Thursday, 22 March 2012

08:47 – Arrrrghhh! Leakage is the bane of anyone who ships liquids. I was making up the bags of hazardous chemicals for the biology kits the other day. There are seven of those. I’d distributed 30 sets of the first six to plastic bags. When I was about to add the seventh, Sudan III stain, I immediately noticed that the bag that contained 60 filled, sealed, and labeled 15 mL dropper bottles of Sudan III stain had liquid in the bag that had leaked from one or more of the sealed bottles. Ruh-roh.

The problem is that that stain is made up with a 50/50 mixture of 70% isopropanol and acetone. Both have low viscosity, and both are difficult to keep in a sealed bottle. The combination of the two was apparently too much for the dropper bottle cap, and several of the bottles had leaked. Dropper bottles are inherently more leak-prone than bottles with standard screw caps, so I immediately filled, capped, and taped a bottle of Sudan III stain using a standard PP cap with a PE liner. That bottle is standing on its cap right now. I’ll give it several days to leak. If it lasts until next week with no leaks, I’ll assume that that cap is good enough to prevent leaks during storage and shipping.

In fact, I’m seriously considering abandoning the use of dropper bottles entirely and shifting to using standard screw caps exclusively in all of our kits.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

08:46 – The Roku box is great when it’s working, but a royal pain in the petunia when it’s not. Around 6:30 yesterday evening, we had a short power outage that was long enough to cause the Roku to reboot. It took me more than an hour and probably 50 attempts before I could get it to reconnect. About half the time, it would pass the first of three steps in reconnecting, “Connect to wireless network”. About a tenth of the time, it would also pass the second step, “Connect to local network”. But it took 50+ tries before it would pass the final step, “Connect to the Internet”. What was particularly aggravating was that I was watching the AP router status screen, which told me that the Roku box was connected to the wireless network 100% of the time, with a very strong signal and at a high data rate.

I would have called Roku tech support, but I learned that lesson the day the Roku arrived, when I had similar problems getting it to connect (the dreaded 014 error). Never, ever call Roku tech support. Roku has the worst tech support of any company I’ve ever contacted, bar none. Their tech support reps are apparently in China, and do not speak understandable English. They work from a script, and their solution is always to demand that you reconfigure your entire network, despite the fact that the network is demonstrably working fine and that the problem is solely the Roku box.

If I ever need to replace this Roku box, it certainly won’t be with another Roku product. Roku sucks.

O’Reilly sent me the draft of the bio book index yesterday. In all the books we’ve done for O’Reilly, I don’t think I’ve ever made even one change to a draft index. For some reason, it just flummoxes me. They want suggestions about adding things that are missing. I can never think of any. They also want suggestions about things that are in there but shouldn’t be. I can never think of any. So I just emailed my editor this morning to say that I couldn’t find anything that needed to be changed.

Right now, I’m working on two web pages. The first is the “landing page” for the biology book. The second is the main page for the BK01 biology kit. Both of those pages need to be tested, up, and working by the time the biology book hits the stores a month from now. Which means I really need to get the biology kits costed out, so we know what to charge for them.

I talked to Barbara the other day about dropping our cable TV and VoIP service from Time-Warner, keeping only Roadrunner. The cable TV service is basic tier, which is essentially just the OTA channels. About the only use we have for them is when Barbara watches sports on weekends. We could get those for free with an antenna, and probably get a better picture. As to VoIP phone service, we’re paying something like $45/month for it, and probably use it an average of less than 10 minutes per day. Although it’s more common among young people, we have several friends who’ve already dropped their landline phone service and gone 100% cell. Given our very light usage, I thought prepaid cell phones would actually be cheaper. Assuming 300 minutes per month between us, which is probably high, prepaid cell airtime at $0.10 per minute would run us only $30, and we’d have the other advantages of cell phones, including each of us having a personal number and not missing any calls.

Barbara’s current cell phone is a Boost Mobile, for which she pays $0.10/minute, so I visited the Boost Mobile site yesterday, intending to order a second phone for myself. I found that, although Barbara is grandfathered in at $0.10/minute, the current prepaid plan is $0.20/minute. So I went off looking for alternatives and found They get good reviews, we’re in a service area with a strong signal, and their prepaid service is only $0.05/minute. So I just ordered one of their phones for myself. If I like it, I may order another one for Barbara.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

08:10 – The methyl cellulose arrived yesterday, along with a bunch of other chemicals. I’ll make up the solution later this week.

Methyl cellulose is interesting stuff. It’s freely soluble in cold water, but insoluble in hot water. One might therefore reasonably assume that the way to make up a solution of it is to dissolve it in cold water, but that doesn’t work very well. No matter how careful you are, if you mix methyl cellulose powder with cold water, it forms clumps that are almost impossible to get into solution. The trick is to make a suspension of the stuff in water at about 85 C to prevent clumping, and then pour that suspension slowly and with constant stirring into ice cold water. The tiny particles in suspension immediately dissolve in the cold water, forming a homogeneous solution. Alternatively, one can simply make a suspension of the full amount of methyl cellulose powder in hot water and then stick the beaker in the freezer to cool it down rapidly, before the suspension has time to settle out.

The biology book is proceeding on schedule. We’re supposed to receive the QC2 PDF Thursday. We then have Thursday and Friday to review it and make any final minor changes. Once that’s complete there’ll be an index review, followed by the book going to the printer on 6 April.

Monday, 19 March 2012

07:58 – Methyl cellulose, the final chemical we need for the biology kits, is supposed to arrive today. I’ll make up a couple liters of the solution, and then decide what type of bottle to use for it. (The solution is quite viscous, possibly too viscous to use a narrow-mouth dropper bottle; we may end up using a wide-mouth bottle instead.) Once we get 60 bottles of that filled, capped, taped, and labeled, we’ll have everything we need to start building finished kits. We’ll build the first batch of 30 kits this coming weekend.

Meanwhile, I’m back to working on the re-write of the forensics book.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

08:52 – Barbara is cleaning house this morning and then heading over to her parents’ house for lunch. This afternoon we’ll do more work on the biology kits. We made up a sample kit yesterday with everything in it except the two chemical bags, which we haven’t assembled yet. Eyeballing it, it looks like we’ll be able to fit everything into a USPS Priority Mail Regional-Rate RRBB1 box, which is good. But it’ll be a tight fit, so we won’t be sure until we’ve actually made up the two chemical bags and tried it.

We’re not offering any options on the biology kits, at least initially, which means we’ll be able to assemble them and seal the boxes, and then stack finished-goods inventory to await shipment rather than doing final assembly for each kit as we prepare to ship it.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

09:58 – More work on the biology kits today. One of the things I need to find out is what size box we’ll need. I’m hoping the kits will fit in a USPS Priority Mail Regional-Rate large box, but we may have to go to the slightly larger USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate large box. The flat-rate box costs about $15 to ship to anywhere in the 50 states, while the regional-rate box averages a few dollars less, typically $8 to $14, depending on destination. Since we sell the kits for the same price regardless of destination, the price of the kits will be about $4 higher if we have to go with the flat-rate boxes.

One of the interesting things about the Well-Trained Minds forums is that the members talk about a lot of stuff that’s not related to home schooling. There’s a current thread about washing machine odors, which apparently are a very common problem with front-loaders. We have a top-loader, but we’ve recently noticed a musty odor. Running loads with lots of bleach hasn’t helped, nor has leaving the lid open so that the machine can dry out. I told Barbara a couple weeks ago that there’s apparently mold growing in inaccessible areas of the machine, and I’d planned to take the back off and see what’s going on in there.

But someone mentioned an easier solution on the WTM forums. Apparently, there’s a product called “Smelly Washer” or something like that. It’s “all-natural”, so I have no interest in using it. I prefer products that are all-artificial, such as good old sodium hypochlorite, AKA chlorine bleach. Apparently, the trick is to overfill the tub, so that lots of water gets splashed around and slurps over the inner tub to reach the mold growth areas on the outer tub. So, after I finish doing our actual laundry today, I’m going to run a large load without clothes using hot water and adding a few gallons of hot water manually to the tub after it’s filled to the regular large level. I’ll add half a liter or so of chlorine beach to that load, and hope it’ll slurp over and get the mold or whatever is causing the odor.

14:31 – Ruh-roh. Barbara just stuck her head in my office door and asked me if it was okay if she moved some of my clothes from our bedroom closet to other closets in the house. My mouth said, “Sure,” but my mind was screaming, “No! No! A thousand times, no!”

The problem is, I (and those clothes, no doubt) am afraid that this is just a way to gently ease them into the trash or Goodwill pile. I have yet to meet a woman who really understands that most guys (including me) form deep and abiding relationships with our clothes. They’re kind of like our dogs, except that they live longer. Women are ruthless and utterly emotionless about clothes. Something has a small hole in it, throw it out! Something has an indelible stain, throw it out! Something doesn’t fit quite as well as it used to, throw it out! Something is out of style, throw it out! Geez. Women have no loyalty whatsoever to clothes. I mean, throwing out an old friend just because it’s a little worn is like shooting a dog because it lost a leg.

Of course, I freely admit that men’s and women’s definitions differ somewhat. What a woman calls “a little worn” a guy calls “almost new”. What a woman calls “worn out” a guy calls “broken in”. And what a guy calls “a little worn” a woman calls “disgraceful”.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

08:22 – Okay, this is simply bizarre. Widespread theft of one particular brand of laundry detergent? The cops in various cities setting up task forces (!) to deal with it? Bootleg Tide? Geez. Of course, it’s bogus, a Faux News story, so to speak. Or at least Snopes says so.

I spent some time yesterday putting together a directory structure that includes nearly all of the image files in the biology book in full resolution, renaming the image files to correspond to the figure numbers in the text. I have some more work to do on it, but once it’s done I’ll burn it to discs and include those discs in the biology kits. Although high-res image files aren’t a perfect substitute for viewing actual slides, many kit buyers won’t want to spend $200 or more on 100+ prepared slides, and this set of uncompressed 6 and 12 megapixel JPEG image files gives them an inexpensive alternative.

16:15 – Will someone please, PLEASE, track down where “Cardholder Services” is, visit the site, slaughter everyone there, blow up the building, and plow it into the earth. It wouldn’t hurt to sow a little salt while you’re at it.

The sons of bitches knowingly violate the Do-Not-Call regulations. IIRC, they’ve been fined by the FTC, more than once. I just got a call from them, again. The fourth or fifth call in the last couple days. Fining them doesn’t work. The only thing that will work is actually killing them, which would be justifiable homicide. So, will someone please do that? I’d do it, but I’m too busy right now.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

08:52 – I just sent our comments on the QC1 galley proofs of the biology book off to our editor.

I had the same experience I have with every book. When I finish a book, I’m always unhappy with it, thinking about all the stuff I should have done differently, all the stuff I should have done that I didn’t do, all the stuff that I did that I shouldn’t have done, and so on. Then a month or so passes and I get the galley proofs. As I start checking them, I always find myself thinking, “Hey, this is actually a pretty good book.” By the time I finish checking them, I’m thinking, “Hey, this is a really good book.”

Not that there aren’t changes I’d have made if it had been possible to do so. The book in QC1 galley proof form is 366 pages. If only I’d had twice that page count, I could have done a much better job. Of course, if it weren’t for Brian Jepson insisting that I wrap things up by a certain date so that we can go to production, I’d end up years later with a 14,000 page manuscript, still complaining to Brian that I needed just a bit more time and a bit more page count.

Oh, well. It’s finished, and it’s a really good book even if it is only 5% as long as I’d like it to be.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

08:27 – I’m cranking away on the QC1 galleys of the biology book. I hope to finish that job tomorrow, although it may slide into Thursday.

Things are getting a bit tense in the EU, with Portugal likely to need a bailout soon and Spain announcing that it’s not going to comply with the austerity measures recently agreed. Here’s an image that sums things up pretty well. That’s Spain’s economy minister on the left and the president of the Euro Group on the right.