Sunday, 20 September 2015

09:41 – The rate of kit orders is starting to slow, as expected in late September. The last half of September and all of October is generally pretty slow, with orders starting to pick up again in mid-November and running high through about the end of January. Then things slow down again until they start picking up in June and July.

Barbara is doing her regular house cleaning, bill paying, and so on this morning. This afternoon we’ll build some more biology kits and do other science kit stuff.

Barbara’s last day at work is a week from Wednesday. She plans to take a vacation day Friday, so she has only seven work days left. She wants to jump right into working her new job, so she starts full time for our company on Thursday, October 1. She’ll have things much better organized in no time, allowing me to focus on growing the business.

We’re getting to the autumn “in-between” part of the year, when to maintain an even temperature we’d need to run the air conditioning and the heating in the same day. In hot months, we usually keep the thermostat set at 75F (24C), and in cold months at 68F (20C). That means Barbara is always too warm during cooling season, and I’m always too cold during heating season. So she wears shorts and short/no-sleeve shirts during cooling season, and I wear flannel shirts during heating season. It works out fine most of the time, but during in-between times, both of us can be both too warm and too cold all in the same day.

And then there’s humidity. A few minutes ago, I had Barbara turn down the thermostat, even though it was only 72F in here. The problem is, the relative humidity was at 64%, so even I was warm. We turned it down to 70F to at least let the AC run for a while and remove some of the humidity.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

09:39 – We’re both working on science kits today. First up is to build more chemistry kits. Our limiting item on those is the regulated chemical bags, so we’ll be able to build only 13. Still, that’s 13 that we don’t have now, and we’re down to only two in stock.

Amazon’s customer service is pretty amazing. I had Barbara filling chemical bottles yesterday, and one of the ones she filled was with a chemical I’d ordered from Amazon. I got two one-pound containers from them, which were marked as containing 454 grams each. The first one I picked up felt light, so I tared a balance and emptied the contents of the container into a large weigh boat. Sure enough, there was only 427 grams in that container. The second contained only 423 grams, so there was a total of 850 grams in the two containers, rather than the 908 grams I’d paid for.

The stuff cost about $31/pound, so I went to to post feedback to the seller. I’d ordered two items on that order, one of which was from a third-party seller and the problem one from The only feedback option was for the item from the third-party seller, so I backed up and started looking for another option to let Amazon know that the products were light. The only option that made any sense was the one for return/refund, so I clicked on that. The item from the third-party seller was grayed out and marked non-returnable, so I clicked the radio button next to the product that Amazon had sold to me. I then had to choose whether both of the containers were a problem or just one, so I marked the option for both. On the next page, the only option was to request a refund, so I clicked on that, expecting to be able to enter a requested refund amount. I’d intended to ask for $5 or so, but it informed me that the product was not returnable and that Amazon had issued a refund in full for $62. I was flabbergasted, as was Barbara when I told her.

She said that wasn’t fair to Amazon and that I should contact them immediately to tell them what had happened. So I went back on their site and clicked on the “call me” button. Literally half a second later, my phone rang and I was speaking with a customer service representative. I told him what had happened and that I was expecting a refund for maybe $5, but certainly not $62. He thanked me for calling, and said that in that situation most of their customers would have just kept the money and not bothered to call them. I told him that that struck me as being just as dishonest as someone who was given too much change by a cashier and didn’t tell her. It comes out of her pocket, after all, just as this was coming out of Amazon’s pocket. But the support rep told me that it would actually be more trouble than it was worth to partially reverse the instant refund they’d issued to my credit card, and said just to keep the extra money.

Friday, 18 September 2015

09:49 – Barbara is taking a vacation day today and heading out to run errands. We’ll spend the weekend doing science kit stuff. We’re low stock on just about everything.

Speaking of low stock, apparently there’s some kind of significance about this month for many Mormons. Some book or other written by a Mormon woman but not endorsed by the LDS Church is predicting a catastrophe this month, and I’m sure the severe flooding in Utah is reinforcing those fears. The result is that long-term food storage vendors are seeing a gigantic flood of orders. Augason, Thrive, and others are unable to keep products in stock, both on-line and in stores. Even is back-ordered on many of their shelf-stable food items because of the panic buying.

We’ve been covered up working on science kit stuff, but I did manage to get a few items that might be useful in the future. Here’s what I did to prep this week:

  • I read Lights Out by David Crawford, which is a different kind of PA novel. It focuses on a typical exurban neighborhood dealing with the effects of a continent-wide long-term power outage. The protagonist isn’t Rambo, which is a refreshing change. It’s a decent book, not great but a lot better than most of its genre. And it does give one something to think about.
  • I started design on a new kit. This one isn’t a science kit per se. It’s an heirloom seed kit, and I’ll sell it on-line via the prepping book. I’m not happy with any of the current heirloom seed kits out there, many of which appear to have an almost random selection of seeds, chosen without consideration for factors like reliability, ease of growing, nutritional value, climate adaptability, suitability for both northern and southern latitude day lengths, and so on.

The other problem with these seed kits is that they simply don’t include enough seeds. Ideally, of course, every prepper would already be keeping a garden, but the reality is that many preppers store heirloom seeds “just in case”. One kit I looked at included only one ounce (28.4 g) of bean seeds, which is 70 or so seeds. Yeah, under ideal conditions and assuming everything goes perfectly, those 70 bean seeds could produce a lot of beans. But what if conditions aren’t ideal or things don’t go perfectly? What if they’ve been in storage for so long that the germination rate is only 40%? What if animals or insects wipe out most of your crop? That’s why my kit will include 300 g of bean seeds, or roughly 750 seeds.

Then there’s the choice of plants. Nearly all of the seed kits include lettuce. Lettuce! It takes up precious space, requires a lot of work, and provides almost no nutrition. What’s the point to trying to grow it at all? Conversely, very few of the kits include turnip seeds. Turnips produce a massive amount of food and have high nutritional value. Anyone considering planting lettuce would do well to plant turnips instead. Or beets.

All of the kits include onions, which is fine. Onions are important for flavoring bulk staples. The problem is, many of the kits include long-day onion seeds. Long-day onions are fine if your latitude is about 45 degrees or higher. But at lower latitudes, the days never get long enough for those onions to flourish.

Almost none of the seed kits I looked at include even a basic selection of herbs, which are essential if you’re trying to cook appetizing meals from bulk staples. An herb garden doesn’t require much space, and I consider it mandatory to have the seeds necessary to keep a reasonably comprehensive herb garden, so those will be included in our kit. Another essential that these kits all leave out is tobacco seeds. Tobacco can be grown successfully up to about 55 degrees latitude if one has the proper seeds, and tobacco is an extremely desirable crop, if only for trade.

The other thing that worries me about many of these kits is how the seeds were processed and stored. Doing it right involves a lot of work, and my guess is that very few of these companies have bothered to do that work. If the seeds are dried properly (to ~7% or 8% moisture content but not much lower, which would “harden” the seeds and reduce germination rates) and frozen, they should remain viable for a long time. That’s how the international seed banks do it, and that’s why their vaults are located in arctic climes. I also noticed that most of these seed kits advertise that they’re packed with an oxygen absorber, which tells me that these companies don’t know what they’re doing. Using an oxygen absorber buys you nothing and may actually shorten the shelf life of the seeds.

I’ve done some germination testing of the Lima bean and carrot seeds that we include in biology kits. After five years stored just in PE bottles with no special dehydration or other treatment, I got germination rates of 50% to 60% (versus 85% to 90%+ on fresh seed). Germination rates of seeds also depend heavily on species, but I feel comfortable saying the seed kits we produce will yield reasonable germination rates after at least three to five years stored at room temperature and considerably longer if kept frozen. If nothing else, we can include a lot of seeds for species that tend to lose viability quickly over time. It doesn’t matter if the germination rate is only 10% if you have ten times as many seeds as you intend to plant.

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

Thursday, 17 September 2015

08:21 – I’m losing track of days. Barbara pointed out last night that she’s taking a vacation day tomorrow, not today. For some reason, I was thinking that yesterday was Thursday. At any rate, she’s off tomorrow.

The way things seem to be trending, the American people are making it pretty clear that the last thing they want as president is a politician. On the Republican side, the leaders are: Trump, a demagogue but not a politician; Fiorina, a businesswoman who destroyed Hewlett-Packard, but not a politician; and Carson, a non-entity, but not a politician. On the Democrat side, we have a small group of elderly political hacks, but no non-politicians. Sounds to me like the Democrats are badly in need of a non-politician.

The FedEx guy sneaked up on Colin yesterday, even though the main front door was open and Colin had an unobstructed view of the street through the glass storm door. FedEx delivered one box from that contained the five boxes of dog treats that I’d ordered. When I checked the site, it claimed my entire order had been delivered, but none of the bottles of Bertolli pasta sauce were in the box. When I checked the FedEx tracking number, it told me that everything had been delivered, but below that line it said that a shipment had been damaged and was being returned to sender. This is the second time this has happened on a Walmart order that contained items in glass.

11:21 – September 30th is Barbara’s last day of work at the law firm. On Thursday, October 1st, she comes to work for our company, The Home Scientist, LLC.

I need to get ready for that so that she can hit the ground running. Actually, I’ll probably give her the rest of that week off so that she can enjoy some free time, unless she just wants to start work immediately. Of course, one of our corporate benefits is that any employee can take as many paid vacation days as he or she wants to.

The first week or two we’ll focus on Barbara learning the business. Eventually, I want her to be able to do everything other than design new kits and write manuals. She doesn’t have any lab experience, so I’ll continue doing stuff like making up chemicals myself, but I will have her at least watching me to get some idea of how it’s done.

I intend to transfer all the administrative to her, including inventory, ordering and receiving, and so on. She’s much more organized and detail-oriented than I am, which isn’t surprising considering that she’s a librarian. I think this will all work out very well. The problem may be in her handling of mistakes. I expect mistakes. They’re just something that has to be dealt with. But Barbara REALLY hates making mistakes, so I’ll have to get her past that. We simply have too much to deal with to expect perfection.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

08:56 – This is the time of year when I’m interrupt-driven. Someone orders a full forensic science kit, FK01A+B+C, and I’m down to just one of the FK01C kits in stock. Better build more. I could go a week or a month before I get another FK01C order, but someone could order ten of them tomorrow. My inventory records show I have enough of the components in stock to build 18 more, so I head downstairs to build those 18. It turns out I have 18 of everything I need except Modified Griess Reagent Part A, of which I actually have only 4. No idea where the other 14 went. So I make up a liter of Modified Griess Reagent Part A, which is enough to fill 33 bottles. Fill those, print out 33 labels, and label the bottles. Back to the assembly table, where I make up and bag the 18 FK01C kits. And now I’m down to zero stock on everything I need to build more FK01C kits than the 18 I now have on hand. On to the next thing we’re short on.

Until a week or so ago, I thought we were in decent shape on the CK01B chemistry kits. Those normally sell in pretty small numbers. The larger and more expensive CK01A chemistry kits usually outsell the CK01B kits by about 10 to 1. But we’ve had a flood of orders for CK01B kits, including three this morning. So I guess I’d better put together another dozen or two CK01B chemical bags. Oh, wait. I just found a bin full of those downstairs. Turns out I built those bags Monday and had completely forgotten doing so. It’s no wonder that my inventory gets completely screwed up this time of year. When I’m building batches of 30 of one type, it’s easy to keep the inventory updated. When I’m interrupt-driven, stuff falls through the cracks and comes back to bite me later.

10:53 – Sometimes, for whatever reason, one leaves oneself unprepared for something that’s important, in which case one just does the best one can and hopes for the best.

By this time, we’d hoped to be at least preparing to move up to the mountains, but it hasn’t worked out that way. With colder weather on the horizon, I’m concerned about heat. If we have a power failure, we can heat the house with our natural gas logs and our natural gas water heater will continue to work. Natural gas is the least likely utility to fail, so I’m not overly concerned, but it’s still at the back of my mind.

If the natural gas did fail for some reason, we could use the wood-burning fireplace downstairs. The problem with that is we have very little firewood. If we were up in the mountains, I’d have ordered a couple or three cords delivered, but for obvious reasons I don’t want to do that while we’re still in Winston-Salem.

Our next fallback is the catalytic propane heater, which is safe to run indoors and will suffice to keep one room at a livable temperature. Counting the 20-pound propane cannisters, we have enough propane to keep that heater running for a couple weeks. Barbara is taking a vacation day tomorrow to run errands, and one of her stops is to fill a new 20-pound propane cannister we bought at Costco. If we did suffer a natural gas outage, the first thing we’d do once it became obvious that the problem was severe is drive over to the Walgreen’s a mile or so from here and load up on Blue Rhino propane cannisters while there were still some to be had.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

09:14 – I sent in the state and federal estimated taxes yesterday. Grrrrr.

Barbara suggested last evening that given the several burglaries we’ve had in the neighborhood, I should start locking the front main door when I walk Colin. Colin and I just spend 10 or 15 minutes each time going up and down the block, so we’re never out of sight of the house and always within 175 yards of the front door. Colin can cover that distance in under 10 seconds, and the sight of a 70-pound dog charging flat out would certainly disconcert most intruders. Even so, I think she’s right, so I’m now locking the door each time we’re away. I don’t feel at all threatened in our neighborhood, but it is better to be safe.

She said it’d only be for a couple of weeks, because after her last day of work she’ll be at home most days. I disagree. If I leave the house and she’s here alone, I want her to lock me out. At least the glass storm door should be locked at all times. Otherwise, she could walk out of the bedroom or her office and find an intruder in the house with no warning.

I’m building and shipping science kits, as usual.

10:58 – Big surprise. Hungary is discovering that those hordes of muslim invaders are cutting through their razor-wire fence. I have zero military experience, and I could have told them that a fence is useless unless it’s defended. Hungary needs to set up machine-gun emplacements about every 300 to 400 meters and order those manning the emplacements to open fire without warning on anyone who tries to come over, under, or through the fence. It would also help to build a second fence about 100 meters inside Hungarian territory and sow the dead zone between the fences with a lot of land mines. Of course, that’s also what the US should be doing on our border with Mexico, and we haven’t done it either.

14:43 – Here’s irony:


Monday, 14 September 2015

08:05 – We’re having definite signs of the approaching autumn. It was 50F (10C) when Colin and I went out the first time this morning.

Barbara made a Krusteaz cinnamon swirl crumb cake yesterday. We both liked it better than the pastries she gets at the supermarket, so I stuck a few boxes of it in my Walmart cart for the next time I place an order with them.

August turned out to be slower than expected for science kit sales. Our August revenue was only about 75% of the August 2014 revenue. This month, on the other hand, although we’re less than halfway through the month we’re already at 100% of September 2014 revenue. Things go up and down.

Another cop shot to death by a young black man, this one yesterday in Kentucky. Now is not a good time to be a cop. Their rules of engagement really suck. If they shoot a millisecond too soon, they’re liable to be in a world of hurt; if they shoot a millisecond too late, they end up on a slab in the morgue. This will not end well.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

09:43 – I just got back from walking Colin. This is the first morning this season that was too cool for just a t-shirt, so I wore a light flannel shirt as a jacket. It was 59F (15C) when we left.

People are getting very concerned about how things are going in this country. Not just people who self-identify as preppers, but “regular” people. They don’t think of themselves as preppers, but are starting to prepare for coming bad times. And with what’s going on, who can blame them? What would in the past have been stunning outrages have become commonplace. Rioting, looting, burning, and random shootings of cops and whites have become the norm. And it’s not getting better, it’s getting worse. People rightly perceive that the government isn’t going to protect them from these goblins, so they’d best prepare to protect themselves.

Barbara was talking with one of her friends the other day. She’s a hobby shooter, so I was surprised when Barbara said she’d asked which specific weapons we’d bought for defending ourselves. There’s obviously a quick answer to that question, but answering it properly requires more than just giving her a shopping list. But my short answer for a first choice would be a short-barrel Remington 870, Mossberg 500/590, or Maverick 88 pump shotgun in 12-gauge if she can handle the recoil, or 20-gauge if she can’t. And 100 to 1,000 rounds of mixed slugs and buckshot ammunition. If she already has a suitable pump shotgun for shooting clays, all she needs to do is buy a short open-cylinder barrel and keep it on the shotgun by default, loaded with buck. That, and get some practice in with the heavy loads. There’s a world of difference between shooting light skeet loads and shooting heavy buck/slug loads, and the middle of the night with an intruder threatening you is not the time to discover that difference.

The other good choice is a heavy-caliber pistol. I prefer a 1911-pattern in .45 ACP, but I have no real argument with someone who prefers a revolver. The big advantage of a pistol or revolver–and its only advantage–is that it’s small enough to carry on your person so it’s always available. Otherwise, it’s grossly inferior to the shotgun in every respect that matters. If you’re at home and realize that an intruder is in the house, grab the shotgun, take cover (or at least concealment) behind something substantial, and lie in wait for the intruder to come to you. Shoot from ambush. Wandering around the house looking for the intruder is a good way to get yourself shot.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

09:43 – I just signed up for Obamacare, the least expensive plan they had available, at $1,200/month. That pays for pretty much nothing until each of us pays $5,500/year out of pocket. The application is now complete, and we’re covered as of October 1st, once we pay the bill. Unfortunately, they won’t let us do that on-line.

Barbara and I are working all weekend on science kits.

Friday, 11 September 2015

07:19 – Wow. Fourteen years since islam attacked this country and we’ve done nothing about it except make life harder for Americans. I don’t even blame this lack of action on Barack Hussein Obama II, who’s done exactly what one might have expected him to do, just from his name. But Bush had seven years to do something, and he did nothing either. Except make life harder for Americans.

Nearly all of my time this week was devoted to working on science kit stuff, but I did manage to get a few items that might be useful in the future. Here’s what I did to prep this week:

  • I bought two hundred feet of clothesline and a pack of 100 clothespins. Very cheap now, possibly very important later.
  • Colin convinced me to order five 2-pound boxes of Alpo Variety Snaps dog treats for him.
  • While I was at it, I ordered a few bottles of Bertolli pasta sauces in what amount to canning jars. I got a couple jars each of Italian Sausage Garlic sauce and Five Cheese sauce, just to try, and four jars of Mushroom Alfredo sauce, which we already know we like. I also ordered two bottles each of KC Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce in Original and Hickory Smoke flavors, a couple jars of Smucker’s Strawberry Jam, a stainless steel flour sifter, and an oven thermometer.
  • We did pick up a few long-term storage foods at Costco last weekend, including 22 pounds of assorted pasta and a few minor items like 12 gallons (45 liters) of bottled water, six large jars of applesauce, a can of Gatorade lemon/lime drink mix, and a couple large boxes of Ritz crackers.

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