Take a Tip From Me

I do some of my best work with little pieces of plastic.  I’ve been amusing myself and making the human female’s life more interesting by messing with her ability to do something as mundane as order pipette tips.

You remember pipettes, yes?  Fantastically useful things, but without the single-use, disposable tips, they’re just very expensive, very precise squirt guns.  Tips come in two sizes–yellow for the two smallest size of pipettors and blue for the larger one.

The human female and her Prep Staff already have a lot of tips.  I mean A LOT, a lot.

tip cabinet

And that’s not even all of them.

The tips get “stuffed,” 96 at a time, into color-coordinated tip boxes, of which there are also bunches upon tons of manys.

stuffed tip boxes

The stripey tape is a bit of nifty science.  It starts out plain, and once exposed to the high heat and pressure of an autoclave, it grows stripes.  Any box you see here that has an undisturbed bit of stripey tape contains sterile tips.

Unless it’s one of the boxes upon which I have switched around raw and striped tape, in which case, all bets are off.

Let us examine one of the boxes more closely.


Odin’s eyepatch!  That really is a lot of tips.


Heretofore (love that word), the mortals have been hand-stuffing the tips into the boxes, the sort of mindless,  necessary busy-work that could probably be left to trained raccoons.  (They have such clever little paws!  The raccoons, not the humans.)

rocket tips

Now, the new lab exercises for the Bio 111 students call for approximately eleven million times more pipette uses than the old ones, meaning approximately eleven million more tips.  No one has time to stuff that many tips, and there aren’t enough sardines and marshmallows on the planet to convince a raccoon to do it.

Some researchers just buy boxes with the tips already stuffed in  (this is called “racked”) which is convenient but very expensive and mind-bogglingly wasteful.  The other alternative is to buy the racked tips once and thereafter refill the boxes with pre-placed cards of 96 tips each.  Since soooo many tips will be needed, that’s what the human female and her staff have decided to do.

BUT–and here’s the part that makes my evil little heart go pitty-pat—not all tip boxes are created equal.  Each major pipettor brand and several major labware vendors has its own sort of box, and the refill inserts fit only their own boxes.

So what is the human female to do?  All the old, yucky tip boxes she has are one kind, but no one knows which (possibly Fisher?)  All the fancy new pipettors came with one box of yellow tips and one box of blue tips per per set, and those are made by Rainin.  She’s got to pick a supplier and make a commitment for the long haul.  It’s like choosing a mail-order  bride, except more expensive!

Rainin is out, as their refills cost about twice what my helmet did.  Fisher is out, as she hears the box latches don’t hold up.  There are lots of other options, but she has finally narrowed it down two, a smaller vendor “A” and the Vendor Who’s Responsible.

Ehehehe!  Look at her try to do math!  If she needs to order 30,000 yellow tips and 43,000 blue tips and each comes 96 per card, and the cards come eight to a pack, and five packs are in each case, how many cases does she need to order?  And, wait!   The blue tip boxes and cards are bigger, so there are fewer packs per case, so that’s a different multiplier.  Or is it divisor?  She’s getting confused.

Oh, clever human!  She’s asked for quotes from the two vendors and has them bidding against one another.  They’re falling all over themselves, trying to undercut each other and offering all sorts of inducements!  She has offer, counter-offer, counter-counter-offer, counter-counter-counter-offer, and counter-counter-counter-offer plus offer of free goods.  Which all means more math—what is the total price now versus the ongoing cost of refills?  One is cheaper now; one in the long run, but only a little. One is offering to give her free empty boxes and sell her all the tips at refill prices.   Don’t answer yet!  Don’t forget two very important considerations for the math!  The blue tips come fewer pack to a case since they’re larger, so that’s a separate set of calculations.  And one vendor has half the number of packs per case, so their quote has to be doubled for comparison.  And that 43,000 yellow tips means ordering a partial case, and can she get a quote for just part of a case?  Yes?  More math!  It’s so exciting!  Who is going to get the bid??  It would be easier to just add them to the huge order of everything else from the VWR.  But would that be better?  Oh, the quandary!!  Time is running out–the order has to go in today.  

Come on, mortal, decide already!  Just know that whichever vendor you don’t choose is going to send you hurt and aggrieved emails for weeks afterwards.

What’s that?  The VWR has thrown in two free cases of tips?  That tips the scales.  Order going in to them and a polite decline to the other vendor.

And right on cue:  Message from the other vendor.  “I wish you’d told me.  I could have done something else.  What changed in the last ten minutes?”  The human female got to enjoy her thrifty decision for all of twenty seconds before the guilt trips started arriving in her mailbox.  I love it!

Oh, well.  What’s done is done.  It’s not as if there aren’t a million more things that need doing, so no time to dwell.


And I think I’ll just randomly remove tips from boxes.  Here. This one has 95 now, and I spit a little in two or three of them..

>|: [


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