about what happened. And then there’s the school bus driver, whose actions in turning around and sitting stopped with only the yellow lights flashing were in violation of policy and were at least in part responsible for the child’s death. As far as I know, she faces no disciplinary action, let alone termination.

Friday, 27 June 2014

09:00 – I do wish the USPS would stop “improving” its Click-N-Ship website. A couple of months ago they changed the input screen for shipments to Canada. There used to be a drop-down list at the top of the form where you had to pick the province. The rest of the fields were all free text-entry fields. Now, you still have to pick the province from the drop-down list at the top and you can then enter free text for the addressee’s name, street address, and so on, but then you get to drop-down list hell. For some reason, you again have to choose the province from a drop-down list. Then, instead of being able to type in the city name, you have to choose it from a (very long) drop-down list of cities/towns in that province. Then, instead of being able to type in the postal code, which in Canada takes the form X9X 9X9, you have to choose it from a drop-down list of postal codes within the city you chose. And it doesn’t provide full postal codes, only the first three bytes, with nowhere to enter the remainder of the postal code.

So, yesterday morning I had a kit to ship to Canada. The address the buyer provided was Toronto, ONT M3A 9X9. So I chose Ontario, followed by Toronto, but “M3A” wasn’t on the list of postal codes. So I searched Google for her full postal code and found out that as far as USPS was concerned it was in North York, a part of the Toronto metro area. So I selected the city name as North York and picked M3A from the drop-down list. When I printed the postage label, the address was in the form “M3A Toronto ONT”. Figuring that M3A wouldn’t suffice, I used a pen to print the full postal code on the label and all three copies of the customs document. Geez.

But at least USPS let me pay for that label without giving me the “Payment method declined…” error message. Same thing around lunchtime, when I ran another batch of labels. Then, mid-afternoon, I tried to print another label for an order I’d just gotten. I was in a hurry because it was almost time for USPS to show up. And, of course, when I tried to pay for that label, I got the dreaded “Payment method declined…” error message. I tried again to pay. No dice. I exited and restarted Firefox and tried to pay again. No dice. I fired up Chrome and tried to pay. No dice. So I restarted Firefox and tried to pay. This time, it worked and I was able to pay for and print the label.

Just as I clicked Print, the phone rang. It was USPS tech support calling, and the guy said it looked like I was having problems printing postage labels. I told him that I was, that this had been going on sporadically since January or February, and that in fact it was going on at the moment and that I’d only just gotten it to work for the label I’d just sent to the printer. The guy said he’d just fixed the problem with my account. I told him that his fix must not have worked because I was just now having the problem. He said he meant literally that he’d just fixed the problem as in two seconds before he dialed my number and that was why I’d just been able to pay for and print the label that I’d just sent to the printer. I thanked him and asked him what I should do if the problem recurred. He said it wouldn’t recur, that he’d permanently fixed the problem with my account, but if I ever did have a problem with Click-N-Ship to call him directly at the number he provided.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

08:54 – Yesterday, the morning paper reported that the driver I mentioned some time ago who’d hit and killed the little boy running to catch his school bus had been sentenced on a plea bargain for a misdemeanor charge, with a 60-day sentence and 30 days of active jail time. No matter what actually happened, this was a complete miscarriage of justice. If the guy was guilty of the felony he was originally charged with, a 30-day jail term is completely outrageous. If he was not guilty of any crime, as I suspect was the case, he should have been freed.

The prosecution originally claimed that the driver had passed a stopped school bus with its stop-arm out and its red lights flashing before striking the child. The defense accident reconstruction expert testified that his review of the evidence established that the stop-arm was not out nor the red lights flashing. The prosecution expert, an accident reconstruction specialist from the state police, originally testified that the stop-arm and red lights had been activated, but later reversed his testimony based on additional evidence and testified that what the defense expert had said originally was in fact true. He testified that the school bus had in fact been stopped for at least 20 seconds, but without the stop-arm or red lights activated. So when the driver passed the school bus in the opposite lane, he violated no law.

Most of the prosecution’s case depended on the testimony of the school bus driver. Part of the additional evidence was her record, which was so bad that she shouldn’t have been driving a regular automobile let alone a school bus. The school system had fired her for cause in 2006, only to rehire her later in 2006 in violation of their own policies. Her record has numerous traffic violations and infractions, including one incident where she missed her stop and backed up the bus (in violation of policy) and ran into a car stopped behind her. She claimed she couldn’t see the car because her school bus blocked her vision. Geez. So, this woman has zero credibility as a witness, and without her testimony the prosecution’s case fell apart. I suspect the prosecution knew they couldn’t convict the accused, so they salvaged what they could by offering him a plea bargain down to the misdemeanor. And I suspect the accused’s attorney told him he’d be better off accepting the plea bargain than risking being convicted of something he hadn’t done.

12:12 – I knew I’ve fired too many different automatic weapons when I instantly identified the machine gun in this image, without so much as a second thought:


Wednesday, 25 June 2014

08:44 – I was making up chemical bags yesterday when my inventory system failed me. I had one chemical listed as having 80 bottles in stock, but the bin contained only 6 bottles. So, either I removed 74 bottles to build kits and forgot to update the inventory list or I have a large plastic bag somewhere with 74 bottles of that chemical that didn’t make it into the bin. No big deal. If there’s a bag around, it’ll turn up. But I just ran off 120 more labels and will get our stock of that chemical built up again.

Hmmm. Half of Americans don’t want atheist in-laws I don’t blame them. If we had kids, I wouldn’t want them marrying into a family of true religious believers.

Monday, 23 June 2014

07:48 – Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. Barbara is headed back to work this morning. Colin’s had a full week of Barbara being gone followed by a weekend with her home, so it may take him a day or two to get used to being back in the routine.

Stock on the CK01B chemistry kits is running low, so I need to build another batch.

10:44 – I just got another big purchase order issued, which should be the last big one I need to do until probably October or November. I wanted to get stocked up before the West Coast dockworkers’ contract expires at the end of this month. There are likely to be major disruptions on products from countries that ship to the West Coast. A lot of the components we use in kits are sourced from India whenever possible and otherwise China. But all of the stuff I’ve ordered was in-stock, and once it arrives we’ll have the components we need to build several hundred more kits.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

10:22 – We spent the first day of summer doing our usual Saturday tasks. Today, more of the same.

Our neighbors down on the corner are finally ready to put their house on the market. Bill and Barbara bought another house some months ago and gradually moved in. For the last several months, they’ve been gradually moving more stuff out of their old home and getting it ready to go on the market. Bill says the sign goes up Monday. They’re asking $250,000, which may be a tad optimistic. The one across the street from them sold a month or two ago for $169,000, but it was in bad shape. Bill said they actually sold it for considerably less than they’d paid 10 years ago.

The new family across the street from Bill is finally moving in. He’s a professor of Chinese religious studies who formerly worked at Appalachian State University up in Boone, NC. He’s now employed by Wake Forest University. His wife is still up in Boone, getting their old house ready to sell. Bill says the guy is probably mid- to late-30’s, and seems nice enough. Bill did express some reservations. Apparently, the guy’s legs are completely covered with tattoos and his hair is bright purple.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

07:49 – Barbara got home around lunchtime yesterday. Colin and I are both delighted.

Kevlar inventor Stephanie Kwolek dies aged 90. I never met her, although had things been different I might have. One of my junior high school classmates was her niece, Kathy Kwolek. Kathy was close friends with Debby Dailey, who lived two houses up the street from me. They were two of the first girls I noticed as girls. I was interested in both of them, particularly Kathy, who was far prettier than Debby, but both of them were too busy doing teenage girl things to take much notice of me.

More work on science kits today.