Tuesday, 3 February 2015

08:31 – When Barbara mentioned to her physical therapist yesterday that she planned to go back to work four weeks after her surgery, he said that just didn’t happen with knee replacements. At least six weeks, he said, and often eight. Four was unheard of. She told him that she’d gone back to work four weeks after her first knee replacement in October 2011, and he was very surprised.

The refrigerator is doing fine, so far. Of course, it hasn’t had time for much frost to form and for the auto-defrost function to melt the ice and let it run down into the refrigerator section.

I read a short article on Obama’s proposed $4 trillion budget. I think he needs to simplify things considerably. What if everyone’s paycheck, dividends, interest, profits, and so on just went directly to the federal government, which could then just give each person whatever it thought they deserved? That would eliminate the “income inequality” that progressives are so concerned about, because everyone would have nothing.


12:35 – Well, I’m now running Linux Mint 17.1 KDE, which is an LTS version. The system had been acting hinky for several days. Yesterday the power failed for an hour or so. When I tried to reboot the system it gave some disk errors before it finally booted. I made backups of all my data while it was still limping along. This morning it died completely. The drive was a Seagate Barracuda 1.5 TB that had about 18 months of run time on it. I wish I’d had a Hitachi spare, but all I had was an unused Seagate Barracuda 2.0 TB drive, so that’s what I installed.

I had been running Ubuntu 14.04 LTS because Linux Mint didn’t have their LTS version available when I installed Ubuntu. I checked and found that their 17.1 is an LTS version based on Ubuntu 14.04, so I went ahead and installed the 64-bit KDE version. It’s updating right now. I’ll get my data restored to the new drive this afternoon.

All of which reminds me that I need to do a section in the prepping book on using Linux on desktops and notebooks. In a situation where the Internet may be down, the last thing anyone needs is a computer running Windows that decides it has to phone home to Microsoft before it’ll work.

Friday, 29 August 2014

09:19 – As usual this time of year, we’re run ragged trying to ship science kits and build more. We got orders for 17 kits overnight and so far this morning, which wouldn’t be a problem except that we’re running out of stock on some of the kits. So I’ll get the kits shipped that we do have in stock, and then go build more of what we’ve run out of.

It’s funny. I remember the day we sold our very first kit. At that point kit #100 seemed very far away. Then we sold kit #100, and kit #1,000 seemed very far away. Then we sold kit #1,000, and kit #10,000 seemed impossibly far away. But it’s probably not as far in the future as it seemed at the time, particularly once we get our classroom kits available. When that happens, instead of a good month being 100 kit sales, it’ll be 1,000 kit sales. And at that point, we’ll need a lot more space and some employees. I’m still of two minds about that.


15:06 – Wow. Talk about advice so bad it’s scary: Why Your Passwords Should be at Least 24 Characters Long

And this comes from a supposed computer security expert. I have no problem with suggesting a 24-byte password. The issue is the kind of 24-byte password the author recommends. Here’s an example: HarleyDavidsonStarbucks!!!

That’s exactly three dictionary words and three bangs. Better than a six-byte password, but it needs to be a lot better than it is. Crackers use dictionaries, too, and a supercomputer is just as capable of concatenating dictionary words as it is of working byte by byte. As a matter of fact, there are special dictionaries for crackers.

I would suggest a 24-byte password, but using purely random characters generated by a hardware random-number generator (AKA, dice or coins). So you end up with a password that is 24-bytes of random gibberish. Everyone seems concerned that such passwords are impossible to remember. So what? Write them down and let Firefox store them. Sure, doing that creates a gaping security hole, but again so what? If someone has physical access to your premises and your computer, you’re screwed anyway. What you should be worrying about is someone gaining electronic access to the hashed versions of your passwords, either on your own machines or on, say, Target’s corporate servers. If the plaintext of your passwords is 24 random characters, they can crack away to their heart’s content and not gain access to the plaintext for many decades. Unless, of course, someone figures out (or has already figured out) how to quickly factor the products of large prime numbers. If that happens/has happened, all bets are off.

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.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

13:24 – Have I mentioned that I hate Linux only slightly less than I hate Windows and OSX?

I spent quite a few hours over the long holiday weekend migrating from my ancient system, a Core2 Quad Q9650X running Ubuntu 9.04, to my new system, a Core i7 980X running Linux Mint 15. I thought I had all the important stuff, including mail and contacts, moved over successfully. That turned out not to be the case. Oh, the data is moved over, and I can even look at it in the new version of Kontact/Korganizer/Kmail. The problem is, the new version is unusable. For example, I was moving a bunch of mail around and it didn’t appear to be working properly. The mail I moved (as opposed to copied) ended up in the destination folder, but it seemed to remain in the original folder as well. So I finally moved just one message from the Inbox to a subfolder. It appeared in the destination folder and was no longer in the inbox. Then, as I sat there staring at the Inbox, the message magically reappeared. Geez. Kmail is a piece of crap.

I finally decided to bag all my old mail and contacts and just start using a fresh installation of Thunderbird. I left Kmail/Kontact installed, so if necessary I can go back and look at mail or contacts if I need to verify something later. Assuming Kmail hasn’t moved or deleted it, of course. So I’ve now spent an entire morning trying to get my mail functioning again. The real goal, of course, has nothing to do with the software. I just want to be able to process orders and ship kits, which I’m now doing with Thunderbird. Eight so far this morning.


Monday, 1 July 2013

10:06 – Thanks to everyone who recommended add-ons to make Windows 8 usable. When I have a spare moment, I’ll install Classic Shell on Frances’ system. If that works as expected, I probably won’t have to install the Windows 8.1 fix once it becomes available.

One of the items on my to-do list is making up solutions for more biology and life science kits. One of those is eosin Y stain, and I’m debating with myself about what to do. Until now, we’ve been supplying a 1% aqueous solution made up with Winston-Salem tap water, which is very soft but does have some calcium ions. We use tap water because eosin Y actually works better when some calcium ions are present. We also add a tiny percentage (~ 0.05%) of glacial acetic acid, again because eosin works better in the presence of very dilute acetic acid.

By “works better” I mean “stains more intensely”, and that’s the problem. Eosin Y is a very subtle stain. When used properly, Eosin differentiates structure types by the intensity of the staining: eosinophilic structures are stained intensely red-orange; erythrocytes a bright pink-orange; muscle tissues a paler pink-orange; and collagen a light pinkish-orange. There are two ways to get this differentiation. First, by progressively staining with a dilute (0.1% to 0.5%) eosin solution. Second, by overstaining with a stronger (1% or greater) eosin solution followed by decolorizing in alcohol or another destaining agent.

The problem is that most (I am tempted to say “all”) beginners are prone to overstaining. They’ll add a drop of stain to the fixed slide, wait 30 seconds, and then decide they’d better wait a bit longer, just in case. After all, too much is always better than not enough, right? And they almost never decolorize. After all, again, why remove the stain you just added, right?

The formulation we’ve been supplying–1% eosin with both calcium ions and acetic acid–has a big advantage: it guarantees results, in the sense that the specimen will indeed be stained. But this concentrated formulation is what I’d use myself, and I’d decolorize after staining. So I’m thinking about changing to a 0.5% concentration in DI water. The downside to this is that it may not stain intensely enough to suit an experienced user, unless they stain for longer than they’re used to doing. The upside is that a typical beginner who uses this concentration will probably “overstain”, as usual, and as a result see some actual differentiation.


Sunday, 30 June 2013

09:13 – I spent three hours at Frances’ house yesterday getting the new computer and printer working. Or kind of working. I hate Microsoft, and I particularly hate Windows 8. It’s a terrible product, truly terrible. It sets a new standard for terrible. I am just trying to imagine what it would have been like for someone like Frances–an ordinary civilian–to go down to Costco, bring home a Windows 8 computer, and get it working. She couldn’t have done it. I could barely do it, and what I managed to get done is not acceptable. At least I got Firefox, Thunderbird, and Skype installed and working, and she can now print. I understand that Windows 8.1 is imminent and will be a free upgrade to Windows 8. If it brings back the Start button and the desktop, that’s all I ask. The current version is unusable. I’ll upgrade her to 8.1 as soon as possible.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013

09:44 – Cops consider eyewitness identifications suspect, and particularly suspect if the man in question has a beard. Here’s a good example of why. When I saw the front page of the newspaper this morning, my first thought was, “Why is there a picture of my friend Paul Jones on the front page?” When I showed it to Barbara, she also thought it was Paul.

It’s not Paul, of course, but it sure looks like him. If I’d seen the picture without having the caption for context, it wouldn’t even have crossed my mind that it wasn’t Paul.


I just shipped a forensic science kit this morning, and realized that I’m down to only two remaining in stock. Urk. I’d been working on chemistry kits, but it’s time to build a batch of 30 more forensic science kits.


15:47 – I’m filling glycerol bottles. Very slowly. They’re 15 mL narrow-mouth bottles, the same ones we use by the thousands for other solutions. But glycerol is very viscous. So much so that it’s almost impossible to fill these bottles manually from a beaker or whatever, because the glycerol tends to form a bubble on the mouth of the bottle and then glop over down the side. The last time I filled glycerol bottles, I used my automatic dispenser pump, figuring things would go a lot faster. They didn’t, because it takes so long to fill and empty the dispenser for each bottle. With normal solutions, a quick upstroke fills the cavity and a quick downstroke pumps the liquid into the bottle. It takes maybe three or fours seconds total for each bottle, including handling. But glycerol is so viscous that the upstroke and downstroke take literally 20 seconds or more each.

So I had a cunning plan. Glycerol viscosity varies with temperature. At about 18C (chilly room temperature), glycerol freezes, so when I’m filling bottles at, say, 24C, the glycerol isn’t far above its freezing temperature and is still quite syrupy. But I had Barbara label 150 15 mL bottles for me anyway because I was convinced I had a solution for the problem. I was going to warm the glycerol up to 50 or 55C (hot tap water temperature), where I expected it to run almost like water. Alas, I must have read the temperature/viscosity chart wrong, because even at 50+C this glycerol is still quite thick. I think I’ll boost the water bath temperature up to maybe 60C and see if that helps. I don’t want to go much higher, both because I’m handling the bottles with bare hands and because I’m afraid that capping warm bottles will cause them to deform as the air within them cools and contracts.

I thought about changing to 30 mL narrow-mouth bottles for the next batch, even though I’d still fill them only to 15 mL. But then I had a better idea. I’m going to use 30 mL wide-mouth pharma packer bottles next time and fill them manually from a beaker. 15 mL of glycerol masses just under 19 g, so I’ll just eyeball the fill level and have Barbara sitting next to me with a scale. Anything at 19 g or more, she’ll just cap. Under 19 g, she’ll give it back to me to add more. That should be about as fast as using the dispenser to fill bottles with normal solutions.


I mentioned last week that I’d ordered a Cyber-Power desktop PC from Costco. It arrived today. I plan to get it set up this weekend for Frances and Al. The problem is, it runs Windows 8, which I’ve never even seen. The PC included a “free” download init key for Kaspersky Internet Security 2013, but I have no idea if I should install this or something else. Doesn’t Microsoft include its own security/AV package? Please, Windows Gurus, tell me what to do. Frances does pretty typical stuff with her PC: email (Thunderbird), web browsing (Firefox), Skype, and so on, so installing apps shouldn’t be a problem. But this is Windows 8 (rather than 8.1), which IIRC has a sucky interface, missing even the Start button. Is there an option to use the Windows 7 interface? What should I do? Help.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

10:57 – Barbara is taking the day off from work. She stayed at her parents’ apartment last night to keep her mom company, and says that Sankie is doing well. She’s taking Sankie to a doctor’s appointment this afternoon and then coming home. Colin will be delighted to see her. It’s very hard on him when she’s gone overnight.

Yesterday afternoon, I had the new system pretty much ready to go. I almost shutdown the old system and pulled it off my desk. I’m glad I didn’t. When I came into my office this morning, the display on the new system was black with a blinking white cursor at the top left corner. The system now refuses to boot. It just comes up to that blinking white cursor. Fortunately, my old system is still connected and working. In fact, the Ethernet problems appear to have resolved themselves, and it’s now working perfectly. I really, really hated Kubuntu 12.04 anyway. I may just re-install everything on Ubuntu 12.04 and suffer from its horrible interface. It can’t be any worse than the horrible Kubuntu 12.04 interface.

Kit sales are on the rise. We’ve shipped four kits so far today, and with the month half gone our MTD sales are already more than twice those of the whole month of May 2012. Given that more than 90% of total May 2012 sales were in the second half of the month, this may turn out to be our biggest month so far in 2013. I’d better get back to work on building more kits. We’re down to less than a hundred in finished goods inventory.


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

08:41 – Barbara’s mom is at home and seems to be doing as well as could be expected. Frances stayed with her last night and Barbara will stay with her tonight, but after that they may leave her on her own. Dutch is pretty much just maintaining. I suspect the most anyone will be able to do is slow his rate of decline. I’d be very surprised if he’s ever well enough to leave the nursing home, even to move to assisted living. That’s still the goal, of course, but I suspect it’s more ambitious than achievable.

I finally switched back over from air conditioning to heat this morning. Our forecast overnight low was 38F, which would tie our record low for 14 May. Our recording thermometer says it got down to 41.9F, but our actual highs and lows often vary by several degrees from the official numbers. Our indoor thermometer says it’s 66.3F right now. I’m chilly at 70F and cold at 68F, so I set the heat to warm things up a bit in here. This is our last chilly day for a while. The rest of the week we’re expected to have highs in the mid-80’s and lows of 61F, so it’ll be back to using the air conditioning.

I copied all my data from the current system to my new system yesterday. That took a long time. The networking on the old system is failing, so rather than install a new network adapter I just connected a big external USB drive to it, copied all my data and configuration files up to it, and then reconnected it to my new system. Copying the 800 GB of data down to the new system took hours, but it’s all there now.

I managed to get all my old mail transfered over to Kontact/Kmail/Korganizer on the new system, but I haven’t yet tried to import my contacts. I’m pretty optimistic that I’ll be able to do that, but the big problem remaining is that I can’t get the new Kmail installation to send mail. I remember this happening the last time I was migrating systems. I got it worked out then, and I’m sure I’ll manage somehow to get it worked out this time. Meanwhile, I can still send mail from the old system, assuming it’s willing to connect to the Internet. Nothing is ever easy.


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

08:11 – With Barbara’s mom and dad both in the hospital, she and Frances are even busier than usual. They expect Dutch to be discharged late this week, and are looking at assisted-living facilities to decide which are acceptable to have Dutch transferred to. Their mom is being treated for a lung infection, and they’re not sure at this point how long she’ll be in the hospital or whether she’ll be going home to the apartment or will need to go to an assisted-living facility for at least a while. We’re hoping that Sankie’s outlook will improve sufficiently that she’ll be able to return directly to their apartment.

I’m busy putting together subassemblies for a first batch of thirty LK01 Life Science Kits. At this point, it’s all a matter of assembly except that we’re out of stock on bottles of methyl cellulose. I have two liters of that made up, but none bottled. The second bottle-top dispenser I ordered arrived yesterday, so I just need to get some bottles filled. We announced that the LK01 kits would begin shipping the week of 26 May, but we may in fact have them ready to start shipping as early as next Monday.


11:00 – One thing I didn’t think about when we decided to start building and selling science kits is the amount of physical labor involved, particularly as our sales ramp up. I just hauled four cases of goggles downstairs and stacked them. On the return trips upstairs, I’m hauling up finished kits, five at a time. I have about four dozen kits to haul up and more stuff to haul down. And UPS should show up today with a couple cases of 144 glass beakers and several cases of 100 mL graduated cylinders. If I catch Don as he pulls up, I’ll ask him to roll those crates around back to save me having to carry them downstairs.

I tend to think of components as small, light items, which is true individually. How much can a stainless-steel spatula or a glass stirring rod weigh, after all? But put a case of 700 of each of them in a large box along with similar quantities of two or three other “small, light” items, and the mass adds up quickly. At 30, I wouldn’t have thought twice about any of this stuff; at nearly 60, it becomes an aerobic workout. Between hauling components and kits up and down the stairs and walking Colin, I probably get more exercise than most guys my age.


14:56 – Urk. Now that’s embarrassing. I’m starting to clean off my main desk to make room for the new system. I’m going to run it side-by-side with the current system until I’m sure everything I need is migrated over. So, as I was moving piles of stuff off my desk, what did I notice but a stack of five hard drives in those clear plastic form-fitted cases. I looked at the first one: “Oh, well, it’s only 160 GB, not big enough to worry about.” At the second: “Oh, well, it’s only 500 GB.” At the third: “Oh, well, it’s only 1.5 TB.” At the fourth: “Oh, well, it’s only, uh, 2 TB.” At the fifth: “Oh, shit. Another 2 TB drive.” Both 2 TB drives, as best I remember, have never been used other than briefly to test a RAID system. Oh, well. One can never have too many hard drives. I’d completely forgotten I had these. I’ll probably just stick them in an external eSATA drive carrier and use them for portable backup.


16:20 – With Europe already turning into a smoking pile of rubble, I sometimes wonder if Comrade Barroso has been inhaling too much of that smoke: Federal Europe will be ‘a reality in a few years’, says Jose Manuel Barroso

Federated, hell. They’ll be lucky if the EU still exists. The euro certainly won’t, unless it’s a Southern-tier euro, with the protestant Northern tier returning to their own currencies, or perhaps, if they haven’t learned their lesson from this catastrophe, a shared Deutsche Mark under whatever name. I’ve known for years that Barroso, that “former” Marxist, is delusional, but he keeps coming up with even more impressive castles in the sky. Barroso, who defines the term True Believer, no doubt actually believes that not just the eurozone but the EU 27 will fall in with his ridiculous plans. Even now, the UK is teetering on the edge of withdrawing from the EU, and with prominent defections among even his own Tories, Cameron may not be able to hold things together for another year, let alone until the proposed referendum on EU membership four years from now. And what are the chances that Germany, Finland, and Holland will agree to pay not just the Southern tier’s outstanding debts but to continue to subsidize them forever and without limit? I’d say the probability is slightly more than zero. Maybe 0.000001.