Monday, 21 July 2014

07:54 – We had a crew out Friday to rip out the sidewalk from the street to our house. They’re supposed to pour concrete today, but they may not be able to. It looks like rain.

Barbara and I binge-watched all ten episodes of Hell on Wheels series three over the weekend. I thought it was a lot better than series two. I particularly liked one of the new characters, an atheist lesbian newspaper reporter. The actress who portrays her, Jennifer Ferrin, is a hometown girl. Well, she was actually born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, but she graduated from North Carolina School of the Arts, so I count her as a hometown girl.

Kit sales are very slow. 2014Q1 revenues were about 175% of 2013Q1 and 2014Q2 about 145% of 2013Q2. As of today, our MTD revenues just matched those for July 2011. If this pace holds up for the last ten days of this month, we’ll do only half the revenue for July 2014 that we did last July. Oh, well. Things are always up and down, and we could easily end up getting a bulk order or two that take us well above last July’s numbers.

10:33 – I think I forgot to mention that while our walk was being ripped out Friday I noticed an AT&T survey crew checking phone poles. I walked out to talk to them to verify what I suspected, which turns out to be true. They’re surveying for installing fiber-to-the-home, which means that before long we’ll have gigabit broadband available. If gigabit isn’t outrageously priced, we’ll sign up for it, but I suspect we’ll end up with something closer to 50 or 100 megabit. Still, that’ll be a nice improvement on the 15 megabit we currently get from TWC, particularly if the AT&T service is symmetrical or at least something close. Currently, we get nominally 15 megabit down, but only 1 megabit up.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

09:51 – Every Saturday I do the laundry, and every time I’m annoyed as I read the labels on our clothing. Not the vendors’ names. They’re mostly L. L. Bean, Lands’ End, Carhartt, Hanes, Champion, and so on, what used to be good brands. No, it’s the countries of origin that annoy me.

When Barbara and I married in 1983, nearly all our clothing and bedding was made in the US. There were a few items from Canada or England, with an occasional item from Denmark, Sweden, Australia, or some other first-world country. Now, other than a few old pieces of clothing, nearly all of it is from third-world countries. Yesterday, I noticed labels from Mexico, Honduras, Malaysia, Peru, China, India, Turkey, and Jordan. My Hanes underpants were made in Vietnam! Not all that long ago, those underpants would have been made in a plant in Winston-Salem.

Sourcing this stuff from third-world countries is bad enough. The textile industry used to employ tens of thousands of workers in North Carolina, almost none of whom still have jobs in textiles. Same goes for the furniture industry, which has also nearly been wiped out by so-called free trade. But the other bad thing is that product quality is a pale shadow of what it once was. Materials are thinner, stitching is shoddy, and quality control is next to non-existent. I have a new package of Hanes underpants. Twenty years ago, these wouldn’t have been good enough to qualify as factory seconds to be sold in the outlet store. Now, they’re considered firsts.

Just out of curiosity, I visited the LL Bean website and searched for items made in the US. There were only a handful on offer, mostly small accessories. The thousands of other SKUs they carry are all imported. Not a single one of LL Bean’s jeans is made in the US. So I checked the Lands’ End website. Again, the overwhelming majority of their stuff is imported. Lands’ End does at least carry a few lines of jeans that are US made. Their imported jeans sell for around $50, with the US-made ones around $75. Apparently, US-made carries a 50% premium, at least at Lands’ End.

So I visited the All American Clothing website, and found that they sell their US-made jeans for about the same price that Lands’ End and LL Bean sell their imported stuff. I know where my next pair of jeans is coming from.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

08:55 – Colin let us sleep in this morning. When we woke up, Barbara asked me what time it was. “Eight o’clock,” I told her.

My mind can be a very strange place to live. For some reason, a fully fleshed-out scenario flashed through my mind, a meeting where a bunch of marketing droids were sitting around discussing what to name their coffee.

MD1: “How about Eight O’Clock?”
MD2: “Nah, that’s too late. Most people have their first cup by 7:00.”
MD3: “I always have mine around 6:45.”
MD2: “That’s way too long a name. We need something shorter.”
MD4: “I usually don’t have mine until I get to work at 10:00.”
MD5: “How about Early Morning Blend?”
MD4: “I think Dunhill trademarked that for tobacco.”
MD6: “I usually have tea in the morning.”
MD1/2/3/4/5: “We don’t sell tea, you moron.”

Friday, 18 July 2014

08:08 – Barbara is leaving work at 2:00 this afternoon to head for the golf course. It’s been a very long time since she played golf. I was surprised she decided to play a round instead of spending a couple hours on the driving range first, but she wants to actually play. When she was in high school and college, Barbara was a scratch golfer and actually thought about turning pro, so I’m sure she’ll be unhappy with whatever she shoots today. Kind of like I’d be unhappy with the results if I picked up a tennis racket and headed for the courts after not playing for almost 40 years.

I’m seeing calls for Obama to Do Something about the airliner shoot-down in the Ukraine. Do what, precisely? It seems to me that the US government needs to adopt a new motto: “Don’t Just Do Something. Stand There.” The default position of the US government on world events needs to be: “This is not our problem.”

People slaughtering each other in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East? This is not our problem. Russia invading Ukraine? This is not our problem. North Korea threatening South Korea? This is not our problem. Tsunamis in East Asia? This is not our problem. Almost none of what happens on the world stage is our problem, and US taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to pay to fix any of it. And US troops certainly shouldn’t be deployed outside the US to deal with issues that are not our problem.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

07:51 – Barbara and I were watching Dawson’s Creek last night. We’re in season four, and all the high school kids are doing college applications. The big issue seems to be writing essays. Barbara commented that when she applied to colleges there wasn’t an essay requirement. I didn’t have to write one, either. I understand why an essay requirement scares these kids, though. Most kids nowadays, even college-bound ones, have trouble writing a proper sentence, let alone a paragraph, let alone an entire essay.

I told Barbara that I remembered when Jasmine, who’s now a rising college senior, was facing the dreaded essay requirement. We were sitting on her front porch talking one day. She was telling me once again how much she dreaded having to write an essay. I finally said, “Look, Jas. I’m a professional writer. I’ve been making my living at it for 15 years now. If it’ll help, you name the topic and I’d be happy to write the essay for you.”

I could tell she was tempted, but she declined with thanks, saying it wouldn’t be fair or right for her to submit something I’d written as her own work. I pointed out that this wasn’t a game, and that many of the kids she was in competition with would be taking advantage of whatever their families and friends could do to help them be admitted to the college of their choice, everything from expensive SAT tutoring to paying for professionally-written essays to taking advantage of their Old Boy and Old Girl networks. But Jas wouldn’t budge, and of course she was offered admission to the schools she wanted to attend.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

09:21 – For the first time in what seems like a very long time, I’m spending some serious time on writing. I have two manuals to write: Earth & Space Science and AP Chemistry, and I’m having a lot of fun working on them.

Meanwhile, work on building science kits goes on, as it must. FedEx showed up yesterday with 2.5 kilos each of salicylic acid and dextrose, both of which we were short of.

Monday, 14 July 2014

07:42 – I’m giving up on refillable butane lighters. Pipe smokers are hard on lighters. Years ago, I used special butane pipe lighters. None of those lasted very long, including expensive brands like Dunhill and Kolibri, so I ended up switching to cheap refillable Ronson refillables. Those come in packs of three for about a buck apiece, when you can find them. I’ve been using the Ronson lighters for 10 or 15 years. Years ago, they lasted longer than the new models do. A few would fail in a day or two, but most lasted a couple weeks to a month, and some several months. Recent examples seldom last more than a week and often fail in a day or two.

So yesterday I finally decided just to order a traditional Zippo lighter from Amazon, with spare flints and wicks and a can of lighter fluid. Zippos are famous for their durability and for lighting first time, every time. I’ll see how that goes.

Barbara got a lot done over the weekend. Among other things, she made up 150 bottles each of sodium bicarbonate tablets and magnesium sulfate and 72 bottles of sodium dithionite, all of which we were completely out of. With a few exceptions (which are currently on the to-be-done list), that means we now have bottled chemicals sufficient for 150 more chemistry kits, 60 more biology kits, and 60 more forensics kits. We need to get all of those binned and bagged, and then start on more.

12:52 – Pure FD&C dyes (food coloring dyes) are surprisingly hard to find. Even Fisher Scientific and other specialty chemical vendors don’t carry them. For the AP chemistry kit, I want to include 2.5 mL vials of 0.5% aqueous FD&C Blue #1, Red #40, and Yellow #5 solutions. In other words, I need 5 grams of dye to make 1 liter of solution, which is about 200 kits worth. So I planned to order 25 g or so of each dye. That turns out not to be easy. I just found a source for all three dyes on eBay. That’s unusual in itself. Most of the FD&C stuff on eBay (and elsewhere) is in the form of lakes (precipitated dyes), which do me no good. But I found one eBay source that actually knows the difference between dyes and lakes, and had 5 pounds of FD&C Blue #1 dye for $500. When I checked their web site, I found they also had Red #40 and Yellow #5 dyes, also in 5-pound packages. So I emailed them and asked if they’d sell in 25 g or 50 g quantities. Unfortunately, they won’t, so I’m back to square one.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

10:09 – I just mentioned to Barbara yesterday that our water pressure seems rather low. With the washing machine filling, the dishwasher running, and her taking a shower, I was getting very little pressure on the garden hose. Then this morning I was talking to a neighbor down at the corner who’s just sold his house. Among other things, the inspector flagged their water pressure, which was 115 PSI. Normal is 40 to 60 PSI.

Barbara is cleaning house at the moment. This afternoon, she’ll be filling and labeling chemical bottles while she watches Netflix streaming or golf.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

09:29 – We’re doing the usual weekend stuff. I just noticed that we’re down to a dozen chemistry kits in stock, so I need to get started on building two or three dozen more.

Oh, yeah. The dehumidifier overflowed again. The manual is useless, as is tech support, which just says to return it to Costco. That makes Costco zero for two on dehumidifiers. The first one we got from them was recalled last summer because there was a danger of it burning down the house. At least this one just floods the basement. Geez. I’ll keep using it, keeping a close eye on it, but it goes back the next time we make a Costco run.