Monday, 9 June 2014

11:43 – We drove out to Home Depot yesterday and picked up a steel shelving unit, which we’ll dedicate to food storage. We decided to get the 4-foot wide one rather than the 5-footer to leave more clearance for Barbara to get the lawnmower, lawn vacuum, wheelbarrow, and other farming gear in and out. Even the smaller unit provides considerable storage space, with 40 square feet of shelving in a unit 6’6″ tall. That’s about two cubic yards of storage space, enough for at least a full person-year of stored food.

USPS has struck again. I just shipped a kit to Canada, and they’ve changed their Click-N-Ship page. Until recently, there was an empty field where one could enter the Canadian postal code manually, in the form X9X 9X9. That’s no longer an option. This morning, I found that empty field had been replaced by a drop-down list, as had the field for city name. I was shipping the kit to Ottawa, Ontario. So I chose Ontario from a drop-down list, followed by Ottawa from another drop-down list. But when I got to the postal code field, my only options were to choose the first three characters, which in this case were K2A. There was nowhere to enter the remaining three characters. I figured that the USPS software would fill out the missing three characters, but when I printed the label they were still missing. The last line was “K2A Ottawa Ontario”. I wasn’t sure that was sufficient, so I manually printed the full postal code beneath the CANADA line.


Sunday, 8 June 2014

10:45 – We’re doing the usual Sunday stuff. Barbara just finished cleaning house. I finished the last of the laundry and started hauling stuff downstairs from the library/living room.

We’re getting to the point where kit components are in reasonable supply, so I’m going to shift gears from working on kits every day to devoting two days a week to stuff that’s been on my to-do list for a long time. Such as finishing the earth science manual, getting started on the manual/design for AP Chemistry and AP Biology, and so on. Not to mention doing some cleaning up and uncluttering of the upstairs.


11:12 – Texas Republicans favor ‘reparative therapy’ platform for gays

Morons. There are two things wrong with their reasoning, if such a word can be applied to their thought processes: first, the implicit assumption, with no supporting evidence, is that there’s something wrong with being gay, that it needs “fixing”. Second, there’s the explicit assumption, again with zero supporting evidence, that it’s possible to “convert” someone from being gay to being straight. In all of the history of H. sapiens, that’s been accomplished exactly zero times. If you are heterosexual and doubt the truth of that statement, just try to imagine “therapy” that would cause you to “convert” to being gay.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

08:44 – Boy, are we staying around home today. The Angelou funeral is going to be a zoo, with Oprah, Obama’s wife, and Bill Clinton attending. I would imagine that by now traffic is snarled everywhere near Wake Forest University. No one knows for sure if the Westboro Baptist Church nutters are going to show up. Either way, it’s likely to be a major media circus, with crews from all the network and cable news channels there, not to mention the local TV stations. I suspect WFU is now regretting providing Angelou with a sinecure for all those years.

We finished watching season seven of Heartland last night. We had time for one more episode. Since it was my birthday, I talked Barbara into watching season one episode one. And so the cycle continues. I figure I’ll be able to get through all seven seasons two or three more times before season eight finishes broadcasting next spring.

Barbara said she didn’t object to me storing food as long as it was stuff we’d actually eat. In other words, no raw grain, beans, etc. That was fine with me, because I’ve never believed in storing a bunch of dry grains, beans, etc. Instead, I’m storing a lot of canned goods, along with bulk supplies of rice, sugar, salt, flour, dry milk, etc.

Accordingly, I’ve been ordering stuff from Amazon Prime Pantry. We have quite a few cans of Bush’s Baked Beans in stock. Costco sells them in 8-packs for about $1.50 per 16-ounce can. But I noticed that Amazon Pantry had Van Camp’s Pork & Beans for $0.50 per 15-ounce can. Before ordering 50 or 100 cans of the VC Pork & Beans, I decided we’d better try them first. I’m glad we did. They may be about a third the price of the Bush’s, but they are, not to put too fine a point on it, terrible. Fortunately, Amazon Prime Pantry carries the Bush’s Baked Beans in two sizes. The 16-ounce cans are $1.48 each, but the 28-ounce cans are only $0.30 more. So instead of ordering 50 or 100 cans of the VC Pork & Beans, I’ll order 50 or 100 cans of the 28-ounce Bush’s. Not all at once, but in batches over the coming months.


Friday, 6 June 2014

07:58 – Happy Birthday to me. I turn 61 today.

Barbara mentioned last night that it’d be a good idea to stay away from the Wake Forest University area until Angelou’s funeral is over with. I suggested this morning that Barbara take an alternate route to work rather than attempting Reynolda Road, which passes the main WFU entrance. Apparently, WFU will be closed to the public tomorrow for the funeral. It’s likely to be a real media circus, with Oprah Winfrey and Obama’s wife speaking, which of course means the SS will also be out in force. It’s also possible the Westboro Baptist Church nutters will show up to protest because Angelou was a vocal supporter of gay rights. That, of course, means we’ll also have a large group of bikers out to protect the family from the WBC nutters.


Thursday, 5 June 2014

08:07 – Public schools have been in the news here lately. With the Republicans firmly in control of state government, big changes to public education are in prospect.

Legislators are doing their best to do away with tenure for public school teachers. That suffered a setback recently when a liberal judge ruled that the state couldn’t take back something that had already been granted. I expect the state supreme court will reverse that decision. And North Carolina is withdrawing from Common Core, which the state just began implementing recently. A review panel has been set up, tasked with adopting new state curriculum standards, with the provision that Common Core is not acceptable even if the panel determines that it is the best available alternative. And legislators have carefully crafted a new law to get around US Supreme Court decisions on restricting religion in public schools.

The real problem is that the politicians have set their sights far too low. The fundamental problem is public schools, period. The North Carolina constitution requires the state to provide an elementary through high school education to all children. But the constitution doesn’t specify how that is to be done.

The solution is to establish an educational voucher system. A real one, one that is available to all students’ families rather than just a tiny percentage. And one that is funded directly by the pool of money allocated to public education. Those vouchers should be for the amount the state currently spends per student, and the amount of any voucher redeemed at a private school should immediately be deducted from the budget allocated to the public schools in that student’s district.

It’s also important that the state implement absolutely no requirements or standards for private schools, including any restrictions or requirements concerningn secular versus religious, teacher certifications, and so on. It should be entirely up to the private schools themselves to set their own policies and to the parents and students to decide what constitutes an appropriate education.

The immediate result of such a true school choice program would be that public schools would have to compete efficiently and effectively in an educational free market if they want to survive at all. Most would not, and that’s all to the good. Would some students receive very poor educations? Of course they would, but almost certainly fewer than currently receive very poor educations in our existing public schools.


15:05 – I’ve been making up solutions and filling bottles all day, hundreds of bottles. And I just got to the next item on my to-do list, which is methyl red solution. Methyl red, AKA 2-(N,N-Dimethyl-4-aminophenyl)azobenzenecarboxylic acid, is extraordinarily insoluble in water. So much so that the solution we use, 0.02% w/v, exceeds the solubility of methyl red. That’s 0.2 g/L. If I simply add 0.2 g of methyl red to a liter of water, about 90% of it (at a guess) remains undissolved.

Fortunately, there’s a way around this. The sodium salt of methyl red is considerably more soluble than the free acid. Unfortunately, I wasn’t thinking about that when I ordered what amounts to a lifetime supply of the free acid. So I need to convert the free acid to the sodium salt. That’s easy enough to do: simply dissolve the methyl red free acid in a (very) dilute solution of sodium hydroxide to form a solution of sodium methylredate. (I lay claim to creating that anion name; Google finds zero instances of it.)

Just how dilute? Well, the stoichiometry says that one mole of sodium hydroxide reacts with one mole of methyl red. The molecular mass of the free acid is 269.30 g/mol, while that of sodium hydroxide is 39.9971 g/mol. But making up a liter of 0.02% methyl red requires only 0.2 g, or 0.00074+ mole. Accordingly, for a 1:1 correspondence, I need about 29.7 milligrams of sodium hydroxide. The standard 6 M sodium hydroxide solution that we supply with many of our kits contains 240 mg/mL, so I’d need to add about an eighth of a milliliter of that solution per liter. The plastic pipettes we buy 10,000 at a time deliver about 33 drops/mL, so call it four drops.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

08:10 – We’re now halfway through season seven of Heartland, watching three episodes per evening. In addition to binge-watching Heartland, I’m binge-reading the works of R. Austin Freeman in publication order. I haven’t read them since I was a young teenager, and they’re as good as I remembered them. If you enjoy Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, give R. Austin Freeman’s Thorndyke stories a try. Freeman is a better writer than Doyle, and Thorndyke is a better detective than Holmes. Freeman was prolific, but his works are available in e-book form, many or most of them free.

I just bought a $0.99 collection of his short stories, The Singing Bone, on Amazon.com last night. I was surprised to find that this ebook is DRM’d. So I installed Calibre on my main system and downloaded the plug-ins needed to strip DRM from Kindle ebooks. I do wish that Amazon would stop offering DRM as an option and that authors and publishers would stop using it. All it does is annoy the paying customers.


11:45 – We have one of these steel shelving units in the basement that we use to store kit components. I think I’m going to add another of these for food storage. Right now, our kitchen cabinets are crammed with canned goods and dry goods. The only real problem with that is that it makes it inconvenient to rotate stock, keeping the older stuff toward the front. Using one of these shelving units that is accessible from both sides would make it easy to add new stuff to one side and remove older stuff from the other side. It would also help to unclutter Barbara’s kitchen cabinets.

One of these shelving units provides 50 square feet (5 square meters) of shelf space in about 2.4 cubic yards (2 cubic meters). It’s rated to hold 5,000 pounds (2,272 kilos), which is more than sufficient. That part of our basement isn’t climate-controlled but it stays pretty cool in summer and reasonably warm in winter, so it’s fine for long-term food storage.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

08:06 – One of the minor annoyances with Netflix streaming has been that titles disappear with little notice. In the past, Netflix has provided as little as three or four days’ notice. That’s fine for a movie, but not very helpful for a series. Every time I’ve spoken to Netflix tech support about another issue, I’ve asked them to please make the end date available for each title, or at least give more notice. Yesterday, I noticed that they’ve started doing that. Three of the items in our streaming queue are marked as expiring on 1 July, including one series that we just started watching: Outrageous Fortune, a pretty good series from New Zealand. We won’t have time to finish it. There are 107 episodes, so we’ll just bag it for now and wait until Netflix gets it back, as they probably will.

In the first six seasons of Heartland, Amber Marshall’s character Amy didn’t drink alcohol, other than one incident where a bad guy spiked her drinks with vodka at a party. Even during holidays, birthdays, etc. when all the adults were having wine with dinner, Amy had a glass of water. But during an episode we watched the other night, Amy had a glass of wine with dinner. Apparently, she’s turned 21 and is now allowed wine. So I mentioned this to Kim yesterday because Jasmine turns 21 on June 21st. I mentioned jokingly that Jas would now be allowed to drink. I was flabbergasted when Kim said that Jas has already mentioned this and said that she expects to have wine with her birthday dinner. I thought Jas was an alcohol-shall-never-pass-my-lips kind of girl. For example, she refuses to go out with college boys who (gasp) drink beer. I may have to reconsider my opinion of Jas. She’s not as prissy as I thought she was. She does, however, have an unhealthy tendency to obey laws.


10:06 – I’m in the midst of making up 137 30 mL bottles of iodine solution, which is included in most of our kits. That’s as many bottles as I could fill with the ~4.25 liters of solution I had on hand. I’ll make up another 6+ liters of iodine solution today, but I can’t fill another batch of bottles because I’m down to only half a dozen of the special phenolic cone caps we use on those bottles to keep the iodine from outgassing.

I spent some time yesterday afternoon getting one of the new laptop systems configured for Barbara to use as her main system. It should have been easy to transfer her Thunderbird email data and Firefox browser data over from her Linux system, but it just didn’t work. I copied the contents of the .thunderbird and .firefox profile directories from her Linux system and pasted those files into her new default profile directories under appdata on the Windows 8.1 system, but neither Thunderbird nor Firefox used those data. Fortunately, Barbara doesn’t have much that she cares about having transferred. She said not to worry about it. She’ll recreate her addressbook manually and send herself any emails that she cares about keeping. What really matters are her documents and spreadsheet data, which I copied over directly.

I also got power management set up for an always-plugged-in desktop configuration. Apparently, even though the charger is connected at all times, the system ignores the charger and allows the battery to run down to 50% before it actually charges it. Supposedly, that’ll make the battery last a lot longer.

I connected a standard mouse to one of the USB ports because Barbara doesn’t particularly like touchpads. She’s happy with the keyboard and display, though, so I won’t bother connecting a USB keyboard and full-size display. I also didn’t bother to connect her Ethernet cable. She’s happy using WiFi instead.

Monday, 2 June 2014

09:46 – We started watching series 7 of Heartland last night, which we’ll binge-watch over the next few days. Once we finish that, I’ll go back and start watching series 1 again. I figure I’ll have time to make it through all seven series maybe two or three more times before series 8 finishes broadcasting next May. At seven years and 122 episodes, Heartland is already the longest-running one-hour drama ever on Canadian TV. With the team they have, it might be good for another ten or twenty seasons, assuming that Amber Marshall Turner is willing to stick around.

When we started watching Heartland last night, Barbara said I should order the official series 7 DVD set as a birthday present for myself. I told her I would have done that already, but that set won’t be available until this autumn. I suggested that as an alternative, Barbara should tolerate me buying whatever I want when we visit the LDS store later this month. She agreed–she has no problem storing food–but asked me please to stock up only on stuff that we actually eat. She said she doesn’t want a bunch of wheat or pinto beans stored. That’s fine with me. I intend to store a lot of canned goods, with reasonable amounts of dry goods like flour, sugar, rice, dry milk, pasta, cocoa mix, spices, and so on.


Sunday, 1 June 2014

09:31 – May turned out to be an okay month for kit sales, thanks in part to a bulk order for 30 kits. As of the end of May, YTD revenues for 2014 are about where YTD 2013 revenues were through early August, which is good. We’re also in pretty good shape on finished kits, enough to last us through June and maybe into July. So now we can spend the next six weeks getting more kits built for the rush from mid-July through mid-September.