Thursday, 30 April 2015

08:06 – The morning paper presents a false dichotomy, a poll asking if religious rights should trump gay rights or vice versa. In doing so, they’re making the false assumption that rights can ever be in conflict. As libertarians have been saying ever since there have been libertarians, your right to swing your fist ends at the other guy’s nose. Gay rights and religious rights are not and never have been in conflict.

Do gays have the right to marry and to enjoy all the benefits of that state? Absolutely, and religious people have no right to stop them from doing so. Do religious people have the right to refuse to do business with gay people, or do churches have the right to refuse to marry gay couples? Absolutely, and gays have no right to force them to do so. It’s government that’s at fault here, stirring the pot by refusing to grant rights to gays that it freely grants to non-gays, and by forcing religious people to act against their own deeply-held beliefs by providing products and services to gays. Both of those are utterly wrong, and both cause needless conflict between gays and religious people. The obvious solution is for government to treat gays and straights even-handedly and to stop forcing anyone to do business with people they don’t want to do business with.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

08:51 – The morning paper reports that the rioting, burning, and looting in Baltimore has been the worst seen in any US city since the late 1960’s. I wouldn’t have known that from what the MSM news websites are reporting. Something doesn’t add up here.

So much for LBJ’s “Great Society”. After three generations–the underclass breeds much younger and much more prolifically than decent people; why wouldn’t they when someone else is paying for it?–the government has looted most of the wealth of the productive middle class and transferred it to their clients: government “workers” and the worthless specimens of humanity that make up the underclass. This whole house of cards is going to collapse at some point in the not too distant future. Productive people have had enough. I said yesterday that I feared looting, rioting, and burning was becoming the new normal. It’s actually worse than that. I think before too much longer we’ll look back fondly on the days when this kind of crap was restricted pretty much to the inner cities.

I’m still making up solutions for science kits. I needed to make up more than I realized, so I’ll spend today doing that as well.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

07:51 – The morning paper finally called a spade a spade, referring to what’s going on in Baltimore as “rioting and looting” rather than “violent protests”. Whatever happened to Reading the Riot Act? The Baltimore PD is still using only tear gas and rubber bullets. Buckshot would be more effective, and would also send a signal. Looters and arsonists should be shot dead and piled up for later disposal in the landfill. Nor should any charges be filed against business owners and homeowners who use lethal force to defend themselves and their properties, nor against any police officer who does the same. People who riot, loot, and burn are not exercising their Constitutional rights. They are violent criminals and should be treated accordingly.

So far, this kind of activity has been limited to underclass areas in major cities, but I fear it’s going to spread to mid-size cities and eventually to smaller towns and anywhere else with concentrated underclass populations. I also fear it’s going to become the new normal. That’s one of the major reasons that we want to relocate away from Winston-Salem to a small town up in the mountains. That’s not a perfect solution by any means, but it’s the best we can do.

I started reading Harry Turtledove’s Supervolcano trilogy last night. I made it though the first book and halfway through the second. I’m not impressed. I’ve read several of his alternative history series, and all were competently done. Turtledove is certainly no Heinlein, nor even a Pournelle/Niven or a Bujold. But his past books have always had huge casts of characters with lots of action. This series has a much smaller cast and almost nothing going on. I keep expecting something to happen, but the book just drones on and on. I just checked the Amazon reviews on this series, which I should have done in the first place, and found that others have the same take on this series. I’ll probably finish the second book and I may even read the third and final in the series, but I’m not expecting much. Turtledove has somehow made a catastrophic eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano into a boring, business-as-usual event.

More science kit stuff today. I’m making up solutions, and may have time to fill some bottles.

Monday, 27 April 2015

09:09 – The weather remains unseasonably cool, with lows for the next several days in the 40’s (< 10C) and highs peaking around 68F (20C). The furnace runs occasionally, since it's set at 68F. I much prefer this weather to the hot, humid summer weather.

We transferred another 50-pound (22+ kilo) bag of white granulated sugar to PET bottles yesterday. Ordinarily, we store sugar in those square PET jars that Costco sells nuts in. One of those holds about four pounds, just enough to refill the ceramic sugar cannister that Barbara keeps on the kitchen counter. It’s mostly used for iced tea, of which Barbara makes and drinks a couple gallons a week. I use it only when I make hot tea, at about five tablespoons per pot.

We had only 11 of the nut jars available, so I decided to do something I had on my list anyway. I filled two 2-liter soft drink bottles with sugar, because I wanted to check how much would fit in that size bottle. It turns out that a 2-liter bottle filled to within an inch (2.5 cm) or so of the mouth holds 4 pounds 3 ounces (67 ounces) of granulated white sugar, or 1.90 kilo.

One of the big advantages of repackaging dry staples yourself for long-term storage is that you can label them however you wish. Those two 2-liter bottles of sugar are now labeled “Sugar, Granulated — Expires 26 April 1985”. Why date them 30 years before the packing date? Because the “authorities” have a nasty tendency to confiscate food from “hoarders” during emergencies. It happened in the aftermath of Katrina and Sandy, and it happens regularly every time there’s a serious emergency. The cops search homes and steal any food they find, supposedly to redistribute to others who need it more than you do, but in reality probably mostly to their own families and friends.

But even cops have drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to “best-by” dates, let alone “expiration” dates. What they want is commercially packaged foods that are within their best-by dates. There’s no way they’ll steal home-packaged foods, let alone ones that “expired” 30 years ago. Heck, even homeless shelters and food banks won’t accept donated canned goods that are past their best-by dates. So whenever we repackage food in 2-liter bottles, foil bags, and similar containers, I always label it with the contents and an “expiration date” that’s 30 years before the date we pack it.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

09:36 – We got quite a bit done downstairs yesterday, moving inventory from boxes in the finished area onto shelves in the basement and getting counts. Until now, we’d been tossing boxes and packing material into the recycling bin. As of yesterday, we started breaking boxes down into flats and storing the packing material in yard waste bags for our eventual move up to the mountains. (Incidentally, bubblewrap is good to have on hand for winter storm emergencies. A couple layers duct-taped over a window, inside and out, is surprisingly good insulation and doesn’t cut down much on the light. It’s very useful if you need a “warm room” during a winter storm that knocks out power.)

Barbara is cleaning house this morning and I’m finishing up the laundry. This afternoon we’ll be doing kit stuff.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

09:04 – Here’s irony. There’s a front-page article in the paper this morning that says city authorities are going to start confiscating recycling carts from homes who persist in putting non-recyclable items in them. Apparently, people are tossing in household garbage and even dead animals. So now the city says it’s going to give people three warnings and then confiscate the carts. That’s fine as far as it goes, but the article goes on to say that one of the worst items that people put in their recycling carts is grocery-store plastic bags, which apparently foul up the machinery on the recycling line. The irony is that many of these bags are labeled “Please Recycle”. So how can the city justify penalizing people for recycling something that’s labeled “Please Recycle”? We should be safe, because 99% of our recycling, by count and mass, is cardboard and paper, with the remainder being mostly plastic, glass, or metal containers.

Barbara is heading out to run errands this morning. I’m doing laundry and working on kit stuff.

Friday, 24 April 2015

09:00 – It seems that Google stopped indexing WordPress blog comments sometime earlier this year. Thanks to a reader’s suggestion, I found a WP plug-in called Search Everything. I installed it yesterday, and it seems to work. The search box at the upper right now searches comments as well as posts.

Remind me never to order sodium hydroxide in a 12 kilo pail again. I used to order USP/FCC/NF/reagent-grade sodium hydroxide in 2.5 kilo jars, but this time I ordered a 12-kilo pail because it costs literally half as much per kilo in the larger container. But I typically use about one kilo at a time, and the stuff sucks water out of the air, so I need to repackage it in smaller containers. The time it takes to do that, not to mention the hassle and risk of dealing with so much of this caustic chemical at a time, obviates the cost advantage.

Most of my time this week was devoted to working on science kit stuff, but here’s what I did to prep this week:

  • I confirmed something about which I was already pretty certain. Eight years ago, while I was writing Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, I pulled two of those small cans of mixed fruit off the pantry shelf. Both were the same lot number and had the same best-by date. I opened one, ran an iodometric titration on the liquid to determine vitamin C quantitatively, wrote the result on the bottom of the other can, and ate the fruit. This week, I opened the other can, which had “expired” six years ago. I ran an iodometric titration on the liquid to determine vitamin C quantitatively, and ate the fruit. The result, no surprise to me, was that the concentration of vitamin C in the old can was identical within experimental error to the concentration in the can I’d tested eight years ago.

The common belief is that canned food loses nutrients as it ages. Vitamin C is a pretty good proxy for nutrients in general, because vitamin C is among the most fugitive of nutrients. Exposing a vitamin C solution to air will eventually oxidize most or all of the substance that was originally present. But of course in a sealed can it’s not exposed to oxygen, just as none of the other nutrients are. Now, vitamin C is in fact an unstable molecule, so it wouldn’t surprise me if there was at least some loss in canned goods that were 20, 30, or more years old. But as far as I’m concerned, this test pretty definitely refutes the idea that canned goods stored for a long period lose significant nutritional value. Oh, by the way, that fruit that “expired” six years ago tasted just like the newly-canned stuff does.

So, what precisely did you do to prepare this week? Tell me about it in the comments.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

09:05 – I wasn’t aware of it until a couple days ago, but it seems that Google no longer indexes comments on WordPress blogs. Making matters worse, it also seems that the WordPress search feature itself doesn’t index comments. I looked for a WordPress plug-in that would add a comment search feature, but there’s nothing available that doesn’t require creating custom templates and other stuff that I have neither the skills nor the time to do. So, basically when you post a comment it’s ephemeral and there’s nothing I can do to fix that.

I follow commodities, particularly petroleum, casually. I’m no expert, but as Dylan said you don’t need to be a weatherman. Here’s a pretty good summary of the current state of petroleum: Oil slump may deepen as US shale fights Opec to a standstill

My guess is that we’ll see oil fall into the $20 to $25/bbl range and stay there long term. There’s a glut, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. As I’ve said, we’re floating on a sea of oil, and we’re just now learning how to get to the easily available stuff.

The geopolitical implications are profound. Here’s a graphic that sums things up nicely.

Note that, at close to 30 million bbl/bay, the US is now the world’s third largest producer, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. Note also the operating costs. For the middle east region, they’re around $5 to $6/bbl (and fixed), while the US is about twice that, and falling fast. In the next year or two, US production costs are likely to fall as low or lower than Saudi Arabia.

But production costs are a tiny part of the whole for Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, and other OPEC members, most of which depend largely or entirely on oil revenues to fund government operations, including social programs and military spending. Those countries need oil prices above $100/bbl to break even. US oil producers aren’t carrying all these extra burdens. They can run profitably with oil prices well under $40/bbl, and by some reports well under $30/bbl. That’s very bad news for Russia, Saudi Arabia, et alia. In fact, it’s bad news for pretty much every other oil producing country, including our allies Canada, Australia, and the UK, all of which are higher-cost producers.

The one bright spot for these countries, although not for US oil producers, is that US law still prohibits exporting petroleum.

More work on kit stuff today.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

08:34 – Cooler weather has returned to Winston-Salem. The high today is to be 73F (23C), but for the next several days it’s not supposed to make it out of the 60’s. Lows are to be in the 40’s (< 10C) for the next several days. Barbara turned the heat back on this morning.

More work on kit stuff today.

15:23 – I need to take a break. I was just running up a batch of labels for sodium hydroxide solution, which we supply in six molar concentration. Just for a little variety, I seriously considered labeling the concentration of that solution as “Caustic Soda – 2.0 pounds/gallon”, which just happens to be equivalent to the second decimal place to “Sodium Hydroxide – 6.0 M”.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

09:13 – We’re in reasonably good shape on finished science kit inventory, so I’ll spend some time today making up a bunch of different solutions for yet more kits, in gallon batches. One gallon (~ 3.8 L) is sufficient for 250 15 mL bottles or 125 30 mL bottles, which is a reasonable number to make up at a time. Unfortunately, I can’t make up all of the solutions in larger batches. Most are stable indefinitely, but a few are stable for only a few years. Those we make up and bottle on-the-fly as we’re building kits.

Barbara said last night that I didn’t really need to get my own Kindle Fire, and that she’d only been kidding about me using hers all the time. Maybe so, but I’m sure she gets tired every evening of me asking her every few minutes to pass over her Kindle so I can check something. This’ll take us to four Kindles, one each mono units for actually reading books and one each tablet units for checking email and websites during the evening when we’re watching TV or whatever. Both of the tablets are 7-inch units, which are much better for Internet stuff than tiny smartphone displays. Now if only websites would stop defaulting to their mobile versions when they’re accessed with a tablet.

10:30 – The nail polish remover fairy just made a clandestine visit to the little ziplock bag that Barbara keeps under her end table in the den. She had a 2-ounce (60 mL) bottle of nail polish remover that was almost empty. Nail polish remover is simply acetone. She now has a bottle filled with reagent-grade acetone, which is a whole lot purer than the acetone that was originally in the bottle.

When I started making up chemicals, I finally decided to pretty up the containers. They’re currently hand-labeled with a black Sharpie, so I printed up a bunch of 5152 sticky labels (14 per sheet) to use instead. I figured I could wipe off the existing hand-printed labels with isopropanol. That didn’t work, so I tried some naphtha (Zippo lighter fluid). Surprisingly, that didn’t work either. So I decided to try acetone, but I didn’t have any upstairs. Then I remembered Barbara’s nail polish remover, so I gave it a try. The Sharpie marks wiped right off. But Barbara’s nail polish remover was nearly empty before I used it, so I figured I’d better refill it. Barbara now has a full bottle, thanks to the nail polish remover fairy.