Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Why Wikipedia Is Not An "Encyclopedia for the Masses"

Imagine a young student, maybe 14 or so, needing to know what Angular Momentum is, having come across the term for the first time.

Our student has two choices for online encyclopedic help:

  1. Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia for the Masses, enblitherates the subject here and
  2. The Encyclopedia Britannica, which does a slightly more useful job because it was written to explain stuff to people who don't already understand whatever it is they are looking up

Sadly, most kids would not know of the latter resource, and would thus give up physics and go play Fortnite instead after reading the first paragraph of solid mathblither and off-page hyperlinks (to more blither).

Why the STEM editors cannot do the same sort of job the Star Trek, Pokemon and Marvel Universe editors do is beyond me. I can get up to speed on any of those things even though not one of them interests me in the slightest (with the possible exception of X-Men). Proper introductions, working up to the hardcore as the article progresses so as to educate without overwhelming the reader. Contrast with the dense, jargon-encrusted job the STEM articles have as an opener. They make income tax instructions look interesting.

Wikipedia, crushing any desire to know more science since, well, forever.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The New Steviemobile

I sulked for a week or so after the insurance company handed me a check for the defunct-over-a-piddling-issue Steviemobile, then Mrs Stevie got cross and told me I had to do something about getting a new car because she was fed up with collecting me at the station and driving me around in Chauffeured Luxury™.

Mrs Stevie had a co-worker who had suggested we look at what might be obtained from Hertz used car sales, giving their used cars a thumbs up and explaining that although they typically had high usage they had been well-looked-after for their entire life with Hertz.

So, on the next Sunday I took a look on their website and discovered a Nissan Altima of this year's vintage with only 14,400 miles on its clock.

This looked too good to be true so when Mrs Stevie returned from Defensive Lutheran-Fu classes I swung over to Smithtown, about twenty minutes away from Chateau Stevie, and asked for a test drive. The nice man brought out the car, which was listed as "Storm Blue" but was charcoal to my eyes. He swore it was the right car so I climbed in, with Mrs Stevie in the back seat for comparative experience reporting and back seat driving tests and prepared for driving.

I think the nice man was waiting for me to ask how to start the car, but I had driven this very model while in Florida in the summer1 so knew about pressing the brake and pushing the button. I did, however, spend about five minutes checking all the controls to ensure I knew where such things as door locks, window winders, mirror adjusters, headlight and so forth were located. Not doing this in Florida had brought on fiasco when we were rear-ended seconds after leaving the hire car lot, and I couldn't open the door to jump out and be properly outraged.

The engine burst into life and we hurled out of the carpark on what proved to be a convincingly nice test drive.

In about ten minutes I parked in front of the showroom and we went inside to say that yes, we'd like to buy the vehicle.

When I bought the Steviemobile 15 years ago I clearly remember that the process involved a three day wait so that plates and paperwork could be completed. We bought the car on a Saturday and picked it up on a Wednesday night after work.

So you can imagine I was quite impressed that although it was Sunday, the nice man could not only get the financing sorted out but could register the car to me and fit the plates, even as we insured it over the phone with Geico.

Mrs Stevie went out at one point and searched the other Altimas in the lot to see if she could locate a handbook, the one for this particular car being AWOL, and she found one2. I hadn't even thought to look for it. It took less than two hours from walking into the place to driving out to get lunch in our new car, which was clearly charcoal-colored even though both Mrs Stevie and the nice man swore blind they could see the blue in it.

And what a happiness-inducing car it is.

The engine is 25% larger than the never-to-be-sufficiently-damned SULEV unit fitted in the Steviemobile, so it goes rather more like my old TR6 than the Steviemobile (which was speedy and quick off the mark when needed). The new car seems to be accelerating slower than the old Steviemobile but is in fact very nippy. I think it is the difference in the transmissions that is the deceptive thing, along with the added comfort of the ride. The Nissan shifts at much higher RPM than the Steviemobile did. Should that shifting be too conservative for the driver, I discovered after three days driving that there was a "sport" position for the gear shift that caused the transmission to linger in lower gears during acceleration for a more racy, trouser-ruining experience.

Inside it is a quantum leap above the basic fixtures of the old Steviemobile. The (leather) seats are heated. The steering wheel is heated. There is a rear-view back-up camera that comes on when reverse is selected. There is a bluetooth gubbins that alllows me to sync my phone with the radio and play music or make calls. Calls can reliably be made by just speaking the name of the stored contact. Touch the button on the steering wheel, say "Call Mrs Stevie" and in seconds you too can be harangued vituperatively as you drive.

The car has a remote start so it can be fired up from the living room of Chateau Stevie while I make my coffee and be all defrosted and warm when I am ready to leave for my train. It is like driving a starship, and I can pop the trunk either with the remote or manually if I have the remote in my pocket. In fact, I can operate the entire vehicle if I have the remote in my pocket, since all the locks and controls work when the fob is nearby.

Downsides? Well there are some. The heater has a habit of selecting "fresh air" instead of "recirculated air" when the demister button is pressed, which is okay sometimes but totally pants when passing an odoriferous recycling station or driving home during one of the neighbors' heavy weed intake sessions3.

The curve of the hood is such that I can't see the front of the car as clearly as I'd like and I've scraped the front spoiler a couple of times as a result. I am looking into a forward view camera, and have to make an appointment with a bodyshop to touch-up he minor damage.

There were a couple of very minor dings in the trim, and the nice wheels had been curbed several times to judge by the scrapes, but that just means they won't get lifted by the Wyandanch Wheel Gnomes while I am at work.

That's about it.

The only problem, such as it was, was that because the car was a rental there was only one key-fob, the other being gosh knows where in the Hertz network. The missing one also had the all-important tag that held the serial number needed by a locksmith to re-engineer a new fob should both go missing somehow. I shrugged and made a mental note to obtain a fob from a third party supplier ASAP. Before I got round to that the nice man called me just before Christmas and said the other fob had turned up so I have them both now, along with the number tag.

So it is all good, car wise.

  1. The Mrs Stevie surprise Trip
  2. She is good at thinking of these things and achieving them
  3. A downside of legalization – the whole place reeks of weed at certain times of day Can't abide the stench of Special Smoking Mixture these days

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Inexplicable Death Of An Automobile

So this is the tale of what happened after I sought "expert" help because the Steviemobile's Check Engine light was on.

The Steviemobile's Check Engine light had come on two days before we were due to leave for Florida, and I made a mental note to call the dealership while we were away and schedule an appointment. Naturally, I let this slip until after we returned, and was un-elated to find there was a two-week waiting list before a Hyundai mechanic could look at the car. I asked for an alternative, but was given cricket noise. Service was not available from them and nowhere else either it seemed.

The only other Hyundai service center in driving distance was Atlantic Hyundai in Bayshore, and 15 years ago I was treated so badly there that I resolved never to give them any business were they the last car dealership on Earth.

I was told that unless the light was flashing it wasn't that serious (a statement that would be contradicted a few days into the Steviemobile's visit to the service center, but I'm getting ahead of myself) so I drove the car to and from the station with the engine running rough - there was definitely Trouble Up At Mill - until the magic date arrived.

I drove to Huntington Hyundai and attempted to park the car in the dealership, but was stymied by the chock-a-block situation that had been engineered in the car park. I finally found a space and went inside to give them my details as I had only the 9 months before, and was brusquely informed that I had to "register" the vehicle with the "technician" outside. Okaaaaay.

So I did that, and while doing so I realized what had changed to make chaos the order of the day. The dealership had two sites, on opposite sides of the road. This one dealt in Hyundais. The other in Jeeps and Chryslers. The building on the other side of the road was curiously dark, although there were cars in the lot, and it dawned on me that the business had in all likelihood closed down the repair shop in the Jeep dealership and now were attempting to manage things from one shop and a badly overloaded car park.

So I gave the details to the account manager assigned to my car and Mrs Stevie drove me to work.

At the end of the day, having heard nothing from the dealership1 I called them and was told that they were just looking at the car now2. I explained that having made and appointment and having dropped of the car at 7:30 am I was disappointed that they couldn't be bothered to actually do anything until the day was almost over. This was met with the expected indifference. I was informed that the problem was likely a camshaft sensor. I said this was good news because they had just changed out a camshaft sensor at Christmas and it had less than 3000 miles on it and so would be under warranty. The Man from Huntington Hyundai said it was probably the other sensor. I said some Class One Words of Power and told him that in that case he would need to call Geico and start involving them and the lifetime warranty I had through them.

I called again at 5 pm and was told that the car hadn't been worked on because it needed their "best mechanic3" to look at it and he was booked solid until tomorrow. I objected that the matter of a sensor check should just be plugging in an analyzer and reading off the codes returned. The Man from Huntington Hyundai counter-objected that it wasn't so easy; you had to know what the codes mean. There was the matter of code interpretation. I said "Google?" and the line went quiet, and then I was informed that the mechanic would look at the car "first thing" in the morning.

The next day, in the absence of an update4 I called again in the early afternoon and was told that they were having a problem reading the codes. "All sorts of crazy codes" were coming out of the computer. They were going to try fitting a new computer but they didn't have one in stock and would have to order it in. It would be there the next day once Geico authorized the work. I asked if they had called Geico. The Man from Huntington Hyundai said he had, but they hadn't gotten back to him.

I immediately hung up and called Geico, who denied any knowledge of any contact with Huntington Hyundai, but the representative was happy to reach out and get things moving from his end. I said thank you and called The Man from Huntington Hyundai .I objected that by not calling me back hours had been lost. This was met with indifference.

The next day I called (once again the secret of the telephone was eluding The Man from Huntington Hyundai) and was informed that the new computer had not fixed the problem and that they needed to get their "Platinum Guy" on the job. I was impressed that they had a Platinum Guy ready to throw at me. I had assumed they had shot their bolt excuse-wise when they deployed their "Best Guy" the day before. I idly wondered where The Man from Huntington Hyundai would go from there once the Platinum Guy was in play, but needn't have worried because The Platinum Guy was in fact on vacation and wouldn't be returning until the following Monday. I suggested that in that case I could take the car and use it (because the Check Engine light wasn't flashing so it wasn't that bad, right?) but The Man from Huntington Hyundai said he wouldn't recommend that.

I need to break here to explain that while this was playing out, my mother was passing away. I needed the car because I was trying to arrange a trip to Canada and sort out all sorts of last-minute stuff that didn't get sorted out before my mum passed away, not to mention that I didn't need these clowns adding to the stress of events with stupid nonsense and made-up excuses for not getting it done. In the event, I ended up going to Canada for a cathartic meeting with my sister and her family, and the scattering of Mum and Dad's ashes on their property. I got back to the USA in a calmer frame of mind.

I called The Man from Huntington Hyundai and asked for progress, and of course there was none. Mr Platinum5 was just as stumped as the rest of the crew.

While I had been intransit back and forth I had done some research and had found that sometimes a component calle the "camshaft phaser6" gets fouled and causes all sorts of strange effects, including crazy computer codes. I suggested they have a look at this. It was a mark of my increased peace of mind that I didn't ask why I was making this suggestion rather than The Platinum Guy.

I knew it was bad when the next day, at 9:30am I got a call from The Man from Huntington Hyundai, breaking the established communications protocol.

It seems that in all this time, the mechanics at Huntington Hyundai had never removed the valve cover from the Steviemobile's engine. When they did, they found sludge in the oil. I said that it was probably the "caramel" that came from making short-hop journeys, expecting that an oil change was called for. That's all it took when I used to do my own oil changes back when engines didn't need computers in them.

No, I was informed. There was a problem. Hyundai's official "fix" for sludge in the engine was a new engine. There was a second problem, in that Hyundai didn't make the Steviemobile's engine any more. The only solution, according to The Man from Huntington Hyundai was to use a scrap engine. This brought up the third problem - the scrap engine they wanted to use had ten housand more miles on it than the one currently sitting in the car.

To say I was upset doesn't begin to come close to what the reality was. Although the car was 15 years old, I had babied it. Every major service had been a dealer service performed at Huntington Hyundai. I had spent thousands of dollars over the years replacing parts before they broke. On top of that the engine, which had a measly 87,400 miles on it, had never been revved over 4000 RPM and only a handful of times over 3500. This engine, by any yardstick, was barely used for a 15 year old block. The previous Hyundai we had owned, an Excel, had 180,000 miles on it before I sent it to a farm to live.

I asked why we couldn't just add a detergent-rich oil and flush the engine like in the old days. I got back the sound of sucked teeth. I suggested a scrap engine with more miles on it was likely to be just another sludge failure waiting to happen. I was told I should have used synthetic oil and had to point out that the first five years of oil changes had happened in the Huntington Hyundai shop and not once had they suggested using synthetic oils7. I was told that my last oil change had been 9 months before and there was sludge on the dipstick, and I pointed out that I had only done about 2600 miles in that time and there had been no sludge on the dipstick at the previous service or I presume they would have mentioned it, nor had there been any sludge on the dipstick when I had last checked the oil a few days before the Check Engine light came on.

I called Geico and spoke to a representative about how unhappy I was at the idea of using a scrapyard engine in my carefully cared-for car. The Geico guy was astounded. No-one had told them the replacement engine was to be hauled out of a scrapyard. I asked if we could explore a couple of options please before going that route and got a tentative agreement.

I did some research of my own8 and found that for a mere 500 dollars more than Huntington Hyundai were proposing to spend on a scrap engine I could have a rebuilt unit with a one year guarantee. So I called The Man from Huntington Hyundai back and asked him to explore two options with Geico (who were the final arbiters of what was going to be done): A rebuilt engine rather than a scrapyard special, and cleaning and rebuilding my own engine, which in my opinion should have been the first line of attack.

And only a couple of hours later I was called back by The Man from Huntington Hyundai9 who told me that Geico were going to total the car, and that I should come down to take the plates and settle the outstanding bill of a few hundred dollars.

One quick call from Geico fired them up to put the dealer straight about the matter of an outstanding bill and so I got a visit from a Geico operative holding a check for about half what the trade-in value of the car would have been when I used it to help pay for the new Hyundai Tucson I had my eye on, and that Saturday I pulled off the plates and emptied the various personal junk out of what will certainly be my last Hyundai automobile, Huntington Hyundai and the Hyundai Motor Corporation having destroyed almost 30 years of customer satisfaction in a welter of poor service and even poorer engineering.

I sulked without a car for a week, then Mrs Stevie suggested how I might get a new Steviemobile - a tale I shall tell in my next posting.

  1. As per usual
  2. I took this to mean "I can see the car sitting in the same parking space in which you left it from where I'm standing by virtue of the large picture window between me and the vehicle." I was not in any way, shape or form fooled into thinking my car was on a lift with a mechanic actually within touching distance.
  3. This is a well-known trope in the business and I have always taken it to mean "Everyone has gone home. There's no-one around to look at your car"
  4. As per usual
  5. Assuming he actually existed
  6. Which against all reason is a real thing and not an elaborate Trekkie joke, which shifts the timing of the camshaft in real-time altering the valve timings in accordance with computer sensor data
  7. I later remembered that they had suggested synthetic oil as a choice at the first oil change., I had asked what the difference was, as synthetic oils were a rather new thing at the time, and was told that they were much more expensive but meant longer times between oil changes. I was also told that since I needed to change the oil every 3000 miles to keep the warranty valid, it was a pointless expense using them
  8. Again. Why all the suggestions on how to proceed were coming from me and not from The Platinum Guy is still a mystery
  9. Again, I knew this was going to be bad news because I was not having to call him

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Why Me?

Monday, Veterans Day (Obs), John the Plumber Guy turned out to fix my furnace, as he does about two years in every three.

Mrs Stevie had activated the upstairs heating without telling me. I rarely go upstairs any more as the sight of the junk piled in the Stevieling's bedroom makes me come over all funny and ragey, but I had cause that day and found the place hovering at a brisk 56 degrees Fahrenheit. The thermostat was set for 70, presumably waiting for me to turn it to 68.

Heaving a sigh I went down into the basement and did some basic troubleshooting. The downstairs heat was on and working, so the usual thermocouple fail was not in progress. I touched the feed pipes and the one for the upstairs circuit was stone cold. The motor-valve for the upstairs circuit was very hot indeed though. Clearly the motor had siezed and was in the process of bursting into flames, so I went upstairs and turned the heat off again and called John the Plumber Guy.

Over the course of the next hour or so the motor cooled down, confirming my diagnosis1 so I wasted the rest of my Sunday in pointless regret, howls of despair and pitiful cries of "why me?" and let Monday roll on.

John the Plumber Guy arrived on-time with a big smile on his face and his son in tow. Between them the wrestled with my furnace in a World Gone Mad for two hours, fixing the valve, changing the thermocouple2 and finding the Big Time-Wasting Problem™ that was lurking inside the Easy Job™3 and is the main reason I won't touch even simple furnace work with a barge-pole4.

I paid off John & Son, indicating my gratitude by the traditional manly wails, howling and gnashing of teeth as my checkbook caught fire, and that was Monday.

Tuesday was the first workday of the week, and was begun in fine style by my stepping out into the freezing rain that had decided to greet me, only to realize just as the front door clicked shut that I had left my keys inside the house. I shouted out some Class Three Words of Power but the door was latched tight. Naturally. On any other day the bloody thing would have to be pulled tightly into place for the latch to catch, but this day, perfect lock action. Gah.

With no real hope I tried the trunk release on the new Steviemobile5 and then the door, but they of course remained locked6 so I had to bite the bullet and call Mrs Stevie.

She hoved into view about twenty minutes later and let me back into the house so she could get the proper accoustics for the frank exchange of views this dimwit act deserved. In some time at all I was on my way to my morning commute, an hour late and soaking wet.

The Bloody Long Island Railroad was, despite now being fitted with the magic Double Tracks at Wyandanch which would Cure All Delays, delayed because of some electrical problem in Penn Station. In fact, since installing the double tracks a month ago there hasn't been a trouble-free commute once. It seems that despite all reason to the contrary, the real problems with trains originate at the West End of the network. Coo! Who could have predicted that?

Oh that's right; I did.

  1. This motor valve is fbleeped to a fare-thee-well
  2. A pre-emptive strike I asked them to do
  3. "Yer pipes are all clogged with rust, but we'll sort it out for ya by substantially dismantling the Moustrap Game™ pipework and cleaning it out".
  4. That, and the fact that I do not own a barge-pole
  5. The story of what happened to the old Steviemobile eventuating in the need for the new Steviemobile has yet to be told, but still brings me out in snarls of rage and so will have to wait to see the light of day in these pages
  6. The new Steviemobile has a keyless start fob thingy, but it was annoyingly on my keyring in the house. At least I can confirm that the doors won't release to some stranger because the fob is in close enough proximity in the house to release the security locks.

Friday, August 17, 2018

And Then This Happened

My mother passed away early this morning in a Hospital in northern Alberta, where the rest of my immediate family has put down roots.

She had been very ill and had asked that no heroic measures be taken by the doctors attending her.

My sister sat with her through to the end.

I had hoped my mother would rally after she met with the Stevieling and the Stevielingbeau in June, and she did for about a week or so, but she was old and worn out from a life that had treated her badly at times.

And I think she missed my Dad more than she let on.


Monday, August 06, 2018

Homeward Bound

Saturday was time to go back to New York.

We packed the car and as we were doing so The Kids arrived early for once, so we had a nice breakfast, then began the trek north to NY to the sounds of Neil from The Young Ones reading Terry Pratchett's Making Money. There really isn't much to report other than a bunch of silly people speeding who then wrecked a few miles later, and the traffic on Sunday once we crossed the various bridges into New York on Sunday afternoon.

Next up: The Great Steviemobile "Engine Light" Fiasco.

Friday, August 03, 2018

A Day Off

The kids arrived at the villa early and we started our Fun Day with breakfast in a Perkins.

The Stevieling said they needed to pick up their cat in the afternoon, so we decided to hang out in their locale, about 40 minutes drive from Kissimmee.

We tooled around a couple of malls, and ended up in a different Coliseum of Comics, where we had a good look at all the different stuff and my hunt for a particular pattern of dice came up empty (discontinued line, impossible to find) and then I bought some D&D books for the kids as they have of late gotten into the RPG habit with some friends but were finding the cost of acquisition a tad high for their current resources.

We decided to have ice-cream and drove around until we found a local parlor where we enjoyed a very pleasant interlude with some rather nice home-made ice-cream. The day was progressing at a leisurely pace, and it was early afternoon now.

We nipped round the vet's place and picked up their loony cat. She is a rescue moggy and is seriously deranged. I suspect they will end up having to take her to a farm in the country when she gets older. A less pussycat-like cat I only saw once before - the one my father-in-law bought some years ago. It put my mother-in-law in hospital twice before it was sent farmwards.

Then we raced for Disney Springs, where we had an appointment to once again take part in the Star Wars VR thing they have there. Sadly, we were crowding the clock all the way, then just as we got to the turn off for the car park I somehow got confused by the roadworks and ended up going the wrong way down a bus-only road.

I turned around, but then was driving in a bus-only lane where the traffic lights are bizarre. I was familiar with the red-amber-green sort, along with such refinements as English red-and-amber cueing the clutch and arrows and flashing lights. I have a passing acquaintance with French eye-level mini-lights.

But these were special signals for busses that obviously conveyed arcane stuff like permissive red semantics (you can go if you have a clear road). They weren't even the right color for the vertical position. Sadly I had not been to Disney Bus Driver Training School and so had no idea what these lights meant. I made a best guess based on what the busses were doing and the semiotics of Traffic Lights in the Western World. No-one got crashed into or run over but it was terrifying.

Eventually I found the car park, parked the car and we ran to The Void1 and, after signing endless releases and waivers we suited up in the odd VR rig and waded into battle.

This experience is about the best fun you can have wearing several pounds of electro-mechanical clothing. When you look around, your fellow "rebels" look like stormtroopers (a cunning disguise). You have a blaster that fires the slower-than-light laser bolts at anything to dumb to get out of the way. When the bad guys shoot you, you get a small kick in the torso. You stride over unfeasible bridges and ride elevator platforms, none of which have safety rails2 while in reality walking a small pattern in a jet-black room full of other teams of people having the same experience.

We'd done it last winter, but this time we didn't rush it and shoot up the consoles. The Stevieling solved the color-based puzzle that would win us the game while the rest of us shot at stormtroopers, monsters and, in the case of Mrs Stevie, me. She would rapid fire at moving targets and walk her fire onto my back every time. I finally turned around and shot her to get the point across, before returning to my trademark Ranging Shot, Crotch shot, Head Shot response to any stormtrooper running into theater.

And I don't even like Star Wars.

Afterwards The Stevieling demanded Poutine3 which apparently one can now obtain in Disney Springs. Who Knew? But on the way we got sidetracked and ended up in The Earl of Sandwich, a sort of Quiznos on steroids. Really good ingredients and they toast the sandwiches. Delicious and not overly pricey. We never did go on and get poutine.

We then wandered into the art shop next door and I spent a good 45 minutes entranced by the work of one particular artist, who was capturing various elements of the Disney experience in watercolors and a really nifty style. I can't really explain the attraction for me but I looked at it, realized what it was after a second (the style could make deciphering the subject not straightforward in some and I started with one of the harder ones) and I was hooked. If I'd had anywhere to hang one I'd have bought a print. I did end up buying a plaque advertising a long-gone attraction, but to explain why I did I'll have to digress into the past. A long way into the past, when I was thin and Mrs Stevie had a dancer's body and legs that wouldn't quit4.

About a year after Mrs Stevie and I got married we holidayed in Florida. At that time part of what is now Disney Springs shopping and dining mall was a collection of nightclubs called Pleasure Island.

I'm not a big nightclub fan, but Mrs Stevie expressed a burning desire to spend a night clubbing in Pleasure Island so earlier in the day I took her out and we toured the boutiques in what was then Downtown Disney, where I kitted her out in a leather miniskirt c/w chain belt, low-cut frilly blouse with puffy sleeves and asymmetric shades. She looked like she had just walked off the set of a Robert Palmer video. Hot doesn't begin to come close to the effect.

We agreed there was no point tarting me up as I would never carry off 80s clubbing attire. Slacks and a nice shirt. Done.

When we arrived in theater that night Mrs Stevie, striding along in true model fashion and cooly ignoring everyone in her shades, was the center of attention wherever she went, and young men kept trying to insert themselves between us so they could impress her. We decided to try a place called The Adventurer's Club, which had half a dozen different rooms, most of them standard humorous Disney clutter and animatronic displays, but one was a small library-like room (might have been the "Mask Room" but I don't remember that detail) where people could sit while an actor dressed in Great White Hunter drag wold tell tall tales of his adventures. When we walked in he immediately insisted Mrs Stevie sit next to him, asking if she had been attacked by a lion and lost her clothes. Then he started to tell his tale, looking for a short time at each person sitting around him. Every time his gaze came anywhere near Mrs Stevie, he lost his place in the story (for real, not an act). It was hysterical.

That's the story.

So I was about to leave the art shop when I saw a replica of the plaque that hung over the door of The Adventurer's Club, and of course I had to have it. It's hanging on the wall as I type, between a fantasy print we got at I-con and a framed commemorative Sojourner Mars Rover postage stamp.

And then it was time to say goodbye to the kids and wend our way back to the villa. It had been, all said and done, and excellent waste of time.

And so to bed.

  1. The VR place is called The Void
  2. In space no-one can spell OSHA
  3. A bowl of french fries covered in melted cheese and gravy, which The Stevieling had encountered in Canada where it is considered a delicacy and not just whatever was left in the pantry slung in the microwave.
  4. Wouldn't quit attracting pests who would behave boorishly until they were chased off

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Wedding Planning

Thursday dawned and brought with it the prospect of traveling around the immediate area looking at places to hold The Stevieling's upcoming wedding reception.

The Stevielingbeau called us on Christmas Eve to ask our blessing for his planned proposal on Boxing Day. I yelled "Never! You stole my daughter you swine!" then Mrs Stevie suggested I rephrase that (by kicking me hard in the hurtybits) and I allowed that we were overjoyed at the prospect and hobbled to the fridge to get some ice for my hurtybits.

In the interim Mrs Stevie had been driven almost completely round the bend by the Stevieling's insane ideas on how to plan and execute a wedding.

Example: The Stevieling decided that the invites should go out a year ahead of time so that she could get an idea of the numbers she might expect. She was immune to arguments that we didn't have a date or a location for the event to which these invites were to refer. She was immune to the suggestion that she decide on the date and time, and even then not send invites but a "save the date" card to each invitee. She was immune to the point that of all the people in the room, there were only two who had actual experience of how to throw a wedding and neither of them was The Stevieling or The Stevielingbeau.

I can't remember how we eventually turned her around, but it might have been when I realized she thought that they were footing the bill. With tears in my eyes1 I disabused her of that notion and confessed that the reception was my responsibility. For the next few weeks The Stevieling would slip back into the Dateless, Placeless Invite madness and have to be talked out of it. Eventually I lost it and screamed "Assume that EVERYONE you invite will come, along with their 'plus-one'!" and it seemed to lodge.


The upshot of this was that we had a venue picked out but I was concerned that there were upwards of 120 people on the invite list and there was room only for a 12x12 dance floor. About a month before we went to Florida I announced that of all the things about the wedding, the most upsetting to me was the thought that my daughter would not be able to dance at her own wedding. Mrs Stevie agree with me for once, and we had put it to the Stevieling that she, we and her beau should go look at a few other venues in the area. The Stevieling in her inimitable way concurred with ill grace and an exasperated sigh.

So today was going to be Look At Wedding Halls Day.

I thought the first we looked at had much promise, with acres of space. If anything the room would perhaps seem a trifle sparse even if everyone came. The kids were not enthusiastic because it had pillars. I suggested we might use them for adding the themed decorations they had wanted. I also thought the menu offered was better than at our original location.

At our second appointment we waited and waited but no-one came to collect us from reception and no-one came to tell us they were running late. After 20 minutes we decided that any organization so disorganized would not fit our requirements and moved on.

The third place seemed only marginally larger than our original place, but hjad an attached beach area. The kids were entranced. Personally, I was of the opinion that the algae-choked water would be a haven for mosquitoes and possibly the odd alligator (not that I'd have any exception to some of the invitees being draged to a watery death by alligators). Then the dragonflies came out. These are harmless but are the size of WWI aeroplanes. The kids announced that bugs were a no-no.

Our final stop was back at our original venue, where it turned out that we could expand the room into what is currently a restaurant bar but will be just a bar this time next year. All it took was a dip into Daddy's Bottomless Money Bucket. With the extra room there would be space for a 15x15 dance floor and that should do nicely.

Then came the matter of the Menu. This place only offered two plated entree choices, which astounded me. I've never been to a function where there wasn't at least three. Mrs Stevie and the kids opted for a buffet rather than plated meals. This was good for some spirited back-and-forth between Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling on the subject of which of the available choices. The Stevieling likes nothing but steak and chicken, so she opted for the option with steak and chicken on it. The facilities director did a fast tippety-tap on her smartphone, scribbled on a form and passed me the quote.

"Stop that pitiful whining!" snarled Mrs Stevie.

"You do me wrong, wife", I replied. "These are expressions of joy. Sometimes expressions of joy sound like pitiful whining when the bill comes in at the cost of a Mini Cooper."

We had dinner somewhere unremarkable, the kids left for home and we returned to the villa with a sense of deep satisfaction and horror at the financial wreckage the day had left of our savings. Mrs Stevie took another look at the options and opined that we could lop a considerable amount by going with a chicken/fish/pasta buffet and having the Happy Couple served plated meals. Of steak. Pauvre bloody papa would be chowing on chicken from the buffet and a side order of antacid tablets. I decided I wouldn't get involved until closer to the day.

Then The Stevieling called Mrs Stevie to say that they had decided they liked the last place we saw (the one that I could trade for a car) and they didn't need to look at any more tomorrow. We could just have a fun day.

And so to bed.

  1. And a squeak in my wallet

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Lazing On A Wednesday Afternoon (In The Summertime)

Wednesday dawned and we decided to take it easy, our bodies having been given a thorough going-over by our maritime exertions yesterday.

Breakfast was had in a distant diner, and we drove around for a bit, rather aimlessly. We did stop off at the Coliseum or Comics to pick up a figurine of Jack and Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas that Mrs Stevie wanted to gift to The Stevieling and Her Beau.

Later, we went back to the paperweight store in Disney Springs. I had become disenchanted with my Caribbean Reef paperweight. I wanted to illuminate it and had bought a lit pedestal with the paperweight to that very end, but it turned out that internal flaws, not noticeable in ordinary light, turned the paperweight smoky when I put it on the lit pedestal, so I wanted to exchange it for my second choice if possible.

The store staff were understanding and Allowed me to do just that, so I ended up with Phantom of the Sea1, which depicts a jellyfish floating amongst kelp strands and is quite beautiful. I loved the Caribbean Reef2 piece under regular light but it just didn't suit under-lighting. I also allowed myself to be swayed and bought a second paperweight, Rings of Saturn3, which is best viewed in direct lighting. I'd wanted it since I saw it some years ago.

I could tell by the flakes of tooth enamel bouncing off my neck as I bent to examine my purchases that Mrs Stevie required sacrifice to appease her, so I bought her three more pairs of earrings. We were happy. The store staff was happy. Time for ice cream.

Ghirardelli's of course, one of two good reasons for setting out for Disney Springs in the first place. The other ... I'll get to on Friday.

We took shelter in a Star Wars memorabilia store for the afternoon downpour, and were witness to an artesian drain outside the store. It was magnificent. There was so much water pouring into the drainage system that the cover on this drain, thoughtfully placed lower than its neighbors, lifted and it became a three-foot tall geyser. It was fun to think that even Disney engineers get it wrong sometimes.

Eventually I got fed up with it all, bought some plastic ponchos from the store and, rendered deluge-proof, we set off back to the car.

Mrs Stevie bought a bunch of honey-based products for no discernible reason, and we returned to the timeshare to watch the thunder and lightning.

And so to bed.

  1. Which can be found here
  2. Which can be seen here, though the picture does not do it justice
  3. Which can be seen here in all its glory

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Better Day Dawns

This day would prove to be infinitely better in every way than yesterday.

Mrs Stevie decided that conditions would be perfect for a trip to Universal Studios Islands of Adventure for the purpose of experiencing the water rides that can be found there. I admit I wasn't enthusiastic, but went along with the demented woman's plan in order to put a stop to all the pitiful whining and complaining.

"At least you've stopped that pitiful whining and complaining" she said as we drove away from the villa.

We set off in the bus for the 40 minute drive under the aegis of the new Garmin GPS, Mrs Stevie having decided to get rid of the Tom Tom. She claimed it was because the company was no longer supplying updates, but this was risible. Mrs Stevie has only once downloaded an update for the machine.

The real reason was she was being driven nuts by the "Keep left, then, turn right" instructions the thing would deliver on three lane highways, and its truly baffling need to take the user into NYC even when waypoints specifically avoiding that possibility have been laboriously punched into it. It also has a yen for Washington DC which only a madman would indulge.

Mrs Stevie had bought the Garmin in an Amazon Daily Deal and we had tried to use it on Monday. She tried to program it but couldn't figure it out1 so she passed it to me. I discovered that no sooner did I get the number and street punched in, the screen went blank preventing me from completing the route programming.

I had searched the internet and found similar tales, but no advice for this specific issue. I did find out that there were two settings for the screen brightness, one for battery power and one for when connected to external power. The first was set to "bright" and the second, bafflingly, to "pitch black". The trick seemed to involve being able to access the settings screen before the screen blanked.

I reasoned that the battery power setting worked fine, but there was no charge in the battery, requiring an external power hook-up that used the second, stupidly dark setting. So the fix would be to charge the GPS overnight using a phone charger and then see if I could get to the settings screen, where I could replace the dumb-ass factory default with what I am going to characterize as "a sensible value".

And for a wonder, it worked.

I also downloaded a firmware update and new maps and that took over an hour and required a software install on my laptop. It wanted even more, but I reasoned that if I gave in it would just keep pushing its luck.

Anyway, we decided to let the Garmin navigate us to Universal and it did a great job, taking us off the jammed-solid main drag and through less-crowded streets. It didn't have us yawing from left to right or veering onto the interstate towards Washington DC either. And the display was much better, albeit a bit crowded when it wanted to inform the driver about the proximity of gas stations and so forth. And the suction mount turned out to be even better than the after-market one I bought for the Tom Tom. An all-round rock-solid win.

Such were the levels of utility oozing from this thing that I began to fear that the accumulation of unrelieved suckage would result in a wheel falling off or the engine throwing a rod to equalize the karmic imbalance.

It told us to turn off the main drag Watery Funward and take a slip road.

Mrs Stevie began a litany of threats against the machine, but I suggested that we should give it a chance on account of it had been recently updated and might be doing us a favor, traffic-wise, rather than attempting to induce a thrombosis by making things worse. I could see that I4 was groaning to a halt and did not want to spend the first two hours standing still in traffic.

And wonder of wonders the machine guided us flawlessly thorough empty streets to Universal Studios in a trice, with none of the rage-inducing "At the next exit, keep left, then ... TURN RIGHT!" that the Tom Tom was so adept at perpetrating. "Huzzah!" we cried and because we were showing unseemly levels of happiness we were promptly flagged into a car park so far away from the park it would have been named "Pluto" had that not broken copyright.

Mrs Stevie and I made our way to the park entrance, she stomping in rage, me whimpering at the thought of the walk ahead. I brightened when I remembered the escalators and airport-style walkway belts2 after a few yards though.

The escalator was shut down, as was the first walkway belt.

Mrs Stevie had a few words to say on the subject. As I recall they were "Stop that pathetic whining and keep up, idiot!"

We stashed all our normal clothes, phones, wallets and so forth in a locker, stripping down to our swimwear and sandals. We had done these rides before and were well-prepared for the watery mayhem to come.

First up was Popeye's Paradise Tours and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges, a rather neat thing in which riders sit in a large, circular, twelve-seater raft in which they sail around a rapid-infested, waterfall-riddled course as onlookers squirt them from small water cannons. The raft is pushed on its way by rather larger cannons that work automatically. Every turn, dip and overhang results in water cascading over the gunwales (usually over someone's shoulders) or dumping on the crew's heads.

It is all great fun and very irrigating. The only things that stay dry are whatever people put into the small container in the middle of the boat. This is covered by a canvas tarp with elastic edges and is surprisingly good at keeping water out, as long as you batten down the tarp.

Mrs Stevie likes to tell the story of the elderly man who rode with his grand-daughter in the same boat as Mrs Stevie and the young Stevieling. He was from Yorkshire, and was wearing beautiful leather brogues. Mrs Stevie begged him to remove them and put them in the locker, but he just said "Oh no lass, Ah'm from Yorkshire and used to a bit o' wet". The boat was launched and according to Mrs Stevie every wave, waterfall and canon found the old gent. Not only that, the decks were awash from the get-go, and he left the ride with the prospect of walking the rest of the day in wet, ruined brogues. Apparently his face was like thunder as he stormed off the ride, kid in tow.

Those days are o'er, of course. Now, the kids were lining up to ride while texting on nice expensive cell phones. Most of them did not speak English, being Brazilian.

The nearest family to us had several teens, only one of whom spoke any English. We warned the family via this kid about the sheer levels of wet about to be visited on them. It took most of the queue to persuade them to start packing their stuff into their backpacks and watch the people getting off for a clue as to the dampness to come.

And it was a magnificent deluge. Everyone had fun and no-one's phone had its warranty invalidated with extreme prejudice. We climbed out of the boat, exited the ride, and immediately went on again.

This time we got talking to an English family. The father was weraing leather sandals and socks, and was carrying his iPhone. We began the warnings, and were laughed off again, this time in a Yorkshire accent. I broke into Mrs Stevie's impassioned reasoning and said "Look at us. We just rode this blasted thing. This isn't perspiration you know, it's bits of the ride that came into the boat for a hug. At least take your socks off. There's nothing so miserable than traipsing around the park in ringing wet socks."

After a few minutes of watching others get off the boats (it is hard to see until just before boarding) he became convinced and now rushed to de-shoe. Unfortunately, he was instructed by a stern 18 year old to put them back on. It seems that since Mrs Stevie's Yorkshireman Episode, mandatory shoe wearing was the order of the day. At least his sock were off.

And we shared a boat, and he got much the same ride as Mrs Stevie's Yorkshireman got. His little girl was laughing like a lunatic every time water sluiced over them. I might have been too.

We rode that ride a total of four times, until the line built up to half an hour, and then quit to ride the Dudley Doright log flume, on which I lost a pair of sunglasses many years ago when the back-blast as we dived through the shed tore them from my face and dumped them in the lake with about 20,000 other pairs.

Mrs Stevie suggested we ride as "singles" which meant we rode in different logs. This would have been a blissful escape except my log seemed to be full of lunatics who were yelling and screaming about the lightning one of them saw. It was Florida in the summer, and they were surprised that there was electricity in the air? I wasn't even tempted to ride that again.

Then, nothing would do but that we ride the Jurassic Park boat trip.

Mrs Stevie had been driven into a flat panic3 by news she had read that the ride was due to close down. Why this was such a tragedy is a mystery to this day, but it turned out that she had mis-read the article and the Florida version was not going to close, only the Californian one.

After that we wandered around for a bit, then decided to go and get our clothes and get some early afternoon tea in the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. She had duck flatbread, I had a croque-monsieur and for desert she had a sundae and I went for a Nutella milkshake. All very good. The shakes in the restaurant are huge, served in large one-pint mason jars.

After which we waddled back to the car, drove back to the timeshare through a thunderstorm and flopped out to recover.

and so to bed.

  1. Having not read word one of the laughably inadequate instructions
  2. Or do airports have Universal Studios-style walkway belts?
  3. Like a regular panic except you must assemble it yourself

Monday, July 30, 2018

Space, The Unobtainable Experience

We rose late on Monday and had breakfast, then Mrs Stevie suggested we use the day to visit NASA and have lunch with an astronaut.

We've done this twice before and it sounded like fun, so we checked out the website and got the details of what was going on, and set out around 10-ish after Mrs Stevie bought year passes over the internet.

We got to NASA around 11am and were directed to park in the next state. It seemed NASA was more than usually popular that day. We wandered over to the gate and were buzzed through using the e-passes set to Mrs Stevie's phone, then we went over to "guest services" to get the actual passes and book lunch etc.

Which is where the suck started to manifest. There were two staff members on duty, but the line wasn't moving because no-one could persuade the inkjet printer used to actually print the passes to work.

By the time we got to the desk and were ready to be photographed, Mrs Stevie was getting upset and mentioned that we were hoping to get lunch with an astronaut.

"Oh, that's booked out solid for the next two months" the Guest Relationshipper. "You need to reserve that weeks ahead of time."

Both Mrs Stevie and I felt strongly that that little snippet might usefully have appeared on the website; say, right under the bloody announcement of the event.

We will pass over the irony of an organization gleefully trumpeting past triumphs1, singing up the vistas of new horizons provided by the new Orion spacecraft2 and the wonders of science and technology harnessed to send men to the Moon3 not being able to provide a working inkjet printer to their most public face - the yearly pass purchase line.

The nice lady went on to tell us that we wouldn't be able to use the other special premium a yearly pass entitles the holder to: a guided tour. They were also booked out for the next two months.

Eventually the printer was supplied with ink and persuaded to work, our passes were printed and we wandered into the Kennedy Spaceport to see what was new.

There was an astronaut training experience, where ordinary people get to work on the sorts of things astronauts do. Actually there were two; a straight astronaut training course with tumbling chairs and endurance tests and so forth, and a Mars Base training thing involving hydroponic horticulture and various other science stuff under simulated conditions in a putative Mars base. Each comes with a hefty added cost over and above the entrance charge and take all day.

All booked solid for two months and more of course.

So we went to the new 3D IMAX film, which turned out to be stitched up from older IMAX films with connecting material voiced by Jean-Luc Stewart. There was a glitch in the movie that manifested as a thin black horizontal line the width of the screen, and twice one of the projectors briefly blanked out causing a disorienting "black flash" in my right eye.

Then onto lunch, which now involves selecting stuff on a touch screen at a terminal and paying for it, then picking up the food from the counter. Very space-age, but totally confusing for first time users which was, er, just about everyone.

Such was the aggravation served up while attempting to order a cheeseburger and fries that when a beleaguered lady who spoke only a few words of English implored my help I was forced to deny her on account of I was involved in my own life and death struggle to order food in a World Gone Mad. I felt bad, but it passed very quickly when my attempt to order macaroni and cheese for Mrs Stevie turned into something akin to a cross between debugging a compiler and reading income tax instructions.

The food was surprisingly good when it finally was in my hands. Now I have experience with the NASA Cafeteria Refreshment Terminal I will undoubtedly find it easier next time. Unless of course NASA refits it in the interim.

Then we attended the astronaut presentation, a talk by an astronaut covering his or her career, with a question time. This astronaut, who I won't name, could not connect with the younger members of the audience, had no amusing things a ten year old would find interesting, and pretty much put the school party to sleep. He was passionate about the need for an American human-lifting solution, but he couldn't communicate at the kids' level at all. A shame. He had had an interesting life.

And then we did the Atlantis thing, an audio video presentation culminating in being shown the Shuttle posed like a giant Revell kit. I recommend this to anyone visiting NASA.

It began clouding over around 3:30 pm so we decided to leave, vowing to return in six months with reservations. Mrs Stevie stopped at the gate to ask how we should go about that and was told that we had been given "paper tickets" with our passes that were our credentials.

We, of course, had been given no such tickets by the lady with the misbehaving printer.

Mrs Stevie returned to Guest Services to clear this up and I sat on a bench with a coffee and the various bags of stuff we had accumulated (photos of us with an astronaut, mostly), as the rain began. An hour later Mrs Stevie stomped back into view having done battle with the NASA drones who thought that somehow we must have used the tickets and were now trying to defraud them. They were curiously resistant to the logic of year passes bearing today's date and all the ticketed events being booked solid for weeks, but buckled under Mrs Stevie's relentless outrage eventually. I just got wet.

And so we drove home, disillusioned and annoyed, had dinner somewhere so unremarkable I can't remember it at all and went back to the villa.

And so to bed.

  1. in most cases long past triumphs, but we will pass over that too
  2. More than a year over schedule, but who's counting?
  3. 46 years ago, but who's counting?

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lazing On A Sunday

We rose late and surveyed the lay of the land over coffee.

The villa was much the same as the last time I was in it, about ten years ago. We have shifted the week about so many times in the past that we haven't stayed in our own unit (these are freehold properties) for a long time. There were many memories of this one even so

I remember standing on the fairway outside with about eight others in 1989, watching what I believe was Columbia, mission STS-28R, race across the sky. It was memorable because it was the fastest damn thing I had ever seen in flight, and an elderly lady sliced a golfball right through our group and was baffled by our yelling at her. We had all pulled the old CRT 37 inch TVs out on their telescopic stands and turned them to face the golf course so we would know when the launch started.

During a later visit I sat with a young Stevieling with a couple of slices of bread and lured a family of ducks across the width of the fairway to feed. The ducks, a mother and two yearlings, waddled about three hundred feet because they were too lazy to fly. The Stevieling got to see the thought processes of the wary mother duck who wanted the bread but was scared of the people (us). Slowly the bread became larger in her tiny brain than the danger and the Stevieling got to see that decision process on the surprisingly expressive face of the duck.

On another occasion I was alone in the unit with the sliding window open and two Peahens walked into the room while my back was turned. I caught their motion in the corner of my eye and span around and let out a manly shriek. Jurassic Park had been released a few months before and the walking birds moved exactly like the movie's Velociraptors.

I pulled the drapes to find that the fairway had been replaced by a huge sandtrap that had flooded from all the rain to form a small lake. Oh well.

We went for breakfast at the not-so-local Cracker Barrel, but the wait was four years or so, so we switched to a different Perkins from last night (it was nearer). Then we drove off to Coliseum of Comics for a look-see at what they had, where I bought a graphic novel1 and some dice to add to my collection2, and thence to a couple of sneaker outlet places so I could buy some shoes.

Funny thing. The Rack Room Shoes store next to the Nike Discount Outlet was less-crowded, had better Nike sneakers at lower prices. All round better deal and way better experience. In the Nike store I was battling endless numbers of Brazilian teens3 for the privilege of looking at eye-hurting neon sneakers4. Same in the Converse Outlet. But I scored two pairs of very nice Nike sneakers next door in half the time and with less single combat required.

Then on to Disney Springs, what used to be called Downtown Disney, the bit with the Lego shop and Ghiradelli's Ice Cream Parlor. This latter was our target for the day, and we dined on delicious ice-cream as we people watched outside. My only regret was that we were meeting the kids later for dinner and so I couldn't indulge myself with my usual Banana Split sundae - it is just too large for a snack.

I did make a stop beforehand in Pop Gallery, the same store I had picked up my splendiferous Glass Eye Volcano paperweight last year, where I picked up another going under the title Caribbean Reef, an illuminating plinth for it and some ear-rings for Mrs Stevie.

After that we rendezvoused with the Stevieling and the Stevilingbeau at Universal Studios Boardwalk and had a very nice dinner in a restaurant disturbingly called "Cowfish", which specializes in Sushi, Sashami and burgers. Sounds silly but the Japanese/American fusion dishes were actually quite surprisingly good. And The Stevieling got chatting to one of the staff (remember, the Stevieling works in one of these restaurants too) and we found ourselves seated in an observation floor with a wonderful view of the surroundings. I was truly sorry when we all had to go home.

And so we returned to the villa, through a thin drizzle.

  1. Gaiman's Study In Emerald if you must know
  2. It's an obsession. I theme dice for the various games I'm involved in
  3. Who have an absolute right to be in those stores buying the colors of sneaker they prize. They simply trigger my claustrophobia with their youthful enthusiasm
  4. As Cotton Mather wrote in Ye Malleus Cobblerium, Ye shoes worne by ye people shalle be of sombre color and playne design. Ye colors that do glowe during evensong lyke unto ye Will-o-Wisps of ye grayte swampes or leave thyne eye burning as after witnessing ye thunderbolte stryke Shoulde Notte Bee

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The Journey Continues

We rose early and got rolling for the final stretch, which was mostly traffic-nice, all to the tale of Terry Pratchett's Maskerade. I had intended to cue-up Making Money, which starred the same cast from Going Postal, but couldn't find it owning to the daft filing system in the iPad having stashed it in the wrong place under the wrong author, but I only figured that out days later.

Mrs Stevie arranged for us to meet the Stevieling and her beau at their place before we got to our timeshare1, which might have worked out better if I hadn't been fried from driving, the rain hadn't been pouring torrentially for the last hour or so and we had been able to get to a restaurant for dinner as planned. As it was we visited for a bit until I started to fall asleep and then I pointed out that I didn't want to be unpacking the bus in the dark and the rain, making me the villain of the piece, and we drove on for an hour or so to the timeshare, with Mrs Stevie at the wheel this time to, as she put it, avoid a repetition of the missed turn fiasco of last January.

I elected not to join her at the timeshare check-in, and so was not present for the customary duel in which a young sales rep tries to get the checking-in guest to commit to touring the timeshare with a salesperson eager to get the younger guests to buy in or, if they are like us and already bought-in, buy up. This never goes well for me as I have no patience for it after hours of driving, but Mrs Stevie sometimes wants to see what's what.

This time she apparently did not want to see what's what, but had been directed to a more-than-usually keen salesdrone who refused to admit defeat. I imagine carnage was the result to judge by the crumpled state of the car parking pass. The salesdrones actually dispense these only when they are convinced you are either sold or irrevocably unsold, and it seemed this time the young man had no "unsold" filter, fueling a rage reaction usually not experienced without the application of about a pint of Mocha Face-Punch Clawhammer Blend Espresso to judge by the footprints Mrs Stevie stamped into the asphalt on her return to the bus. All in all, I'm glad I missed it.

The villa was a welcome sight, and in no time at all we had unpacked, had a quick argument and dashed out to attempt to get dinner. I say "attempted" because the first place we went to, the local Cracker Barrel2 had us seated for three quarters of an hour, with the waiter occasionally returning to our table to inform us that another part of our order had somehow fallen off the menu and ask us to make another choice. We eventually walked out of that place and drove to the not nearby Cracker Barrel3 where the wait was estimated at four days.

We then moved on to a nearby Texas Roadhouse4, where the wait was declared as 20 minutes. I asked about take-out, and was told the wait for that was also 20 minutes. I am still trying to work out how the wait for a table was the same length as the wait for a take-out order. For this to be true the kitchen would have to be cooking at capacity even for diners already seated and eating. Oh well.

We finally ended up in a Perkins, a breakfast all day type restaurant and had a very nice meal, after which we went back to the villa for some too-long delayed sleep.

  1. Using her cell phone while I was driving and too busy avoiding other people to argue
  2. Mrs Stevie's favorite franchise restaurant
  3. There is one about every three miles in this neck of the woods
  4. Mrs Stevie's second favorite franchise restaurant, and usually a wise choice

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Journey Begins, Eventually

My morning ablutions were accompanied by the occasional hiss of the upstairs toilet refilling. So the valve replacement had worked about as well as could be expected. Fbleep it.

Mrs Stevie vanished with the bus to get it washed (something I thought should have been done when we arrived if the aim was to impress Floridians since we would be driving through approximately 1700 miles of bugs before we arrived but what do I know) so all I could do was stack totes full o' stuff until she arrived back in theater.

One of the things I like to pack is a selection of board games for those times when we aren't frantically rushing about "enjoying" the Orlando area attractions and are in the villa together. So I dug out a bunch of easy-to-teach stuff from my huge collection of largely unplayed games. It was sometime during this process that I accidentally found my original copy of Splendor, a rather excellent and addictive boardgame I had been unable to locate for about 18 months.

I had purchased a second copy from Coliseum of Comics in Kissimmee about 18 months ago so that we could play with five or six players without the game dragging to a halt due to lack of resources, then found upon returning that I had lost the original. I turned the place upside down looking for it and concluded that I must have left it somewhere else. It is a popular game and I often carried it to events for emergency merriment. I only realized I had found it when I was sorting through one tote and found myself in the position of holding the game in one hand while staring stupidly at it in the bottom of the tote in which I was rooting around. So that was good.

I also stacked my paints, a toolbox and a box of unpainted lead miniatures for those days when I was alone and not rushing about etc etc etc. I had finished painting my old project used for this purpose, only taking about four years to do so, and decided to try something smaller and more manageable this time.

Then my Strumstick and my new Autoharp 1 went on the pile and I was done.

Mrs Stevie returned and opined that most of this stuff was unnecessary. I said maybe, but one could not exist culturally on a diet of large anthropomorphized mice and wedding arrangements (part of the reason we were going was to start working seriously on options for the Stevieling's upcoming wedding reception). There was a lot of foot-putting-down and posturing and whining and eventually it all worked and Mrs Stevie gave way to my demands. By then it was getting on for 10 am.

I found something useful to do - shocking the pool, turning off the water supply2 and other things that kept me well away from any lifting, carrying and loading duties. Something had put Mrs Stevie out of sorts and I reasoned that she would welcome the solitude.

By the time we got underway it was almost 11am, and traffic had built nicely in Queens, Staten Island, pretty much anywhere we needed to drive, with the result that traffic jams caused by police speed traps3 cost us 90 minutes for what should have been an hour's trip at best. Then there was the bit where the road opens out out before the toll gate from Staten Island into New Jersey and the lane markings go away so the drivers assume there are infinite numbers of lanes and immediately try and fill them despite the clear evidence that there are only six gates. Yet another needless traffic jam. And once through the gates there was the bit where everyone is on the wrong side of the road so they fight to cross each other's paths and enter the turnpike in the direction they intend to travel, so - you guessed it - another traffic jam.

New Jersey flew by, with only a stop for fuel.

On to Delaware, which normally takes about 15 minutes to transit, but by combining the infinite lanes toll gate feeding two lanes of traffic idiocy (See: Staten Island stage), road works and a stalled and abandoned bus c/w massive towtruck, cones etc cost us another 90 minutes. We were then dropped into rush-hour traffic in Maryland and Virginia. More delays.

Suffice to say that by the time we had found our "halfway hotel" in Lumberton (just north of the North Carolina/South Carolina border) we had spent 13 hours making a 7 hour trip. The only reason I wasn't completely wigged-out was that we had been listening to Terry Pratchett's Going Postal Since New Jersey.

And so to bed.

  1. For when my muse took a more musical turn
  2. To forestall plumbing treachery. After being ambushed by ankle-deep water in the basement one time too many on returning from Florida I installed inline valves in both the hot and cold water lines. Now, each vacation starts with me looking like a u-boat chief as I pull the overhead valves to lock the pressure out of the house. I used to connect the sprinklers to a sillcock that exits the house between the mains stopcock and this arrangement but found that they could spring ingenious leaks and flood the basement through the exterior window well despite my measures, so I don't do that any more. The lawn would just have to take its chances with the weather
  3. How? How could anyone speed in this traffic?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Kind-Of Inevitable Post Smiting Smitage

After a day of Bloody Long Island Railroad suckage and work suckage I returned home and dug out the stuff I'd bought at Blowes from one of the stacked totes I'd bought, which turned out not to be rain-proof after all.

All the items inside had soaked overnight in a shallow pool of rainwater, releasing them from their cardboard-backed/plastic bubble packing, normally a job requiring heroic measures and the sacrificing of a fingernail or two. Of course, any instruction leaflets were now pulp. Lose/win I guess.

I replaced the leaky toilet valve1, added the mounting hardware to a plank Mrs Stevie wanted to give the Stevieling, baled out the totes and added my clothes to them.

And so to bed.

  1. but had to scavenge the float-on-a-chain part from the original valve because the chain itself was different to the one that would actually fit the flushing lever. So much for "universal"

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Smiting Continues

So we are due to set out for Florida in the MrsSteviemobile on Friday.

Yesterday the Steviemobile's check engine light started glowing brightly. This means that - if the engine doesn't explode in the next two days driving back and forth between Chateau Stevie and the Wyandanch Commemorative Sea of Tranquility Recreation and Station Car Park - I will need to use the day I set aside for decompressing after the return to Chateau Stevie for sitting in the Dealership1 waiting for someone to figure out which sensor has gone nails-up this time2.

Today the left side nosepiece of my glasses fell off and got lost somewhere, so now I have to make an emergency dash to Costco to get a new one installed instead of doing the last-minute errands I had scheduled for tonight.

I wonder what new hell tomorrow will bring?

  1. Assuming I can schedule an appointment that is
  2. It is a given it won't be any of the thirty seven that have been replaced in the last two years which are still under warranty

The Suckage Goes Ever On And On

So I went round to Costco to get my glasses fixed, prior to doing all the things Mrs Stevie had added to the last-minute task list before we depart for pastures Floridian.

They were having fun, trying to process two customers' orders but unable to persuade their printer to disgorge the evidence. Thus a two-minute fix (the broken nosepiece is a snap-in affair) took closer to twenty minutes.

Thence to Blowes where I purchased yet another "universal" flap valve for the upstairs commode1, some hanging hardware for a three-and a half foot painted plank with which Mrs Stevie wishes to smite gift the Stevieling and Stevielingbeau, and three plastic totes.

We use these totes to carry stuff in the Bus o' Merriment as we argue our way down2 scenic I-95 and I have about a dozen of them standing in for furniture. Four hold collections of board games. Three hold certain elements of my Goons Wonkshop hobby fallout, several hold selections of T-Shirts3. But I didn't want to empty old totes to use for the trip, so new ones were bought.

Just as I made ready to leave Blowes the heavens opened and a year's supply of rain fell in about ten minutes. It didn't look like ending this side of Easter, so I waded to my car and made my way home, and thence to bed after drying off.

At least I didn't get struck by any of the lightning zooming across the sky.

  1. The last universal flap valve didn't fit this particular toilet tank, leading me to conclude there are some pretty eleastic definitions of "universal" in use by the perfidious After Market Toilet Repair Fittings Illuminati
  2. and - a week later - up
  3. One, for example, holds my collection of I-Con shirts. At the con, I would do as others and wear a shirt from a previous con as a sort of minor brag. Since I-Con is likely dead and buried, those shirts will have fewer outings and may go into storage

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Good Grief, Is It That Time Again?

Seem like only a year since I went though this the last time.

Still, it's a good excuse for brunch I suppose.

The omeletes were very good.

Friday, July 20, 2018

And It Was Going So Well Too

I just received an email from The Bloody Long Island Railroad:

Due to a ticket stock issue, there are some changes to your August monthly ticket.

MAIL & RIDE CUSTOMERS: Your August monthly ticket will be printed on purple ticket stock and will have the year "19" printed on it. Mail & Ride customers who purchase the joint MetroCard ticket for August will not see their MetroCard values impacted in any way.

CUSTOMERS USING TICKET MACHINES AND TICKET OFFICES: Your August monthly ticket will be printed on green ticket stock from 2016. Please disregard the 12/31/16 expiration date and discontinued M/F designations. In addition, only $25 MetroCards will be available to purchase. Customers will be unable to add value or purchase $50 MetroCards.

We encourage you to purchase August monthly tickets using MTA eTix.
Thank you for understanding as we work to resolve this issue.

Anyone here want to trust the e-delivery of a monthly ticket from a website maintained by the same crowd who orders the paper for the ticket machines?

And let's not entertain the thought of a flat phone battery just as the guard comes down the aisle.

I Suffer For My Art

What with my birthday looming ahead and my old Autoharp hors de combat for lo these many years in need of refelting, I decided to get myself a nice new Autoharp.

I had recommended an Oscar Schmidt OS45CE model to a friend as a possible present for his partner, and in doing so I fell in love with the thing myself. It's a very pretty thing indeed.

I had originally intended to purchase the harp from Amazon, but was disturbed by the number of reviewers remarking on rusty strings and complaining of them breaking when tuned up. This would be a significant purchase for me and I wanted to make sure I got an instrument in the best condition possible.

It was while searching for places that could supply a replacement set of strings I rediscovered The Autoharp Store, and realized I could buy any model Autoharp in production from them. I had some trepidation in making a deal with people I had no prior relationship with, but my experience has been so good this time that I shall be buying my spare parts needed to renovate my other autoharp from them, and I have no hesitation in recommending them to all my readers (two at the last count).

The instrument is far more beautiful than pictures suggest, with a high gloss finish and strings gleaming and new. It arrived in the original Oscar Schmidt packing along with two massive bags of silica gel desiccant. Job done properly.

Naturally, it was badly out of tune when it arrived, and it was then that the vile anti-musician demons of Chateau Stevie manifested to make fiasco from the fabric of extreme happiness.

I managed to find my Boss TU-12 electronic tuner lurking in the Basement of Forgotten Projects, and switched it on to be confronted with a flashing "batt" light. Grimacing, I popped off the battery door, but for once was not confronted with burst batteries and foul chemical encrustations so typical of a battery device left on a shelf for a couple of years. Mistaking this for Good Fortune instead of the Opening Movement of the Symphony of Suck I pried out the 9 volt battery and pulled off the connector.

One of the battery posts popped off the connector. The other popped off the battery.

I tried prying with my Swiss Army Knife, then deployed my Leatherman Wave pliers, Class Four Words of Power that set light to the curtains, goose grease, cat o' nine tails and Nurse McReady's Surgical Bruise Lotion, but nothing would persuade the blasted claw-like battery post to let go of the connector. Best guess is that it is welded on with the afore-mentioned chemical encrustation.

So, in order to enjoy my new autoharp, I first had to cut off the connector to my classic and now unavailable Boss tuner - thus rendering it less collectable, solder in a replacement connector and shrink-wrap the repair, only to find it wouldn't work afterward.

I let forth some Class Threes and stamped off to see if I could replace the tuner. Turned out I could, but it would cost about $100 for the latest iteration. I nipped off to eBay and bid successfully on a secondhand unit of the type I already had for about $40, but was told it wouldn't arrive until the end of next week. Blast.

Then I had a brainwave and downloaded a tuning app to my phone. In a trice - about 15 minutes - I had the autoharp in tune (ish) and was able to coax some lovely music-like noises from it.

And so to bed.

This morning I pried the case of my old tuner apart and poked around and it started working again. Huzzah! For though the phone app is tres spiffy indeed (something called "Pano Tuner", find it in the Google Play store) it isn't able to be coupled to the pick-up and thus is not usable during noisy get-togethers. Not only that, for reasons I've never understood the acoustics of my old autoharp play hob with the discriminator circuits in mic-type tuners, causing the needle to bounce all over the place, especially in the lower registers. That's why I like the Boss TU-12; it couples inline between the instrument's pick-up and whatever amp one is using (if any).

My old harp desperately need refelting1 and other work doing, but right now I have nowhere to work on it. The footprint of a dismantled Autoharp during refelting is about the size of the average 10 seater dining table. So I think I might spring for a set of replacement chord bars from The Autoharp Store. Expensive, but worth it to get the old girl up and singing again. A new set of strings wouldn't go amiss either. That will probably cost about 2/3 the price of a new autoharp. New bars come in at 7 bux apiece and I'll need 21 of 'em, and a full set of 36 strings come in at a shade over 70 bux.

All for the love of music2.

  1. The autoharp works by using felt pads to mute some of the strings, leaving others to ring when strummed and sound chords. The felt gets ridged and goes soft over the course of the years and eventually needs to be pulled off the bars and replaced. This involves heating the bars to unglue the old felt, gluing new felt in place, and cutting notches where the strings you want to sound are. You did remember to make a diagram before you pulled the old felt off, right?
  2. Or as Mrs Stevie calls it "Stop that bleeping racket"