Category: friends

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.

Monday, 10 December 2012

09:49 – Costco run and dinner yesterday with Mary and Paul.

For a short time back in the 60’s, I was a ham radio operator. One of the informal awards was WAS, worked-all-states. We’re nearing that now with our science kits. We just shipped a biology kit, a chemistry kit, and a slide set to Hawaii, which makes it 47 states so far. The only ones still missing are Wyoming, Rhode Island, and Idaho. We’ve also shipped kits to six of the Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. By this time next year, I suspect we’ll have shipped to all states and all provinces.


12:36 – What I really want to be doing right now is designing, running, and writing up lab sessions for the LK01 Life Science Kit. What I’m doing instead is building chemistry kits, which are selling at a good clip. We’re currently down to only seven of the CK01A chemistry kits in inventory, so I’m spending today building subassemblies for another couple of dozen.

Monday, 12 November 2012

09:24 – We did a Costco run and dinner with Mary and Paul yesterday. Neither of us needed very much, so it was a short run. We picked up a fresh supply of Coke for me, a couple of things I needed for kits, some stuff Barbara needed, and an extra couple or three weeks worth of canned food.

I can make a good excuse for my incorrect prediction that Romney was going to win in a landslide. Around here, it sure felt like the Democrats were in deep trouble. While the Democrats made gains or at least broke even in most of the other 49 states, North Carolina turned sharply right. This was the only battleground state won by Romney, but that was the least of it. We elected a Republican governor, replaced several Democrat US representatives with Republicans, and flooded the North Carolina house and senate with Republicans–it’s now almost 2:1–giving the Republicans a veto-proof majority in both houses. Republicans also dominated the other statewide races and at the city and county levels. Finally, the Republicans control the state supreme court, all of which makes North Carolina among the reddest of the red states. Don’t expect gay marriage or marijuana to be legalized here.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina government is busy burning down our nearest state park. They started an (un)controlled burn on Thursday at Pilot Mountain state park, intending to burn less than 200 acres. The fire has now burned more than 800 acres and is still not under control. It’s supposed to rain this evening and tomorrow, so perhaps that’ll help.

I’m working on kit stuff.


10:56 – Hmmm. The fustercluck in Greece continues, with no resolution in sight. Basically, the problem is that Greece is completely bankrupt, with huge outstanding debts, and no one wants to pay for them. The Troika–the EU, the ECB, and the IMF–are now bitterly divided on this issue. The IMF insists that it will not kick in any more money until Greece’s debt is somehow made “sustainable”. Meanwhile, the EU and ECB categorically refuse to take losses on the Greek debt they hold because their electorates, primarily the German people, would crucify them for doing so. So, the situation as of now is that the IMF is refusing further funds and the EU/ECB is refusing further funds. Neither of them is willing to budge.

The IMF has the whip hand. Their debt is senior to that held by the EU and ECB. So, at this point, the most likely outcome is that the IMF will walk away, leaving the EU and ECB holding the bag. The EU and the ECB are unlikely to throw good money after bad. It seems likely that the Greek debt that comes due this week will be paid off by an accounting trick. The ECB can allow Greek banks to increase the percentage of Greek bonds on their books, allowing the Greek banks to purchase the worthless bonds that Greece will issue to rollover those coming due. But in reality that translates to the ECB lending Greek banks yet more money that will never be repaid, so the question for Germany becomes whether it’s worth throwing away a few billion more euros to buy just a little more time. That’s the same situation Germany has been facing, and so far they’ve decided to throw away the money each time the situation has arisen. What Germany (Merkel) really wants is to put off the crash until she runs for reelection next autumn, but that’s becoming increasingly costly. So it wouldn’t surprise me if Merkel finally decided to bite the bullet and say enough is enough. If that happens, Greece goes completely belly up this week. If Merkel decides to pay one more time, Greece will totter on for a few more weeks.

Here in the US we have the upcoming so-called “fiscal cliff”, which the MSM describe as moderate tax increases coupled with dramatic spending cuts. In fact, it’s no such thing. It’s large tax increases coupled with spending increases that will be smaller than they might otherwise have been. No one, including the Republicans, is talking about actual cuts in spending. Why bother. They’ve dug us into a hole so deep that there’s no getting out of it. Might as well just continue digging. Our economy can’t get deader than dead.

The government figures on debt are even less trustworthy than their figures on inflation. I don’t even bother to keep track of what the government claims our debt is. Something like $17 trillion IIRC. In reality, as I’ve said before, if you calculate our debt honestly, including off-budget items, unfunded commitments, and realistic demographics and NPVs, our actual debt at all levels must exceed $100 trillion. I’ve seen credible figures claiming it’s well over $200 trillion. As Everett Dirksen famously said, “a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money”. And we’re talking about debt levels four or five magnitudes higher. A billion dollars is more than $3 for every US citizen, man, woman, and child. A trillion dollars is $3,000 each. The $17 trillion the federal government admits to is more than $51,000 each. The real debt is almost certainly at least $300,000 per citizen and may be twice that. The obvious outcome is that those unfunded commitments aren’t going to be honored. Or they’ll be honored at face value with grossly inflated dollars. Either way, it’s not going to be pretty.

I’m working on kit stuff.


14:26 – For those of you who don’t read the comments…

It all makes sense now: Gay marriage legalized on the same day as marijuana makes perfect biblical sense. Leviticus 20:13: “A man who lays with another man should be stoned.” Our interpretation has just been wrong for all these years.

Monday, 30 July 2012

07:29 – Barbara and her sister organized a party yesterday for their dad’s 90th birthday. They rented a meeting room at a local convention center and had the food catered. I shot a few minutes of video. Barbara shot lots of stills. Our friends Paul and Mary were there, and Paul was kind enough to bring along his camera and shoot stills as well. So today I’ll transfer a few GB of still images to the hard drive for Barbara to select among, as well as start on transferring and editing the video.


17:13 – I’ve mentioned it many times before, but, thanks to Barbara, here it is in Living Color. The Mary Chervenak Fist of Death. Mary pretends to think I’m teasing her when I tell her that I fear her anger, but I’m entirely serious. I mean, look at the size difference. I’m barely twice her size. If I were ten times her size, I’d still flee in terror when she threatens the Fist of Death.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

09:07 – I finished writing the last of the forensic book lab sessions yesterday, although I still have to actually do the lab. It’s the one on using molybdate to assay soil phosphate concentrations. I’m pretty sure it’ll work as written because it’s widely used in the real world, but I still have to be certain.

Barbara and I are building a batch of chemistry kits this weekend so that we can ship backorders Monday. We’ll put together 30 kits, although only 18 of them will be ready to ship because we have only 18 of one of the subassemblies built. Still, that’s enough chemistry kits to fill backorders and carry us probably into next month.

Barbara’s mom should be going home from the hospital today, we hope. She’s doing much better. Barbara was glad to be home, after spending several days and nights away. Colin and I were delighted to have her home as well. Barbara and I had dinner with Mary Chervenak last night at a little Greek restaurant. I always enjoy spending time with Mary. She’s smart and outspoken, so the conversation never lags.


Monday, 14 May 2012

07:59 – I finished the first two lab sessions in the forensic biology lab group yesterday, on pollen and diatoms, and got started on the third, on extracting and isolating DNA. After I finish that and the final lab session, on DNA gel electrophoresis, I have to write one lab session I left out, on chemical analysis of soil, and then it’ll be on to the front matter.

Mary Chervenak stopped by yesterday to drop off some empty one-liter soda bottles, which I use as disposable containers when we’re making up solutions for the lab kits. Paul left town last week, on his way out to Colorado or Utah, where he plans to view the Venus transit on June 8th. Ordinarily, I don’t mention when friends are away from home, but in this case Paul and Mary have both posted about it on their Facebook pages, so I’m not giving anything away. Anyway, anyone who tried to take advantage of Paul’s absence to bother Mary would be in for a nasty shock. Mary is a shooter.


Saturday, 21 April 2012

10:37 – Barbara is working on science kits today. I’m doing laundry and working on the forensics book.

I should learn to trust myself. One of the solutions included in the chemistry kit is a sodium salicylate solution that’s 200 ppm with respect to salicylate. It’s used as a standard in a lab session about quantitative determination of salicylate in urine by the Trinder reaction. (Ferric ions react with salicylate ions–actually, almost any phenolic ions–to form an intense violet complex; the intensity of the color is proportional to the concentration of salicylate in the specimens.)

Unfortunately, that dilute salicylate solution is ideal for mold growth, so we have to add a preservative. As I was making up the solution, referring to the instructions I’d printed months ago, I noticed that they mentioned adding a few crystals of thymol as a preservative. That couldn’t be right. Like salicylate, thymol is a substituted phenol, so thymol should also react with ferric ions. So, I thought, dumping an arbitrary “few crystals” of thymol into the solution would ruin its carefully-measured accuracy.

I’d almost decided to substitute a few drops of chloroform as the preservative, but I decided to check just to make sure. So I added one crystal of sodium salicylate to a spot plate, followed by a drop of iron(III) nitrate. As expected, the violet coloration was so intense it looked almost black. I added one crystal of thymol to a second well, followed by a drop of iron(III) nitrate. There was absolutely no visible change.

I really should learn to trust myself. I don’t remember doing it those months ago, but there’s no way I would have added thymol to a salicylate standard solution without checking. What occurred to me now would also have occurred to me then.

Speaking of organic chemistry, I was talking to Paul Jones yesterday and he mentioned that he’d be grading take-home finals for his organic students. Then he mentioned something about the exam focusing on syntheses. I thought what he described sounded a bit much for first-year organic, so I mentioned that to him. It turns out that Paul isn’t teaching first-year organic this year. The final he was talking about was for his grad students. I told him that was a relief, because I was just thinking about asking him if I could take the final, just to see how much (if any) I remembered. Paul was amused. He said I probably wouldn’t do very well on this final, because the synthesis reactions used hadn’t been invented when I was taking first-year organic 40 years ago. (Take that, old guy!) In fairness, Paul did say that the reactions I learned back when dinosaurs roamed the earth typically actually worked pretty well, while the ones his students were learning were sometimes a bit shaky.


Monday, 12 September 2011

08:41 – Yesterday, I went ahead and upgraded our Netflix account to 2-discs-at-a-time. We watch a lot of streaming stuff on Netflix, but a glance at my disc queue told me we needed to get more discs. There are about 30 discs at the top of the queue that have just released or will release this month, covering new seasons of six or seven TV series that Barbara follows, including Gossip Girl, House MD, Sons of Anarchy, Brothers & Sisters, Castle, Grey’s Anatomy, and one or two others. With the one-disc-at-a-time plan, it’d take us about four months just to get all those discs, not counting anything else we added.


The markets are expecting a Greek default, possibly as early as this week, and certainly before year-end. Given a CDS price, it’s a straightforward calculation to determine what the market estimates the probability of a default to be. Based on current CDS prices, the market estimates the likelihood of a Greek default in the short- to medium-term to be in the mid- to high-90% range.

Meanwhile, it’s pretty obvious that Germany is about to bail, so to speak, on the Greek bailout. Rather than sending more money down a rathole, Germany seems to intend to use that money to bailout its own banks, which will all be bankrupt if (when) Greece defaults. The German position seems to be that if that money must be spent, better to spend it recapitalizing Germany’s own banks than pouring good money after bad into Greece.

There is no longer any serious debate even within official EU circles that Greece will default. The questions are when and how. There has been a lot of talk about expelling Greece from the EU and the eurozone, which simply isn’t going to happen. For that to happen, the founding EU treaty would have to be modified, which would require the approval of all EU members, including Greece. Nor is there any mechanism for Greece leaving the EU and/or eurozone voluntarily. As a sovereign nation, Greece could of course simply announce its departure, but that would result in a chaotic bankruptcy.

And that is exactly the trump card that Greece holds, its only trump card. As I commented some months ago, the Greece situation reminds me of the scene in Blazing Saddles where the guy takes himself hostage and threatens to shoot himself unless everyone backs off. That is exactly the position Greece is in right now.

The thing is, at this point Greece is really immaterial to the euro crisis. Whatever Greece does or doesn’t do won’t affect events in any significant way. The real euro crisis is much, much larger than Greece. What matters are the debt crises of the larger nations, which started with Italy and Spain and have since expanded to include France and Belgium. Whether Greece departs the eurozone, voluntarily or involuntarily, those larger economies are also going down, and there’s simply no way to bail out even one of them, let alone all of them.

That’s why I’d bet that there are serious back-room discussions going on right now among the FANG nations, Finland, Austria, Netherlands, and Germany, about withdrawing from the current euro and forming a new eurozone comprising only nations with stronger economies. The cost to the FANG nations of doing that would be huge, but they pale into insignificance compared to the costs of continuing to subsidize the poor nations. A breakup of the euro is inevitable. The only question is the timing and form.


Our friends Paul and Mary were out of town over the weekend, so as usual I went over to pick up their mail and newspapers. When they had their security system installed, Paul gave me a personal numeric code for the keypad, as well as a codeword to give the monitoring service if anything ever went wrong. Fortunately.

So, yesterday I picked up their Sunday newspaper in the driveway and unlocked their front door. The system started beeping, as usual. I walked to the keypad and punched in my numeric code, as I’d done a hundred times or more before. The system went, very loudly, into intrusion mode. I stood and waiting for the alarm monitoring service person to challenge me, which she did. I gave her my verbal password, which she accepted as valid. She asked if I wanted her to call the police, and I told her no, that I was just taking care of the house for friends. I then told her what had happened, and she said I must have entered the wrong numeric code. I thought that was pretty unlikely, given that I tend not to forget numbers, but I tried it again, along with several permutations. No joy. So I asked her if she could reset the system so that I could just punch the Away key when I left. She said she couldn’t do that without permission from the homeowners and suggested I contact them. I told them that Paul and Mary had no land-line phone, that I didn’t have a cell phone, and that I didn’t know their cellphone numbers anyway. She said in that case she couldn’t help until I contacted them somehow and got them to authorize her to disable the system.

She disconnected, and I was left standing there with the alarm screaming. So I locked up the house and headed back to my house to call Paul or Mary and get things straightened out. By the time I got home, there was a phone message from Paul on our answering machine. As I was about to call him, he called me and said he’d talked to the security company and told them I was authorized to be there. He asked if I’d mind driving back over to their house and disarming the security system using their own numeric code. So I drove back over and found that the alarm was no longer sounding. Paul and Mary were already on their way back home, so I punched the disable key and entered their numeric code to turn off the system.

When Barbara got home from her parents, her only comment was that I needed a cell phone. I don’t have one now because I seldom leave the house, and the few times I do I’m usually with Barbara or a group of friends, all of whom carry cell phones. I figured if I got a cell phone, the battery would inevitably be dead any time I actually needed it, so I haven’t bothered. I suppose I should order a Boost Mobile prepaid phone, something like the Sanyo Mirro.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

11:11 – Irene has made landfall on the North Carolina coast, fortunately as a Category 1. We’ve seen almost no effects from Irene here in Winston-Salem. It was a bit breezy when I took Colin out around 0700 this morning, but we’ve had no rain and aren’t expecting any. Some rain would have been welcome, but not at the expense of the eastern part of the state suffering even more than it is.

I see that New York City has closed its subway system for the first time ever due to weather, and that about 300,000 New York City residents have been ordered to evacuate. Very few NYC residents own automobiles, which makes me wonder how and to where they intend to evacuate these people. Perhaps it’s enough just to move them from low-lying areas to parts of the city that are a bit higher. Let’s hope that Irene continues to weaken. A direct strike on NYC by even a Category 1 hurricane would have disastrous results in terms of both the human and economic toll.

The human toll in particular, because few New Yorkers have experienced a hurricane up close and personal. Most of them probably just think of it as just the sort of storm they’re used to, but on a larger scale. As Mark Twain commented on another subject, the reality of a hurricane compared to normal storms is like the difference between lightning and lightning bugs. Even here in the southeast, where people are experienced with hurricanes, there are numerous idiots who rush to the coast to experience a hurricane. Every time we have a strike, there are at least a few Darwin Awards candidates who end up being injured or killed because they were somewhere they shouldn’t have been, doing something they shouldn’t have been doing.


Paul Jones stopped by yesterday to borrow my Plextor analog-to-digital converter. He has some old personal VHS tapes he wants to transfer to DVD. He asked about the DSLR I’d just ordered, and I mentioned that the AA battery adapter was on back-order so I’d ordered a spare $44 lithium-ion battery. Paul mentioned that he’d ordered three spare batteries when he’d bought his DSLR, and he’d paid only $8 each. My hair stood on end. I mentioned that Chinese DSLR batteries are famous for damaging cameras, if not actually catching fire, and he said he’d had no problems with them in the three years since he’d bought them. Hmmm. This morning, Paul emailed me to say that he was mistaken. It was the IR remote he’d ordered that’d cost $8. The batteries listed for $49 each, but he’d gotten three of them from Amazon for $30 each.


Barbara and I are assembling 18 more chemistry kits today. I’m also going to try to semi-finalize the contents of the kit for the biology book this weekend. At some point, I simply have to declare enough, and stop adding items to the biology kit. One of the primary goals, after all, is to keep the kit affordable. For example, I’m going to include a bottle of sterile pre-made nutrient agar in the kit. Home Science Tools sells the same item for, IIRC, $7, which is reasonable. But I’m going to remove one of the lab sessions I’ve already written, on coliform testing of water, because that lab session would also require either EMB (eosin/methylene blue) agar or MacConkey agar as well as TSI (tri-sugar/iron) agar. Allocating $21 of the kit price to these three agars is too much, so I’ll have to settle for including just the nutrient agar.

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