Category: science kits

The Home Scientist Continues!

“RickH” here. I’ve been working with the new owner of The Home Scientist (Ben Siciliano) to rebuild the web site and move it to a new hosting place.

If you have followed along with Barbara’s blog, you might have noticed that Barbara and Ben have come to an agreement for Ben to take over The Home Scientist business. I’ve been working with Ben to get the site rebuilt with new design and some content changes. Most of the changes have been in the ‘back-end’, using PHP functions for commonly-used items to allow those items to be more easily changed.

There will also be a new customer support forum (not quite ready yet) for customers.

The site is available to you, gentle readers (and lurkers), for a ‘beta read’. If you could take a look at the pages to make sure the content looks consistent, and try out the “Buy Now” buttons (make sure you cancel the order on the PayPal checkout page), that would be helpful. You can use the Contact page on the site for any issues or comments.

The new site is currently at . I’d appreciate if you spending a few moments to poke around the site.

Here’s the announcement that will appear on the site (once per day).

I would like to formally announce that The Home Scientist is under new ownership!

Since 2011, the Thompsons have produced a line of high quality, high value science kits in chemistry, biology, and forensic science. To honor their tradition of service, we will continue to offer these kits, which as you’re probably aware, had been created to provide a meaningful laboratory experience for students and enthusiasts – something increasingly difficult to come by these days.

Over the next several weeks, we will be re-stocking the complete line of kits and making it easier for you to obtain technical support for the experiments covered. We’ll also be starting a new customer support forum area.

We’ll be making some changes to the look of this site as we move to our new hosting platform, but our products will still have the same high quality. We thank you in advance for your patience, and welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions for improvement. Please use the Contact Us page for questions or comments.

I’m looking forward to being of service.


Ben Siciliano, the new owner of TheHomeScientist LLC

Ben is restocking all the kits, and hopes to have them all ready by the end of the month.

Thanks for your help on being a ‘beta reader’. And thanks to Ben for agreeing to continue The Home Scientist as Robert and Barbara intend.



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Monday, 30 October 2017

09:32 – It was 26.5F (-3C) when I took Colin out at 0630, our first hard freeze of the season. We didn’t get the snow flurries, though. Barbara is off to the gym and then the supermarket to replace the milk that aged out while she was away. I offered to make her up some Nestle Nido dry whole milk, but she prefers the fresh stuff.

Thursday afternoon, I ordered six cases of quart Ball jars from Walmart. I was surprised to see FedEx pull up Saturday to deliver three of those cases. I thought it was generally understood that “free 2-day shipping” doesn’t include Saturday delivery other than for items shipped via USPS. The other three cases are to show up tomorrow.

October 2017 revenues are running about 15% behind October 2016, but that doesn’t really matter since 2017 August and September revenues combined ran about 135% of combined 2016 August/September revenues. Being down 15% in the slower October period is barely a blip overall. The next three or four weeks will also be slow. November revenues are generally very small until Thanksgiving, when Christmas sales start to ramp up.

It’ll be interesting to see what, if anything, happens starting Saturday the 4th. My guess is not much, but my crystal ball isn’t any clearer than anyone else’s.

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Friday, 29 September 2017

08:54 – It was 57.3 (13C) when I took Colin out at 0715, partly cloudy. Barbara is off to the gym and store this morning.

Our weather is starting to get a lot more autumn-like. Most of the leaves are still green, but a lot of them are falling. Our forecast highs over the next week or so are in the 60’s, with lows in the 40’s and high 30’s.

Science kit sales are starting to taper off, as is typical for late September into October. This month’s revenues are just short of last September’s. We’ll probably end up selling only three or four fewer kits this month than a year ago. But this August was considerably bigger than August 2016, so on balance we’re actually doing better than last year.

Embarrassing prepper moment. I called Blue Ridge Co-op a couple days ago and asked them to come out and top off our propane tank. We last had that done back in April, I think, and I was curious to find out how much propane we’d used from our 330-gallon tank to run the cooktop in the intervening five months or so.

As it turned out, the answer was a massive 0.0 gallons. The guy pulled the hose down, but when he checked the overflow valve there was still liquid propane shooting out. So there was no point to even connecting up the filler hose.

I speculate that when they filled the tank in April, the temperatures were enough lower that simple thermal expansion of the liquid propane has accounted for all our usage. With the current higher temperatures, the liquid propane expanded to fill the available volume.

The good news is that my original calculations were apparently correct, although I questioned them at the time as being intuitively ridiculous. I calculated that that 300 gallon tank was sufficient to run our cooktop even under heavy use for between 10 and 14 years. Turns out that was probably a good estimate. So from now on I’ll have it topped off only every year or two.

Colin and I were surprised yesterday morning when we saw Al’s pickup pull into the drive. I guess he was short of things to do, so he drove up here to thin our turnips. He stuck around for an hour or so, thinned the turnips, and then turned around and drove back to Winston.

Our first attempt at turnips, planted this spring, failed miserably. They looked happy enough, but when Barbara pulled the first one it was full of worms. Same for the second, the third, and on and on. We’re hoping this autumn batch will do better.

Speaking of agricultural fails, here it is almost October and we have no apple crop to speak of. Nor any black walnuts. Last year, we had bushels of both. Next year may be a big year or a repeat of this year or something in between. Raising food crops is always a crap shoot.

I’m always puzzled when I hear from preppers who intend to raise their own food in a SHTF situation, but have never actually attempted to grow anything. Folks, that’s not how it works. If you’re counting on growing something, you’d better try it BEFORE you really need it. And even then there’s no guarantee that what works this time will work every time.

I’m also often puzzled by their choices of crops. It sounds like many of them are planning to eat mostly salads. I mean, stuff like lettuce and celery and peppers are fine as minor parts of the harvest, but they aren’t very calorie- and nutrient-dense. The bulk of your crop should be roots/tubers, legumes, and grain crops. Stuff like potatoes, yams, turnips, beets, parsnips, beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, wheat, oats, barley, amaranth, and so on. Stuff that produces large amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and oils. And, most importantly, bulk calories. You can starve to death on celery.

We maintain only a small garden patch. That, and pots on the back deck. Last year and this year have been experimental, finding out what works and what doesn’t. We now know that some crops just don’t work here, notably broccoli. But some flourish, including several types of squash, green beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Tomatoes, onions, and peas do okay. Beets, not so much.

But the point is that we’re finding out what works for us, with our climate and our soil. In a real long-term emergency, we could expand our garden to 100 times or more the size that it is now. There would very likely be scaling issues, but at least we’d have some experience that would allow us to deal with those.

But if you’re a prepper who’s bought a supply of heirloom seeds and just stuck them on the shelf, you’re fooling yourself. You’re not much better off than someone who hasn’t even bought seeds. Thinking and planning is NOT the same as doing.

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Friday, 22 September 2017

09:07 – It was 59.9F (5.5C) when I took Colin out at 0630. It was still dark, and he immediately disappeared into the gloom. I walked up and down the road shouting for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. At 0700, I finally woke Barbara and told her Colin was gone. She walked around yelling for him for a few minutes, and finally got in her car to drive around looking for him. She finally spotted him in the back yard of a house a quarter mile or so (~400 meters) down US21. We both chastised him, telling him he was a Very Bad Dog, but I doubt that will have any lingering effect.

I just placed my first order for bulk laboratory supplies with Amazon Business yesterday. I wanted to find an alternative source for several items that we’ve been ordering from one of our four major wholesalers for the last eight years or so. They’ve always been a bit more expensive than most, but I liked the quality of their stuff, which was mostly made in India rather than China.

But in addition to having higher prices, typically 10% or 15% higher than competitors, they’ve also always had high shipping charges. And those have gotten even higher since we moved to Sparta. The last straw came a couple of weeks ago, when they shipped me a small order. It was a small box that weighed only four or five pounds (~ 2 kilos), and they charged me $40 to ship it, which was almost 40% of the cost of the items themselves. They could have shipped it USPS Priority Mail for a quarter or less of what they charged me.

So, among the items I needed to reorder yesterday were 24-well and 96-well well plates. Ordinarily, I’d order those both by the case of 500 each, but I decided to order them from Amazon Business instead. The actual item price was similar, even ordering in boxes of 50 rather than cases of 500, and 2-day shipping was included in the price. They’re to arrive tomorrow, and assuming the quality is acceptable (which I’m pretty sure it will be), I’ll be ordering those in bulk from Amazon Business from now on. Those and probably half a dozen or more other items, such as 15 mL and 50 mL centrifuge tubes, which we also order in multiple case lots.

Email yesterday from someone I at first thought was another newbie prepper, with the subject line, “What else do we need to do?” My answer, as it turned out, was “not much”. If anything, they’re already better-prepared than we are. They’re retired, in their mid-60’s, and live outside a small town in Tioga County in north-central Pennsylvania, whose demographics look a lot like ours. They’re stocked up big-time on food, and have backups to their backups for water, heating, electric power, and so on. They maintain a large garden and keep chickens. Their nearest Costco is about a two-hour drive, one-way. Their home is large enough to accommodate their three kids with their spouses and the grandkids, who live in the State College and Altoona areas and visit them frequently on holiday weekends. They’re friends with all of their neighbors, and are active in the community. I couldn’t think of anything to suggest that they haven’t already done.

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Thursday, 21 September 2017

08:45 – It was 59F (5C) when I got up at 0615 to take Colin out. It was still dark, and he apparently decided it wasn’t time yet to go out. I was sitting in the den checking my email when he finally wandered in at 0630 and yawned.

I’m pretty much back to normal. The nausea disappeared yesterday by lunchtime, leaving me feeling a bit tired but nothing worse. I ate several small snacks through the day, but today I’ll be back to eating normally. I’ve also been trying to drink more to get myself rehydrated.

This is the last day of summer. Autumn arrives tomorrow at 1602 EDT, and we’re having the typical beautiful autumn weather. The leaves haven’t started to change much, but that’ll happen over the next couple of weeks. Peak color up here is generally in the first half of October.

Interesting article in the paper this morning. Some company does an overall natural disaster risk rating county-by-county for every county in the US, 3,000+ of them. Forsyth County, where we used to live, is rated as high risk, primarily due to the threat of wildfires. Alleghany County, where we now live, is rated as very low risk on all of the threats they consider. I was surprised that wildfires were not at least moderate risk here, but apparently not.

We’re back to work building science kits today. Things have started to slow down, but we’re still shipping quite a few kits. We always try to keep enough finished kits on hand to meet expected demand, but not so many that they end up sitting on the shelf just aging.

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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

08:56 – It was 51.7F (11C) when I took Colin out at 0700, clear and calm. We had a total of 1.8″ (4.5 cm) of rain and some stiff breezes from Irma’s remnants. If we hadn’t known there had been a hurricane, it would have just seemed like a normal couple of rainy days.

Barbara is off to the gym this morning, after which we’ll get back to building science kits. After an August that ran about 135% of last year’s August revenues, September is running about even with last September.

I’m seeing an increasing number of articles about former lefties who’ve “taken the red pill”. I never saw The Matrix, but I’m told that’s a pop cultural reference to progressives waking up to the ridiculousness of the progs and political correctness. IOW, people are starting to recognize that the emperor has no clothes, and saying so publicly. Let’s hope that trend continues and accelerates.

Someone forwarded me links to several articles about the growth in ham radio, which is on track to reach 750,000 licensed hams in the US this year. A lot of articles mention the 2007 elimination of the code requirement as a factor in the growth of ham radio, but most of them also point out the growth of the prepper movement as the major factor. I don’t have any real data to support my belief that most of the growth is in fact a result of preppers becoming licensed, but I do note that many of the preppers I hear from are either licensed or pursuing their licences.

I just read an article that says that about 900,000 homes and businesses in Georgia are without power, and they don’t know how long it’ll take to restore it. The real problem is that they don’t have the crews or trucks they need to do so. Power companies all over the US, particularly in the South and Southeast, sent trucks and crews to Texas to deal with the damage caused by Harvey, and then again to Florida to deal with Irma’s aftermath. The upshot is that there aren’t a lot of crews/trucks left to respond to Georgia. I don’t know for a fact, but I’d guess that our electric power company, Blue Ridge Electric, probably sent crews and trucks to Texas and Florida. I’d guess they probably have maybe one truck and crew left to deal with any local outages.

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Monday, 4 September 2017

09:00 – Happy Labor Day to my US readers. For Barbara and me, Labor Day has taken on a different meaning since we started our science kit business seven years ago. On Labor Day, we labor, trying to keep up with orders.

It was 54.4F (12.5C) when I took Colin out at 0700, partly cloudy and breezy.

More work today on science kits, building them and shipping them. At this point, we’re in reasonably good shape of finished goods inventory of all our kits, but that won’t last. Or at least we hope not. MTD, we’re still running ahead of last September’s revenues. The holiday weekend itself is always slow, as people have other things to do.

We’re keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irma. If it does come ashore on the Carolina coast, it’ll probably be about a week from now. As far as we are from the coast and in the mountains, it’s very unlikely to have much direct affect on us other than strong winds and heavy rains. And sitting on top of a mountain we get those pretty routinely anyway.

Our last experience with a hurricane up close and personal was Hugo in 1989. The eye passed directly over Winston-Salem and the storm was still a Category One, with strong winds and torrential rains. That’s as close as we ever want to get to a hurricane.

Oh, well. Whatever happens, we’re ready for it. But I do pity those who live down near the coast.

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Saturday, 2 September 2017

08:56 – It was 51.6F (11C) when I took Colin out at 0650, dim with heavy fog and drizzling. We’ve had about 1.6″ (4 cm) of rain in the last 24 hours or so. This is supposed to clear out later today. We’ll see.

Frances and Al had originally planned to spend the holiday weekend here, but given the weather they decided to stay home. Probably a good thing. Yesterday afternoon, at about the time they’d have left Winston, our visibility was down to about 50 meters.

Science kit sales are holding up. Month-to-date, we’ve already done 11% of the revenue we did in all of September 2016. We’ll be working on science kits today, of course, to get more built for stock. First up is to fill another 120 bottles of bromothymol blue, which is the limiting item on building more chemistry and biology kits. After that, we’ll continue knocking off other limiting items until we’re in good shape on finished-goods inventory.

Interesting email yesterday from a reader who wanted to know what I’d consider to be an “advanced prepper”. My short answer was someone who had the critical needs of themselves and their immediate family taken care of for a period of at least three months, and had begun to make provision for the needs of non-prepper extended family, friends, and neighbors.

This is borne out by recent events in Texas. Despite the supply chain being unable to cope with the sudden increased demand for food, bottled water, and so on, most of those who were better prepared have been sharing their stores with friends and neighbors, regardless of the political persuasions of those involved. Prepared Clinton voters are sharing their supplies with unprepared Trump voters, and vice versa. (Although Trump voters, on average, are probably much better-prepared than Clinton voters.)

With the exception of a few scumbags taking advantage of the situation, everyone in the affected area is co-operating, sharing supplies, having community cookouts, offering refuge to friends and neighbors, and so on. One of my readers, for example, is running his Big Berkey water filter constantly to provide safe drinking water for his neighborhood, as well as sharing his stocks of rice, pasta, canned meat, and so on. Another is lending out his numerous Coleman stoves and other items that are desperately needed by the folks affected.

That’s great, and illustrates the advantage of having at least one well-prepared person in a larger group, but I’m afraid this spirit of cooperation is going to start breaking down as more and more people exhaust their supplies and resupply continues to be problematic. It’ll be interesting to follow this over the coming weeks and months.

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Friday, 1 September 2017

08:22 – It was 62.5F (17C) when I took Colin out at 0700, foggy and damp. We’re expecting rain, heavy at times, all day.

Barbara brought back four 20-liter cases of bottled water from her Costco run, and also picked up a large bag of dog food and a new ball for Colin at the pet store. She said he already had plenty of dog food, but it didn’t hurt to stock up.

She always fills her gas tank when she stops at Costco. Yesterday, there were long lines at the gas pumps when she arrived, so she decided to go in and do her shopping before filling her tank. When she finished her shopping and went back out to the gas pumps, they were just changing the price of gas.

There’s a lot of that going on, and the shutdown of the Colonial One pipeline won’t help matters. Apparently, they’ve given no estimate of how long the pipeline will be down. The whole line in the affected area needs to be inspected, and much of it is underground. The usual panic-buying is drawing down gasoline supplies much faster than normal, so before long we’ll probably have gas stations shutting down for lack of fuel.

One of the things I had on my calendar for today was to call Blue Ridge Co-op to have them come out and top off our propane tank, but I may hold off on that. This is normally a good time of year price-wise to buy propane, but with the mess going on the price has probably skyrocketed. And we’re probably down from a ten-year supply to a 9.5-year supply, so it doesn’t really matter. I do feel sorry for people who heat with oil. They’ll probably suffer from sticker-shock if they try to fill their tanks right now.

10:19 – One of the things about filling all these chemical bottles and building all these science kits is that I have to generate a continuing flood of orders for stuff that we’re getting low on.

Yesterday, Barbara mentioned that we were out of wood splints (used in chemistry kits), and I already knew that we had only 25 grams or so of phenolphthalein powder left. Ordinarily, I’d order those two items from American Educational Products and Fisher Scientific, respectively.

But I decided just for the hell of it to check Walmart. They didn’t carry phenolphthalein, although one of their third-party vendors did carry the AMEP woodsplints, but at a ridiculous price. So I went over to Amazon. They didn’t carry lab wood splints, but they did offer packs of 1,000 5.25″ wooden coffee stirrers, so I put five packs of those in my cart. Then I did a search for phenolphthalein powder, which Amazon was offering with Prime at $11.00 for 100 grams of ACS Reagent grade. That was cheaper than Fisher Sci, so I just bought a supply of phenolphthalein from Amazon. Geez.

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Thursday, 31 August 2017

08:23 – It was 64.3F (18C) when I took Colin out at 0620, dark and heavily overcast. The remnants of Harvey are to come through today and tomorrow, ending Saturday, dropping two or three inches (5 to 7.5 cm) of rain.

Barbara is off to Winston this morning for a haircut, a small Costco run, and lunch with a friend, returning this afternoon. Tomorrow and over the holiday weekend, we’ll be building more science kits.

Assuming we get no more kit orders today, August 2017 revenues totaled 133% of August 2016 revenues. The better August this year was enough to make up for the slower July, with combined revenues for July/August 2017 matching those for July/August 2016. Now to see what happens in September.

Email from Kathy. She and Mike, along with another like-minded couple that they’ve become friends with, are running a grid-down readiness exercise over the holiday weekend at Kathy’s house.

Well, kind of. They’re actually not going to turn off their main breaker, because they don’t want to run their generator all weekend to keep the refrigerator/freezer cold. So Kathy plans to duct-tape the refrigerator/freezer doors closed and feed everyone from dry and canned LTS food and stored water. They did decide to turn off the breaker to their well pump, so they’ll also be using stored water to do dishes, flush the toilets, and so on.

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