Saturday, 16 November 2013

10:48 – The phone rang at 0215 this morning. Barbara’s mom had pushed her Lifeline button to summon the EMT’s. She was having chest pains and difficulty breathing. So they hauled her down to the hospital, where they checked her over and eventually sent her home. Barbara and Frances met at the hospital and waited to find out what was going on. From what Barbara told me, it sounds like it was just a panic attack, but as the doctor told Barbara, at her mom’s age one can never be sure. Frances took their mom home, and Barbara got home about 0655. Barbara slept for a while and then headed out to do errands. She’s downstairs now, defrosting the big freezer and filling baggies with sand for the earth science kit.

I ordered Barbara’s birthday present from Amazon yesterday. She doesn’t want to know what it is. I just gave her a hint. They’ll deliver it on a large truck.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

09:00 – After several days of highs in the 60’s and lows in the 50’s, it was 39F (4C) when I got up this morning. The leaves have noticed. A week ago, most of them were still green and attached. Now, a lot of them have changed and fallen. Barbara vacuumed the yard yesterday, and there are already a lot more leaves down. My guess is that most of the deciduous trees will be looking winter-bare by mid-month.

After a mediocre October, kit sales are looking up for November. If the current pace persists, we should do at least double kit revenues this month relative to November of last year. Barbara labeled several hundred bottles yesterday; today she’ll label and fill several hundred more. Among other things, I have the messy job today of filling 500 g baggies of plaster of Paris for the earth science kits. I don’t think I’ll depend on the zip-lock to keep them sealed during shipping. I’ll heat-seal them above the zip.


10:29 – As expected, I get 22 half-kilo bags from each 25-pound sack of plaster of Paris. As I was working on them, I though how odd it is that our abilities change with age, usually for the worse, but our perceptions of our abilities don’t. When Barbara picked up the 25-pound bag of plaster of Paris, I was disappointed that Home Depot didn’t carry larger bags–50 or 100-pound. As I was man-handling a 25-pound bag today, I realized that it felt, if not heavy, at least noticeable. Back in the day, I’d have thought nothing of shouldering a 100-pound bag and carrying it around. I’d have thought nothing of doing that all day long. Now, a stinking 25-pound bag is a noticeable weight for me to carry around, and hauling 40- and 50-pound bags of sand and gravel up and down the stairs is distinctly non-trivial.

I’m a pale shadow of what I once was, both physically and mentally, and I try to keep that in mind. In the immortal words of Harry Callahan, “a man’s got to know his limitations”. About the only thing that hasn’t degraded too much is my reaction time. I still have the reflexes of a rattlesnake, albeit perhaps a middle-aged rattlesnake.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

10:04 – I was just looking up some of the “official” definitions of “bullying” and they’re simply bizarre. They include, for example, not choosing a student for a pickup team or not inviting a student to an impromptu party or other social event. The real definition of bullying is a lot simpler than they’re making out. It’s assault and battery or simple assault that would lead a reasonable person to believe he was in danger of death or injury. Teasing, no matter how vicious, is not bullying. Bullying requires that an actual threat of death or injury be conveyed, by words or actions. In other words, “Drink bleach and die” is not bullying; “I’m going to force you to drink bleach and die” is, if that threat is credible.

There are two equipment items that I’d like to include in the earth science labs, but it’s just not practical to supply them with a kit. The first is a stream table, and the second is a wave/ripple tank. Commercial products are extremely expensive, a minimum of several hundred dollars. They’re also large, heavy, and expensive to ship. And, if designed properly, one piece of equipment can serve both purposes. Not ideally, but adequately. So I’m going to have customers build their own combo unit from a 1×12″ and some 1×6″ boards, using nothing but hand tools, screws, glue, paint, and caulk. And, of course, duct tape.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

11:11 – I’m writing up lab sessions for the earth science kit. To meet the end-of-year deadline for a first draft of the manual, I need to complete two or three lab sessions per week from now until the end of the year. I can do two or even three short, simple lab sessions per day, but a longer or more complicated one might take two or three days, or even longer. Still, the goal isn’t to have a finished manual and kit by December 31st. It’s to have a rough draft of the manual and a prototype kit assembled. That should be doable.


Saturday, 19 October 2013

10:14 – More work on kits this weekend. I’ll have Barbara get started on packaging 30 sets of chemicals for the earth science kits, starting with 30 g bottles of copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate, magnesium sulfate heptahydrate, and general-purpose water-soluble fertilizer, not to mention baggies of pea gravel, sand, clay, marble chips, and Plaster of Paris. As a matter of fact, she just left to run errands, including picking up several of those items at Home Depot.


Friday, 18 October 2013

07:36 – I just ordered 12 cases of dehydrated water to add to our emergency stocks. Restaurant suppliers like Bernard Foods are often overlooked as a good source of emergency storable food. The quality of the products is generally excellent–restaurants can’t afford to alienate customers by using poor-quality foods–and the prices are generally quite reasonable.

We’re now in good shape on science kit inventory, so I’m turning my attention to getting the earth and space science kit designed and prototyped. Mostly, that means designing and testing lab sessions and writing the manual. The goal is to have the prototype completed by the end of the year and the first batch of 30 kits ready to ship by February.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013

08:29 – I turned on the heat this morning for the first time this season. It was 68F (20C) and falling in the house. Barbara likes it that cool, but at 68F I’m shivering. I set the thermostat to 70F, which is still too cool for me, but I can live with it. Barbara doesn’t mind, since she’s away at work all day while I’m working here.

I’m writing up lab sessions for the earth science kit and prototyping the kit itself.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

11:16 – Autumn is here and our weather reflects that. Our highs over the next week are to be mid-70s F (~24 C) and our lows in the mid-50’s F (~13 C).

Which reminds me of a little-known fact. One of my undergrad chemistry professors was adamant that “C” stood for “centigrade” rather than “Celsius”, no matter what any standards body said. As he pointed out, on the centigrade scale water freezes at 0 degrees and boils at 100, whereas on the Celsius scale water freezes at 100 degrees and boils at 0. So, to this day, I speak the name of the scale as centigrade rather than Celsius.

I picked up Barbara at around 1800 yesterday. I got there at 1705, just in case. I didn’t want her and Marcy to end up standing in the rain waiting for me. Colin and I are delighted that she’s home. Colin’s behavior changed while Barbara was gone. If there was one thing his mother taught him as a puppy, it was that paws require frequent washing. Ordinarily, Colin washes my front paws every chance he gets, several times in the evening while we’re watching TV and at least a couple of times in the middle of the night I’ll wake up to find him washing my front paws. And he does a good job. It normally takes him at least four or five minutes per paw. If they’re particularly dirty, he’ll chew gently as well as licking. The whole time Barbara was gone, he didn’t wash my paws even once. Last night, he started back in on washing them. It took him much longer before he was satisfied, seeing as how they hadn’t been washed for a week. He finally called it done and went to sleep again, but he woke up later and did a second pass on them.

I’m still working on stubbing out the manual for the EK01 Earth Science Kit. Public schools teach earth science as both a middle-school course–usually grade eight–and as a high-school level course. I think the middle-school level courses are pretty much wasted. The rigor is typically very low, and the expectations correspondingly so. Few colleges even consider the middle-school level science courses in a student’s transcript, and rightly so. So I’m going to do this manual and kit at the high-school level, if not first-year college physical geology. There’s nothing there that a bright 14-year-old shouldn’t be able to handle.

But “earth science” as taught in most schools isn’t just geology. In fact, the course is often named “earth and space science”. So, although there’s no need for a kit for astronomy, I think I’m going to include an astronomy lab component. Of course, for astronomy, “lab” is really observational astronomy. I’ll keep the “labs” simple and try to require only a binocular or perhaps an inexpensive telescope like the 4.25″ Orion StarBlast. Or perhaps I’ll just make the kit cover geology labs and perhaps one or two on topology and so on.

I frequently hear from homeschool parents with kids who are destined to major in STEM. They’re concerned because four years of high school gives them time for only four lab science courses, unless they double up. But there is an alternative, and it’s what I did when I was that age. I spent summers dividing my time between playing tennis and doing science. In other words, I did a full year’s worth of science every summer. A semester is 18 weeks or 90 school days, basically a quarter of a year. Kids typically do classes 180 days a year, or half a year, spread over two-thirds of the year. That’s roughly 500 school hours per semester, or 1,000 school hours per year. But homeschool parents have complete scheduling flexibility. Trying to do four full semesters a year would be really pushing it, but doing 2.5 or even three is within the realm of possibility. Assuming a summer break of roughly 12 weeks and running summer school three hours a day five days a week is sufficient time for the equivalent of one full-year course or two one-semester courses over the summer. If that time is devoted to science, that means a student has time in grades 9 through 12 to take eight full years of lab science rather than only four. Even at only 1.5 hours per day five days a week, that’s six years of science instead of only four.

That’s time to do two full years of chemistry, two full years of biology, and two full years of physics. And if the kids do two semesters’ worth of science every summer rather than one, that leaves time for four full semesters of additional science. Things like microbiology, molecular biology, organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, physical chemistry, an engineering course or two, and so on. Knowing what I know, if I were 14 years old now, that’s what I’d do. My real goal would be to skip undergrad entirely, be accepted into grad school at age 17 or 18, and get my doctorate at age 21 or 22.