Monday, 12 January 2014

11:33 – Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. The only things I picked up for myself were one 50 pound (22.7 kilo) bag each of white flour and sugar, another 170,000 calories worth of carbohydrates. Oddly, I wasn’t able to find any rice at Costco. As it turned out, that’s fine. As Barbara told me, we have two bags of rice in the pantry that I haven’t gotten around to repackaging yet. They’re fine for now in their heavy plastic bags.

I’m going to enjoy experimenting with 2-liter PET bottles and oxygen absorbers. Among common plastics, PET is by far the least permeable to air and moisture. You need something like ten times the thickness of PE or PP to match PET’s permeability. In the thickness used in soft-drink bottles, PET is slightly permeable, which is why carbonated drinks stored in PET bottles eventually go flat.

If I fill a 2-liter PET bottle with rice, perhaps 150 cc of air will remain in that bottle, in the interstices. Air is about 20% oxygen, which means there’s about 30 cc of oxygen in the bottle. If I also add a 300 cc oxygen absorber packet, it uses up 10% of its capacity reacting with that oxygen to form rust. That puts a partial vacuum in the bottle, so eventually (assuming no change in outside air pressure) about 30 cc of air will penetrate that bottle to equalize pressures. That 30 cc of air contains about 6 cc of oxygen, which the absorber will remove. That leaves a slight negative pressure in the bottle, which again will equilibrate against the outside air. Eventually, iteratively, the atmosphere inside the bottle becomes nearly 100% nitrogen (along with argon and some other minor inert gases) and the bottle is essentially nitrogen-packed. Much cheaper, easier, and much, much safer than nitrogen-packing from a compressed nitrogen bottle.


Saturday, 13 December 2014

10:21 – Kim and Mary are in Charlotte this morning, attending Jasmine’s graduation from UNC. I met Jas when she was nine. It seems like only three or four years ago, but it’s been twelve.

When I searched for local prepping groups, I came across this post. What a fine idea. Sign up with a group of people you don’t know and pay them lots of money to join their group. There are lots of groups like this out there. They’re usually organized by one guy or a small group of people who almost invariably have a military background and believe they’re qualified to run things. Essentially they’re a small group of chiefs looking for a bunch of volunteer Indians who are stupid enough to pay for the privilege of being dictated to by a self-proclaimed leader. At least they’re up-front about it.

We do not run our organization like a commune or home owners association —but more like a corporate or quasi-military organization. If you are looking for a pure democracy with extended deliberations and a vote on everything while progress is measured at a snail’s pace… pass us by.

Unless your goal is to submit unquestioningly to a dictatorial leader, run far away from groups like this. In fact, as our Founding Fathers understood well, it’s a mistake to put the military in charge of anything. A military operates properly only under absolute civilian control. When the military itself is in charge, things inevitably degenerate quickly into a dictatorship.

Not that I’m opposed to prepping groups. Far from it. I think a prepping group is essential, but the ideal group is one that is loosely organized and informal and made up of people who already know and trust each other. Family first, then friends and neighbors, then perhaps friends of friends. But the sine qua non is trust. I’d much rather have someone I know and trust, even if that person is completely unprepared, than someone I don’t know and trust, even if that person is prepared out the wazoo.


Monday, 17 February 2014

09:18 – We’re now in Day Four of no USPS service. I’ve just added three more boxes to the stack awaiting pickup from orders that came in yesterday afternoon and overnight.

We did a Costco run and then dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. They didn’t get mail Friday, but they got mail Saturday. Apparently everyone got mail service Saturday except our little part of our neighborhood.

Barbara’s mother is still acting out, determined to force Barbara and Frances to allow her to live with one of them. That’s not going to happen, and they’ve made it very clear to Sankie that if she doesn’t stop this they’re going to have to move her over to the assisted living or nursing facility at Homestead Hills, and that once that happens she won’t be coming back to live at Creekside. Despite the high cost, Barbara and Frances plan to continue the round-the-clock home health aide for a while longer, to give Sankie every chance to clean up her act. I don’t think that’s going to happen. There’s nothing more they can do to help their mother as long as she’s not willing to do anything to help herself.

As I’m doing laundry every Saturday, it strikes me how badly the loss of US textile manufacturing has affected the quality of clothing and towels. Barbara has been buying most of our clothing from LL Bean and Lands’ End for 30 years now. It used to be that all or nearly all of it was made the USA, most of it in factories within a hundred mile radius of us. I still have a US-made sweatshirt from Lands’ End that Barbara bought for me probably 20 years ago. It’s still in very good shape. Conversely, I have sweatshirts bought from Bean or Lands’ End just a few years ago that are badly worn. Those were made in Mexico, China, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Peru, and so on. I’m disappointed that Bean and Lands’ End sell this third-world garbage. I’d prefer to buy only items made in the US or other first-world countries, where quality still means something. Yeah, US-made stuff costs more. So what? It may cost 50% more, but it lasts three times as long.

Science kit sales are still slow in absolute terms, but running at twice the rate of last February. I need to get more kits built, so that’s what I’ll work on today.


Monday, 20 January 2014

09:03 – Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. They were telling us about their experiences judging elementary school science fair projects. Ordinarily, they’re volunteer judges for middle- and high-school science fair projects, but this time their schedules didn’t allow that so they ended up judging the elementary school projects. They said the projects ran the usual gamut. Some were good science but mediocre presentation, some the reverse and a couple were both good science and good presentation. They and the other judges had to rank the top five projects, which will go on to the next level. Apparently, the top three or four were pretty easy to rank, with numbers four and five less so. Of course, all the kids got a certificate for participating.

While I was making up the Kastle-Meyer reagent over the weekend, I thought about Albert Einstein’s famous definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Einstein was obviously a physicist, not a chemist.

Any working chemist who does the same thing over and over expects different results, at least occasionally. You might do the same synthesis nine times in a row with perfect results each time, high yield and a nice pure product. Then, the tenth time you do the synthesis—nothing different, you understand; the same chemicals, the same equipment, the same working environment, the same everything—you might get a pathetic yield or a tarry mess in the reaction vessel. Or both.

In fact, there’s an entire discipline devoted to dealing with this problem. It’s called chemical engineering. Getting unexpected results in a lab-scale synthesis is one thing. You’ve wasted some time and (usually) anything from a few dollars’ to a few hundred dollars’ worth of chemicals. But when you scale things up from 1-liter flasks to 100,000-liter reaction vessels in a factory, you can’t afford surprises. Ultimately, that’s what chemical engineering is about. Scaling things up while making sure that things work predictably and properly.


Monday, 26 August 2013

09:20 – Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday.

As Barbara will tell you, I tend to spread like kudzu. I presently have kit components stacked in the kitchen, den, dining room, library/living room, workroom, my office, the downstairs finished area, and the downstairs unfinished area. My stuff just spreads. And that’s just the science kit stuff. We also keep stored water, probably something like 300 or 400 liters, in 2- and 3-liter soda bottles, crammed into every free space downstairs. So before our Costco run yesterday, I suggested to Barbara that we replace that stored water with bottled water from Costco, which should be more space-efficient to store. She buys it anyway, in cases of 35 500 mL bottles which translates to 17.5 liters per case or 8.5 two-liter soda bottles. So I told her that for every two cases of bottled water we buy we can empty and recycle 17 two-liter bottles. She was delighted. I figure that once we get up to 20 cases of bottled water, all the 2- and 3-liter soda bottles will be gone.

So, just as we got to the checkout line at Costo, they opened another register. Paul and I got in that line with their cart, with Barbara and Mary right behind us with our cart. After Paul and I got checked out, we were standing watching our stuff being loaded back onto our cart and I commented to Paul that although the math told me it was true, those two cases of bottled water just didn’t look like the equivalent of 17 two-liter bottles in terms of cubic. He agreed with me but, as he said, when the math says one thing and your intuition says another, the math is always right. Assuming you do good math.

At dinner, we were talking about allergies. Mary has terrible allergies to dogs, cats, horses, and presumably other mammals. So bad that it’s possible that they’d be life-threatening without antihistamines. She has to get herself all drugged up on antihistamines before she can even ride over to Costco in our SUV. And this season has been horrible for allergies. I go years without taking an allergy pill, but lately I’ve been taking a loratadine (Claritan) every evening because my eyes have been itching and burning so badly. Given the constant rain for the last two or three months, I suspect it’s mold spores.

And Colin has been suffering badly as well. Barbara has been giving him diphenhydramine, which doesn’t seem to help much. I’d been meaning to check on loratadine in canines, and I finally did it after we got home. I turns out that loratadine is generally safe in canines, with a usual dosage of 0.5 mg/kg once a day, so Barbara gave Colin a 10 mg loratadine tablet this morning. That’s a light dose; for his body weight he should be getting 15 to 17 mg, but we wanted to start out easy. She gave it to him about 7:00 this morning. At 8:15 he was still scratching, but we’ll give it a chance.

One thing I didn’t realize is that the effectiveness of different classes of antihistamines varies widely in dogs, even more so than in people. One class or one specific drug may be completely ineffective and another very effective. So, if the loratadine works, great. If not, we’ll try chlorpheniramine maleate or one of the others.

Work on science kits continues. I’m trying to finish up the virtual school AP chemistry kits in the next couple of days. Today, I need to get the batch of pH 7.0 buffer standardized and dry some stuff to constant mass.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

08:09 – Jasmine started her junior year of college yesterday. When I talked to Jas over the weekend, I asked if she was looking forward to starting classes. She waffled a bit, and finally said that she was looking forward to seeing her friends again but returning to classes also meant returning to a very high stress level. It sounds like college isn’t much fun for Jas, just constant work. She doesn’t have much time or energy for parties, or even for socializing with her friends.

I ran into Kim while I was walking Colin yesterday, and we had a long talk about Jas, college, jobs, and so on. Kim expects Jas to do well in her final two years of college, but she also expects Jas to move back in with her after college because she’s afraid Jas won’t be able to find a real job. She said it’s not just Jasmine who’s stressed out and working herself to death. All of her friends are terrified about their job prospects after college, and with good reason. Something like 70% of the new real jobs that will be created over the next couple decades are going to require STEM degrees. Jasmine and her friends–all non-STEM majors–are going to be competing for that remaining 30%, and there’ll be a lot more of them seeking real jobs than there are real jobs available. Most of these kids are going to end up competing for mini-jobs, part-time and temporary minimum-wage jobs at Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and McDonalds. And most of them will be starting out under a crushing burden of student loans. Welcome to the post-employment economy.


Work on science kits continues. We need to get started on a new batch of chemistry kits this weekend. For the first half of the year, we sold about three chemistry kits for every two biology kits. That ratio has changed lately. For the last month or more, chemistry kits have been outselling biology kits about three to one.

Monday, 18 February 2013

10:01 – I told Barbara yesterday morning that the change in her demeanor was profound following her and her sister’s decision that they would no longer attempt to parent-sit nights. She’s shed a very heavy burden, and it’s obvious just looking at her. She’s smiling and laughing again. She and Frances will continue to see their parents frequently to take them to doctors’ appointments and so on, but they’ve laid down the law to their parents, telling them that they, their parents, are now responsible for watching over each other at night. If something happens to Sankie, Dutch will be there to summon assistance, and vice-versa. There’s no need for Barbara and Frances to put their lives on hold just so one of them will be there every night on the off chance that something bad will happen.

Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. We decided that once the weather improved a bit we’d head out to shoot some clays. It’s been a long time for all of us. As I said to Paul, we shouldn’t put this off much longer. We need to Become One with Obama. Before we do that, I’m going to buy a 12-gauge 870 pump shotgun in open cylinder choke for myself and maybe a 20-gauge 870 pump for Barbara, assuming I can find any for sale. Walmart is out of stock at every store within a 50 mile radius. Paul suggested that Barbara might want to try Mary’s 20-gauge 870 pump before we decided between 12 and 20 gauge for Barbara. My concern isn’t with light clay loads, which Barbara could easily handle in 12 gauge. My concern is that a 12-gauge with magnum buckshot or slug loads is more weapon than just about any woman can handle comfortably. For that matter, it’s too much gun for many men. Free recoil is roughly twice that of a .30-06 rifle, which very few women can use comfortably for more than a couple rounds at a time. What I may do is take along a few magnum buckshot loads to the clays range and let Barbara try shooting them. My guess is that she’ll decide a 20-gauge would be plenty.

Lab day today. I need to make up a bunch of different solutions for the biology kits. All of those on my current to-do list are completely stable, so I planned to make up a bunch of each. For solutions that are used only in the biology kits, I’d intended to make up enough of each for about 125 kits, which is to say two liters for solutions we supply in 15 mL bottles and four liters for ones we supply in 30 mL bottles. Unfortunately, I’m low-stock on some of the required chemicals. For example, I’m down to about 15 g of eosin Y sodium, which is only 1.5 liters worth. I have 100 g on order, so I may just wait until it arrives. For solutions that are used in both the biology kits and the life science kits, of which eosin Y is one, I’d intended to make up about 250 kits worth, four L of those that we supply in 15 mL bottles and eight liters of those that are in 30 mL bottles.


Sunday, 3 February 2013

09:24 – Barbara’s mom is doing a bit better. Frances stayed with their dad last night and will tonight, so Barbara has a couple days at home off dad-sitting duty. She’s covering Monday and Tuesday nights.

Paul Jones stopped by yesterday to borrow a laser collimator. We talked about having dinner, and Paul mentioned that he and Mary had plans for yesterday evening and tonight. When I mentioned that to Barbara, she said they were probably having or going to a super bowl party today. I, of course, hadn’t realized that today is the super bowl thing.

Netflix sent me email yesterday to announce availability of their remake of House of Cards. We watched and liked the British version years ago, so I added it to our queue. Now I see there are all kinds of on-line articles about Netflix’s “$100 million gamble” and about how Reed Hastings is determined to have Netflix become more like HBO faster than HBO can become more like Netflix. We’ll see. Hasting is flying in the face of conventional wisdom by releasing all 13 episodes of the first season at once, catering to so-called “binge watchers”, rather than stringing them out as HBO would. But Hastings is a very smart guy, and he’s determined to transition Netflix from a content-delivery company to a content-creation and -delivery company. I think he’ll succeed.

Work continues on building more science kits. Barbara got a bunch of bottles labeled yesterday and will do more today. She’ll finish up the bottles for the next batch of 60 chemistry kits and get started on the next batch of bottles for biology kits. This coming week, I’ll be filling bottles.

And I see that Minnesota and Florida are in a spat because Minnesota is trying to tax Florida residents as though they were Minnesota residents. The rule has always been that if one lives in a state for more than half a year, one is a resident of that state for that year. If you spend six months and a day in State A and five months and 29 days in State B, you are legally a resident of State A. There are minor exceptions for military personnel and so on, but that’s always been the rule. Now Minnesota is trying to tax people whose legal residence is in Florida but who take long vacations in Minnesota, the so-called snowbirds. Florida is encouraging the snowbirds just to move to Florida full-time.

Differential state taxes have always been an issue. I grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania, which is about 10 miles from the Ohio state line. When I was young, I remember my parents driving over to Youngstown, Ohio to buy major items like furniture. They’d have them delivered by truck. Because Pennsylvania charged sales taxes on these items and Ohio didn’t, they’d end up paying significantly less. We have the same situation in North Carolina near the Virginia border. Gasoline taxes are lower in Virginia, so it’s almost impossible for a gas station to stay in business near the border. Everyone drives over into Virginia to fill up. And the recent to-do over Phil Mickelson moving out of California to avoid state income taxes is yet another example, as is Amazon’s ongoing battle with states that are trying to force it to charge sales taxes, as is the “smuggling” of cigarettes from low-tax states like Virginia and North Carolina to high-tax states like New York.

The obvious solution is for all states to eliminate income, sales, and excise taxes, putting everyone on a level playing field. If we must have taxes, let’s return to what the Founding Fathers intended: import duties and a per capita tax. Period. I’d suggest $500/person to the city/county, $50/person to the state, and $5/person to the feds. That’s a federal budget of $1.5 billion/year, which should be plenty for them to do everything they should be doing.


12:19 – I’m cutting purchase orders for science kit components. It’s interesting. Back when we started building kits in mid-2011, I was typically issuing POs for 30 kits’ worth of components at a time. Then I started doing 60 kits’ worth, and then 120 kits’ worth. I’m now cutting POs for 250 kits’ worth or more at a crack. That’s likely to be the limit, though, simply because of our limited storage space.

I still have no good idea of how many kits we’ll sell this year. Right now, we’re maintaining roughly a kit per day, which annualizes to 350+ total kits for the year. But that ignores seasonality. In the July, August, September period, we should sell literally 10 or more times the number of kits per month that we sell in slow months. January and February are slow months. Our goal for 2012, our first full year in operation, was 250 total kits, which we easily beat. Our goal for this year was 500 kits, but unless the current run rate is an anomaly we’re looking at easily 1,000 kits for the year, if not more. We may end up having to rent space sooner than I’d planned.

Friday, 4 January 2013

08:26 – The bottle-top dispenser (auto-burette) arrived yesterday. I’m looking forward to trying it. It’s basically just a calibrated pump that sits on top of a one-liter reservoir bottle, kind of like the pumps they use in ice-cream stores to dispense syrups. It can be set to dispense 2.5 mL to 30 mL per pump, in 0.5 mL increments.

Using it should make filling chemical bottles for the kits much faster, particularly the 15 mL bottles. Oddly, it actually takes longer to fill 15 mL bottles manually than 30 mL bottles, because the 15 mL bottles have smaller mouths. Barbara and I will set up a mini-production line, with me filling bottles while she caps them.


08:57 – Congratulations to our friend, Brian Bilbrey, who decided to go back to school and get his degree. Way to go, Brian. (I often mistype Brian’s name “Brain”, which is actually appropriate.)

Degree: Bachelor of Science
Confer Date: 12/30/2012
Degree GPA: 4.000
Degree Honors: Summa Cum Laude
Plan: Computer Information Technology

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

08:27 – We’re shipping science kits, mostly chemistry kits of both types, at a rate of two, three, four a day now.

While we were walking Colin last night, we stopped to talk to our neighbors Steve and Heather about their ongoing struggle with Bank of America. Their home is now in pre-foreclosure, whatever that means. A year or more ago, at BoA’s instigation, they did some sort of adjustment to their mortgage with BoA. They didn’t call it a refinance, but it sounded similar. At any rate, they ended up paying $50/month less than they had been paying. They did that for almost a year, thinking everything was fine. BoA said nothing to them for 11 months. Then they got a notice from BoA telling them they were in default on their mortgage and that BoA was foreclosing. Steve and Heather have no debt to speak of other than the mortgage, and offered to pay the $50/month for the 11 months that BoA claimed they’d been in arrears. BoA said no deal. They were going to foreclose. So now there’s a big mess.


12:03 – Geez, as I’m working to build more science kits, they’re selling out from under me. One biology kit and three chemistry kits so far this morning.