Friday, 3 February 2012

11:12 – Colin promised yesterday that he wouldn’t do that any more. We’ll see. He was born on 12 February 2011, so in little more than a week he’ll have his first birthday. As an 11-month pup, I’m sure he’s looking forward to that, although I’ve explained to him that turning a year old entails new responsibilities, among them not shitting on the bathroom floor. Barbara says that on the 12th Colin will be an official dog. I’m thinking he’ll be a 12-month pup.


I’m doing my usual serve-and-volley with edits on the biology book. As usual, they’re pretty light. No one has flagged any errors yet, so it’s usually just incorporating suggestions, fixing typos, and so on. Meanwhile, I’ve started work on adapting the forensics lab book we completed three years ago to a kit-based version. I just sent my editor a revised proposal for it. If possible, I’d like to get the revisions complete by mid-May, which means if we move on this it may be an autumn title. One way or another, the forensics kits will be ready in time for autumn semester.

Speaking of kits, I just shipped the next-to-last chemistry kit we had in stock. Ordinarily, we don’t let stock get that low. We have a dozen more kits partially built, so we’ll probably finish those up this weekend. I need to do inventory anyway, so this’ll be an opportunity to get a count on all the components and figure out what to reorder, not just to build more chemistry kits but to build biology kits and a prototype forensics kit as well. After we get biology and forensics out of the way, I also want to do a second edition of the chemistry book, this one written around a kit. Two kits, actually. One for first-year only, and a second kit to supplement that for second-year. A lot of people use the chemistry book for home schooling, and with kits I can make it much more affordable for them to do so, which in turn should increase the number of people using the book for homeschooling.

Thursday, 2 February

10:04 – Yesterday and today I’ve been incorporating comments from reviewers and posting the “final” versions of the manuscript chapters. We’re through the initial narrative chapters and the first two lab sessions, other than incorporating any late-arriving comments.


I don’t know what we’re going to do about Colin. When he first came home with us, I thought he was going to be easy to house-train. He had accidents, of course, but he seemed to realize that he was expected to urinate and defecate outside. Then he noticed that Barbara and I used the indoor bathrooms, and apparently decided that what was good enough for us was good enough for him. He decided that our hall bathroom was for him. Fortunately, it has a ceramic tile floor.

He no longer urinates indoors, and most of the time he defecates outdoors. But only most. He goes through spells when he reverts to using the hall bathroom. He might go two or three weeks without doing anything indoors, and then defecate in the hall bathroom several times over the next few days. He’s in one of those spells now. It’s particularly aggravating because it almost always happens minutes after we come back in from a walk. Before we come in, I lead him over to the natural area where he’s been trained to go. He’ll stand there just looking down the street. I tell him we’re going to go in the house and if he needs to do something he’d better do it now. Eventually, he trots up to the front door and waits to come in. And then, often within five or ten minutes, he shits on the bathroom floor.

I wouldn’t mind so much if he’d just shit on the floor. That’s easy enough to clean up and sterilize. But the really disgusting part is that he usually eats it. That’s because we made the mistake very early of pointing at a pile on the floor and yelling at him. He’s obviously decided that it’s safer to hide the forensic evidence.

This morning, I took him for a walk just after Barbara left. Five minutes after we came back into the house, he shit on the floor. At least that time he didn’t eat it. As I told Barbara, it may be beyond the capabilities of even a Border Collie to understand if I yell at him for shitting on the floor and then praise him for not eating it, so I just cleaned it up without saying anything to him. Then, about 9:15, I took him for another walk down to the corner. Before we came back in the house, I gave him a good opportunity to do anything he needed to do. Sure enough, five minutes after we came back in, he shit on the floor, but this time he ate it. And people wonder why so many Border Collie pups end up in rescue.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

08:49 – Amazon has a bunch of free mystery and thriller ebooks today and tomorrow, if you like that kind of thing. Kindle Review has some picks.


I’ve gone through all the lab sessions to figure out what exactly needs to be in the biology kits. There are 72 items. Well, 72 categories, I suppose. Half a dozen test tubes count as one item, for example. Now I need to generate purchase orders for the components we buy and run labels for and make up the stuff we package ourselves.

I’m also going to spend some time over the next few days running through the manuscript for Illustrated Guide to Home Forensics Experiments with an eye to rewriting it around a kit and adding some lab sessions that weren’t in the original manuscript. There were several lab sessions I left out of the manuscript because it would be too difficult or too expensive for readers to get the necessary materials, but I can solve that problem with a kit.

For example, there are special cross-section slides available that are metal with tiny holes in them. The idea is that you slide a thin metal wire through one of the holes and use it to pull a clump of fibers back through the hole. You then use a scalpel to trim the fibers flush with the top and bottom of the slide, allowing you to view a cross section of the fibers by transmitted light. The problem is, those slides cost a buck or two each, and are sold only in boxes of 100.

Similarly, there are several solutions needed that require only, say, 1 gram of a particular chemical to make up 25 mL of solution. That chemical may be readily available, but only in a 25 gram bottle that costs $25 plus shipping. Since many chemicals are needed, the costs can add up fast, and each reader would end up with lots of unused chemicals. But packaged in a kit, that solution may cost only two or three bucks, counting labor costs, bottle, and so on. That’s why designing the book around a kit opens up so many more possibilities.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

08:22 – I just filed my North Carolina E-500 Sales Tax report. As always, I deeply resent being forced to function as an unpaid tax collector for the state of North Carolina. North Carolina already has self-reporting of use tax for out-of-state purchases. Why can’t it do the same for sales tax on in-state purchases? This shouldn’t be my problem.


I’m still going through the book session by session, listing what’s to be supplied with the biology kits. Once I get a final bill of materials, I can start generating POs for the components I need to order and then build a prototype kit to figure out what size box we’ll need, how the stuff will be packaged, and so on. Then we can get the first batch of 60 kits actually built.

Meanwhile, I’ll be juggling edits on the biology book with a re-write of the forensics book to make it kit-based.

Monday, 30 January 2012

10:28 – The book is complete and off to the editors. For the next few weeks, I’ll be working with the editors and layout/design folks, answering queries, incorporating edits, and otherwise cleaning up before the book actually goes to print. I also have some book-related stuff to do. For example, we included a link to a biology landing page on thehomescientist.com website, which has to be created, along with all of the pages that it links to.

Starting today, I’m going through the manuscript. Each lab session has a list of items required, separated into groups of those included in the kit and those the reader supplies. I have to consolidate those lists so that I can come up with a final BoM for the kits. I’ll also consolidate the user-supplied item lists so that readers will have a single list of items they’ll need to acquire.

I’d thought about including a basic set of ten or so prepared slides as a standard part of the kits. I decided against that, mainly because some readers may already have prepared slide sets, and it makes no sense to duplicate. Instead, I’ll do what I originally planned, and make a core slide set an optional item, or indeed possibly a separate SKU. The slide set may or may not be available initially with the kits. Obviously, there are many sources for prepared slides.

The other reason I need to get the kit BoM finalized is so that I can do some price and cost calculations. At this point, I don’t have a firm idea how much the kits will cost to build or how much we’ll need to charge for them. My original goal was $175 or less with shipping but not including prepared slides, and I’d like to keep it to $160 or less if possible. There are many variables to consider, not least the physical size of the kit. If it’ll all fit into a USPS Priority Mail large flat-rate box, for example, I know my shipping costs will be about $15 per kit, regardless of weight or distance. If it won’t fit, I’ll have to buy regular boxes at maybe a buck or so each delivered and pay PM weight/distance rates, which’ll vary according to how much the kit ends up weighing and how far it’s going. In that case, assuming the kit weighs 10 pounds, my average shipping cost is going to be a good bit higher. I could use parcel post, which would cut the shipping cost significantly, but at the expense of typical 7 to 10 business day delivery time rather than the 1 to 3 days with PM. I suspect most kit buyers aren’t going to want to wait.


Sunday, 29 January 2012

08:51 – We should finish the manuscript today, with two days to spare. Barbara is cleaning house this morning and then heading over to her parents’ house for lunch. We’ll shoot the final images this afternoon.

While I was doing laundry yesterday I had a few minutes to spare so I decided to make up the eosin Y stain for the biology kits. Eosin Y stain sold by most lab supply vendors can be anything from 0.2% to 1% eosin in either water or alcohol. Normally, the only other component is a preservative to prevent mold growth, usually a pinch of thymol or a few drops of chloroform per liter. But I’d been doing some research, and it seems that acidifying the stain with 1% or so acetic acid gives much better results.

So I dissolved 5 grams of eosin Y in nearly a liter of distilled water. It formed a very dark red solution that was so intensely-colored it was opaque even holding the bottle up to a strong light. I added 10 mL of glacial acetic acid and was surprised to see a distinct color change to almost orange. I’ll have to do a comparison test with the acidified eosin Y against neutral aqueous and alcoholic eosin Y before I use this for kits, but I suspect it’ll work very well.


Saturday, 28 January 2012

10:41 – All of the chapters are complete and off to the editors except the Introduction, which is in progress now. This weekend, we need to shoot some images to replace placeholders in the text. We also need to build the gel electrophoresis apparatus and run a gel or two.

Monday, I start going through the manuscript chapters to build a list of what’s to be included in the biology kit, including amounts. Once I have that, I can start generating purchase orders for the materials and start actually making up chemicals, printing labels, filling and labeling bottles, and so on.

I’ve also decided to offer two options with the biology kit. First, a simple hand microtome. Second, a core set of maybe 20 to 25 prepared microscope slides. For those, I’ll focus on slides that are particularly important, hard to find elsewhere (particularly in standard sets), and difficult to prepare yourself (sections, special staining, and so on rather than simple whole mounts of common things). I’ll also focus on double- and triple-purpose slides. For example, a lot of slide sets include cross-sections of monocot and dicot roots, stems, and leaves, along with slides showing skeletal, smooth, and cardiac muscle. That’s nine separate slides, but I can do the same thing with only four slides: monocot and dicot roots on one slide, monocot and dicot stems on one slide, monocot and dicot leaves on one slide, and three types of muscle on one slide. The individual combined slides are usually a bit more expensive than single-specimen slides, but nowhere near twice as much.

One of the wholesalers I’ll probably buy some of those slides from packages them in boxes of 50 of the same slide, so I’ll put 50 sets together initially. I have no idea what percentage of people who order the biology kit will want the optional prepared slides, but I suspect 50 slide sets will suffice for the first 60 kits, if not many more. Delivery time on the slides is typically 60 days ARO, so we may have some juggling to do. That delivery time means I also need to get the slides on order no later than mid-February if I want to have them available by mid- to late April.


Friday, 27 January 2012

08:09 – I should finish the lab session on simulated DNA gel electrophoresis today and get it off to the reviewers. Finish in the sense of finish writing it. I haven’t actually done the lab session yet. I’ll do it this weekend, when we’ll also be shooting a lot of images for it and other lab sessions. That leaves only the introduction, which is in progress. It looks like we’re actually going to make the 31 January deadline.

Not that things settle down much after that. In addition to a flow of of queries and edits, I have to get the kit contents finalized and purchase orders cut for components. The biology book hits the bookstores in April, and by that time I want to have 60 finished biology kits in inventory and ready to ship, along with components in the pipeline for many more.

The next project is a complete re-write of the forensics lab book that we finished a couple of years ago but was never published. I want to rewrite that book around a custom kit, which will make it much more accessible to home schoolers and hobbyists. I’d like to have that book complete, at least in PDF form, and kits available in time for summer session, although realistically it’ll probably be in time for autumn semester.

Farther out, but still on the horizon, I’d like to do a second edition of Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments, this one kit-based. Two kits, actually. One for first-year labs (the current chemistry kit) and one for second-year.

It’s going to be a busy year.


Thursday, 26 January 2012

08:44 – I sent off the preface and lab safety chapter to the reviewers yesterday. That leaves the introduction, which is well in progress, and a lab session that I wasn’t sure I’d have time to do before deadline. That one is on simulated DNA gel electrophoresis, “simulated” because we’ll use dyes rather than actual DNA fragments for the separation.

Those dyes–crystal violet, methylene blue, and safranin O–are included in the kit as biostains, and they all migrate the same direction in a gel. We’ll use their different molecular masses as proxies for DNA fragments of differing BP size. We’d use real DNA, but that’d require expensive restriction enzymes, and wouldn’t produce very distinct banding in an agar gel (as opposed to agarose, which is much, much more expensive than agar, which isn’t cheap itself). I was thinking about having readers pre-run the gels to clear out some of the gunk that’s present in plain agar, but that’s really more trouble than it’s worth.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

07:49 – Heads-down writing continues, as it will for the next several days.

I was just reading an article to Colin yesterday about new evidence that dogs have been man’s best friend for at least 33,000 years, back when we were still Cro Magnon. Two skeletons of what are unquestionably domesticated dogs have been reliably dated to 31,000 BCE. To put that in perspective, it wasn’t until about 11,000 BCE that man domesticated the sheep, pig, and cow, and it wasn’t until about 6,000 BCE that women domesticated men.