Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I Spring Into Carpentery Action

I finally decided to do something about the window in the front bedroom.

Over twenty five years ago I assessed it as a case of "need to replace the windowsill" after a big triangle of plaster of paris was dislodged from that structural feature. I then closed the curtains and forgot about it. Each time I saw the damage I remarked "really must do something about that windowsill and arranged fifty things that needed doing more urgently as a priority.

Recently, fitting a portable A/C1 to the window caused me to look at it briefly and say "must get round to that".

When I finally got round to looking at it it last weekend turned out that the problem was of course much worse than it appeared. It transpired that the bottom left window frame corner was a good 3/4 inch out of line with the rest of the frame - almost as if someone had pushed that corner outward, and that further exploration showed that when the siding was put on the house they did it by installing a false wall on the existing outside wall, but bodged it and got the bottom slightly out of alignment. Then, for reasons that defy, er, reason, the window frame was secured to the new wall geometry. Since the windowsill had been installed "Genaro Fashion"2 it was already not a great fit, having been cut to fit the gap rather than being properly installed in the frame and sheet-rocked around. Playing to their strengths, the builder bodged the resulting triangular gap with plaster of paris3.

Action was Called For.

The correct course of said Action would be to remove the offending wall, uninstall the windows, pull out thhe frame, make a new one, re-install the windows and re-install the new wall/siding.

I elected to bodge the job instead, going for an estimated two day job4 instead of an estimated four weeks of contractor hell.

I decided I would purchase a length of hardwood wide enough to bridge the gap and make it invisible, mill it into a nifty ogee profile (a lazy "S" recurved shape) and hide the naff under a pretense of "designer mouldings".

Close inspection showed that a proper job would require the removal and replacement of the sheetrock window surround with all the taping and sanding and swearing that that would bring on, and possibly incur a full-room repaint. This was a non-starter on time grounds and so I elected to bash the wall with a fix-it hammer5 until all the botching plaster used for repairs by the previous owner fell out, with the aim of covering it all up with thin sheets of pine paneling. The pine paneling I was sure I had in the basement after the hall paneling job I did some 25 years ago was AWOL, so I elected to use birch plywood instead.

Naturally this was only available in 4x2 foot sheets, and just as naturally the window is 51 inches tall, so there would be a horizontal break somewhere. I picked the middle, and would cover that feature with a decorative moulding.

So Saturday was spent with a heat gun removing 50 years of paint in layers of steadily increasing toxicity from the windowsill and wall moulding, and it was while seated on the floor, working at the underside of the windowsill, that I spotted a small slit where it was seated on the wall, through which I could see the trees in the front garden.

Muttering some protective charms I double-checked and yes, there was an air gap under the frame. That would explain how when the wind blows I get needles from the Alberta Spruces on my windowsill. Another mystery solved. I had suspected the ants were trying to communicate by spelling words with the needles and had become concerned that our mutual lack of understanding would lead to hostilities and infestations of sentient ants a-la "Sandkings"6 bent on ruling the house, but now all was revealed as a hole in the house wall. What a relief.

Once I had all the paint off it was a simple matter to cut the plywood planks and nail and glue them into place. There was a small false start when Mrs Stevie asked if we could use a surround made of stainable laser-etched mouldings, but I finally decided that enough was enough and opted for a simple corner moulding that would be painted.

I settled on a piece of oak as the "designer moulding" for the gap, and filled the hole beforehand with gluey silicone sealant. Milling the oak into an ogee with a rebate on the back to accommodate the existing window-frame woodwork was a nightmare. It took about three hours with set-up, and because I don't have a shaper and only an older router bit set I had to make several passes with a variety of differently shaped bits to achieve almost what I wanted. Sadly the tool left marks that will need to be filled with Plastic Wood because the wings of the cutters were so short the center of one bit hit the inside bend of the ogee I was machining, which caused burning and spontaneous generation of some choice Class Three Words of Power7.

I test fitted the moulding, and it fitted so snugly it wouldn't come out for final trimming, so I span in a couple of sixpenny nails8 and declared 'job done" on account of the light failing to the point I couldn't see properly. That, and the pressing need to get cleaned up for my bi-weekly Dungeons and Dragons manly high-stakes poker game.

I woke on Monday thinking of Jethro Tull's "Aqualung", specifically the bit that goes on about "screaming agony", for my carpal tunnel issues were making themselves felt. I strapped up my hands and went off to enjoy yet another session of inconvenience and suck on the Bloody Long Island Railroad.

Of late the Bloody Long Island Railroad has upped the suckage by decommissioning the platform at the west end of Wyandanch Station and opening the newly-built east end. This means that the good car park, the one by the Ambulance Station, is now about five miles further away on account of the tortured route one must take from there to the trains. It seems that at every turn there is a No Turn sign, a fence, sandbags, trenches and a minefield placed to inconvenience the would-be commuter. To enhance the customer experience even further, the Bloody Long Island Railroad has taken all the newer rolling stock off to a distant place and replaced it with old, worn-out smelly M3 trains. Not only that, enhanced door dithering at every stop means that all trains now run late "due to track work".

On Monday night, after work, I installed the corner mouldings and the decorative bits to cover the joins in the birch plywood. This required using my chop saw to cut mitres. I started things with the traditional mitre cut exactly the wrong way round9, thus appeasing the anti-handyman demons infesting our house, but because I had cut oversize I could just use this on the other side of the window.

Cutting mitres is not my strong suit. It is harder than it looks because no matter how I measure, the line I draw will end up being shaved just a little too much somewhere in the cut profile. I just gritted my teeth and went with it, with the result that only the very last joint was very slightly undercut and it is barely noticeable. Tonight it is filler application and sanding and then we start painting.

The whole house now smells of newly sawn birch, newly router-scorched oak and the faint vinegary tang of uncured silicone sealant.

  1. The through-the-wall unit finally bit the dust. I've tried to remove it so I can use the sleeve to house another new TTW A/C, but it uses some sort of fiendish internal fastener system that defies my understanding. I am currently tending to the opinion that the house was built around the A/C unit
  2. i.e. in the worst possible way envisionable
  3. I fixed an inconvenient gap in the basement floor the same way, as a gift to the next owner of the place
  4. Ha! Three days so far and still no nearer a lick of paint
  5. In this case both a figurative and literal tool
  6. Google it fergoshsakes
  7. And an impromptu demonstration of a short version of The Bonehead Dance
  8. Using a nail spinner, a chuck that fits my drill and takes a nail as the "bit". This stops mouldings splitting when nailed
  9. "Lessee, I need the corner to turn that way so I need to set the saw to cut this way when I flip the moulding so it sits nice and snug against the fence". That last flip reversed the sense of all the dimensions, resulting in a right turn instead of a left one. If you've ever tried to print two-sided documents on a one-sided laser printer by reloading the printed odd-numbered pages you will have experienced a similar problem when the even numbered pages came out upside down or on top of the odd numbered pages

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Long Island Rail Road, Queen Of Suck

The Bloody Long Island Railroad outdid itself today, achieving such levels of incompetence and suckage it fair took one's breath away.

They had announced that the schedule was changing again the week before in the standard way of dropping leaflets on every third seat where they would be sat on or swept to the floor unread, and over the PA systems on the trains which work in every third car. On those rare trains where the PA system is working in every car, the Bloody Long Island Railroad employs conductors whose microphone technique can best be summed up as "Whisperin' Rod McKuen".

So I arrived at the scale model of the Sea of Tranquility provided by the Bloody Long Island Railroad at Wyandanch1 as a replacement for the standard, boring commuter carparks found at other stations in time to her the horn of my approaching train. The recent week-long deluge coupled with the installation of temporary fences across the shortest route between the parking facilities and the station by gittish construction crews has added a new soup-spoon of misery to the process of walking between the station and one's car over the broken no-man's land of the carpark via the lake the road becomes thanks to the wonder of Turret Drains2 so I resigned myself to my safety train and went to get a breakfast sandwich.

My 9:33 am safety train had, naturally, been rescheduled to 10:02 am for my convenience, meaning I was going to be very late indeed. I wasn't the only one standing on the platform looking around in bewilderment at 9:40 am, but I was the first to spot the actual time a train would arrive5 on the spiffy electronic notice boards which, for once, were working. I passed the word to people who were either disbelieving or, assuming that I had personally ordered the trains to be late, rude. I was wondering when I would be making my connection and by extension when I would actually arrive at work.

An announcer came on the PA to suggest we look up the timetable on the spiffy MTA.LIRR.INFO website. This usually links to a map that can be tapped to deliver a timetable in pdf form which can almost be read on a phone. I followed the instructions, but the Wyandanch links just 404ed with a splash page saying the page I wanted was not found because the schedules had been changed. A typical piece of uselessness by the Bloody Long Island Railroad and indicative of the proactive suck they bring to bear on any issue6

The station has been boarded up, contrary to the Wyandanch Station info pages that show a picture of a beautiful rural station house that must have melted the computer it was photoshopped on. It is now a big plywood box with a roof. So no commuter-retrievable schedules inside.

Luckily there is a full schedule on the wall in a display case.

I had been studying the timetable for perhaps two full minutes before it dawned on me that there was something not right about the information. A quick double check showed that, yes, I was looking at the old timetable, the one that had been replaced. So no information on trains available in any way, shape or form from the Bloody Long Island Railroad. Perfect.

At 10:08, a full six minutes late and well after the time the automated botvoice should have been kicking in to tell us the train wasn't here8

And people wonder why I never arrive at work smiling any more.

  1. Pearl of the East
  2. Turret Drains look like regular drains3 but are placed on a three-to six-inch platform so that water cannot enter them and make them dirty, allowing deep scenic lakes of water to form around them
  3. Which is to say 50% of them are installed uphill as per standard practice in Wyandanch4
  4. Pearl of the East
  5. ha ha
  6. no problem is so bad the Bloody Long Island Railroad cannot make it infinitely worse7.
  7. by successive, recursive ensuckages if necessary
  8. The Bloody Long Island Railroad don't believe in giving commuters information they can't already have figured out for themselves, like how much longer the wait will be, confining themselves to unhelpful statements of things you already knew or gleeful blaming of Amtrak whenever possible for whatever problem is underway. The train was literally about six inches from my face and slowing to a halt as the botvoice claimed (incorrectly) that "the 10:02 train to Penn Station is operating seven minutes late".

Monday, April 30, 2018

And Then This Happened Too

So, we got up and at 'em on Saturday, intending to Do A Lot Of Stuff. Mrs Stevie snarled that she was feeling a bit out of sorts and I would have to drive her around as she did her chores (getting in the communion wine for the church and then setting up the altar), after which I could get on with my chores.

Luckily for me, Mrs Stevie had a nasty turn, with her heart going into overdrive so fast'n'furiously that it wouldn't pump blood fast enough to supply her brain with the oxygen it needed to harass and cuss at me. Thinking this might be a heart attack in progress I took her to an Urgent Care facility, where they took one look and called an ambulance, and we decamped for the Emergency Room of Good Samaritan Hospital where we would spend the next 12 hours.

Let me just say that if you have a Saturday to kill, almost anything beats sitting in an Emergency Room waiting for Mrs Stevie to regain full control of her lungs and vocal chords.

We finally got home around midnight. We tried a small argument, but neither of our hearts was in it. Mrs Stevie's was loaded with Beta Blockers for one thing.

And so to bed, there to ponder what new annoyances tomorrow would bring.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

And Then This Happened.

My dad died in his sleep early this morning.

Bugger. I wasn't done talking to him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

More Dribble From The Long Island Rail Road

The Bloody Long Island Railroad have written me a nice email:

It's cold & flu season. Good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. Be considerate of your fellow customers. Please:
* Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
* Cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm if you don't have a tissue1.
* Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. The hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol.
* If you think you have the flu, stay home until your fever is gone at least 24 hours without a fever reducer. Take care and be well. For additional steps you can take to protect yourself against the flu, see attached link.

This from a crowd that cannot put soap in any of their bathrooms on any given day2.

  1. This is some idiot's idea to prevent snot and germs getting on hands that then hold onto Bloody Long Island Railroad infrastructure. It didn't occur to same idiot that people fold their arms, at which time hands rest in crook of snot-sprayed, germ-infested elbows and ...
  2. I guess the threat from Cholera, Polio, Hepatitis or Dysentery are considered less of a threat than cough germs on someone's hands

Friday, January 19, 2018

Now That's A Pretty Song

Through the Roof, and Underground by Gogol Bordello, as performed on the soundtrack album from Wristcutters: A Love Story.

Mrs Stevie pronounced loudly upon hearing it that in her opinion the song sounded like it something you'd hear coming out of a garage after the high-school teens had found dad's beer stash, and I agree. It has that outraged tone of first-time revelation to it.

She also found the movie perplexing and disturbing, which I didn't, and I urge you to watch it at your soonest opportunity if you find the idea of suicides living in a really bland, chrome-plated and rusting purgatory intriguing. It's got Tom Waits in it so you know you are in for a treat, oddball movie-wise.

The soundtrack is an odd mix too, with short-short interstitial music separating longer works by all sorts of people from Del Shannon to Joy Division. Lovely stuff.

The idea of a car having a black hole under the seat where stuff is lost forever is surely resonant with everyone.

Film and soundtrack recommended to all, especially the drunkenly manic Through the Roof, and Underground.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why My Rage Is My Master, Part Four

So I leap out of bed, shower, dress, and drive to the station singing a pean to the new working day, in full expectation of meeting my 8:17 train in good time.

I arrive at Wyandanch and park in the reconstruction of the Lunar Surface at Tranquility Base thoughtfully provided for the commuters in place of a proper car park, and walk to the station, at which point I'm greeted by a stampede of commuters coming the other way.

A voice from the PA system wafts overhead informing everyone that all service on the Ronkonkoma line is suspended indefinitely because someone parked a truck on the tracks and against all reason a train hit it.

I limp back the the fabulous Steviemobile, now repaired and working like it was before Xmas, and drive to Babylon through horrendous traffic slowed to 20 mph because of the school speed zones all along the route. Once there I race to my usual car park to find that there are spaces, but each has about three cubic yards of highly-compacted snow in them, pushed there by a bulldozer.

Reasoning that moving that using my collapsible snow shovel would be an invitation to more back agony, I decided to call it a day and get an egg sandwich instead. I am by now a half hour late anyway.

I attempt to drive back home, but the traffic on Deer Park Avenue is inexplicably at a standstill. Roadworks level of non-movement. I pull off as soon as I can, some ten minutes later, and drive around the jam to a gas station to fill up, where I can see the jam from where it starts, but no actual reason for it.

I drive out of the gas station and attempt to re-join Deer Park Avenue, but a new traffic jam has formed in the side-street I'm trying to use. I pull a U-Turn and use a different light to enter the bewilderingly empty Deer Park Avenue. Not a car in sight.

In the egg sandwich shop I am just about to be served when I see a message on the TV that the Ronkonkoma line is back in play (but that Atlantic Terminal is closed down due to a fire), so I bolt sandwichless back to Wyandanch, where I board a train a few minutes later. I am now about an hour late.

The train goes local, making all stops to pick up people stranded by the earlier outage. This gives the firemen enough time to put out the blaze at Atlantic Terminal so it can open for business again. Not to worry though; by the time we get to Jamaica1 we have missed the connecting train to Atlantic Terminal and will have a half hour wait in the freezing cold for the next one - assuming it deigns to appear at all. I elect to stay on the Penn Station bound train and use the subway. I am now an hour and a half late.

The Penn Station bound train gets as far as Woodside, when it stops and a message blares from the PA that there is "a power condition" ahead and the train will be delayed at Woodside indefinitely. There is talk of taking the subway instead, and doors open so people can do that. I refuse.

No sooner are all the other commuters off the train than the same voice announces we are clear to proceed west, so they open all the doors again and the conductors yell at everyone to get back on the train.

At Penn Station I catch an "A" train to Brooklyn almost immediately. It gets roughly halfway between the station I want and the previous one, then stops. By the time it starts again I am two hours late.

Another day in paradise is finally underway.

  1. Not the good one

Friday, January 05, 2018

Why My Rage Is My Master, Part Three

I mentioned about the car, right?

Mrs Stevie ended up picking up the keys and paying for it on Wednesday, and running me down there later that very cold night so I'd have the car for Friday.

I got in, I turned the key, I fired up the engine.

Same misfire, same burning oil smell, and - bestest of all - the check engine light was glowing festively. So nothing that I complained about had been fixed at all.

I broke out some Class Three Words of Power, having suspected that it would be too much to expect a proper mechanic's job of fixing in this computer codes for everything day and age and so reserved the use of Class Fours for when this "repair" proved ineffective.

Yesterday it snowed. They were calling it a "bomb blizzard", a term so monumentally stupid one weatherman exploded on camera, snapping "That isn't a real weather term by the way1", and it combined snow, not that heavy by the look of it at any one moment in time, with gale force winds gusting up around 60mph in my neck of the suburbs2, which amounted to about two feet of snow in the drive, four feet drifting up the side of the car and the back-door (that last courtesy of my next-door neighbor's bleepwit handyman who threw all their snow onto my back porch instead of their own back garden. May he break a shear-pin on the next job.).

So this morning I drove back to Huntignton Hyundai and dropped the car off for round two, pausing only to state unequivocally that I found it bewildering that the car could be pronounced fit for purpose with all three symptoms I complained about still front and center, including Mr Check Engine Light being brightly lit.

The local mechanic who had suggested returning the car to the dealer had performed an oil change before returning the car back to me a week before. Huntington Hyundai called me while I was still attempting to get to work to say that "the" problem was that there was too much oil in the car, and that it would take an hour's labor to fix the issue, which had, naturally, escalated beyond “too much oil”.

This wasn't caught before because "there is no computer code for the problem". I clutched my head with one hand and my smoking wallet with the other and authorized the work, before fighting my way onto a subway train to Brooklyn3.

So now I have to pay for someone to repair the oil change done by someone else, someone I have yet to pay because I haven't had a car with which to drive round to his shop and pay him. I wouldn't bother, but he is a friend who has done us a number of mechanic-type favors in the past. I have to figure out how to tell him he may have a problem staff member though, and I hate being put in that position.

It is all so very annoying.

  1. The "bomb" part is a climate science term though, derived from the term for a 24 millibar pressure drop over 24 hours, an event that makes hurricanes in the summer and bloody foul weather in winter
  2. That's just under 4 kilopascals per square hogshead-newton in metric if I have my sums right
  3. The Bloody Long Island Railroad was in such disarray that I wasn't getting off the train to Penn Station for any amount of money. Jamaica is very much the antithesis of the good one on a day as cold as this was, and is at the time of writing

Why My Rage Is My Master, Part Two

I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon.

When I buy stuff from Amazon, they ask me to review the seller, packing and item itself. I always review the seller, always review the packing and usually review the item.

Since 2008 I've reviewed over a thousand items, and garnered over four thousand "this was useful to my interests" votes. Not huge, but the reviews represent a substantial investment of time on my part. I like to think I do a good job. People have commented to that effect. Some have reacted badly to what I've said. I try and explain and remain polite.

In all that time I've had two reviews pulled by Amazon; One for a book by Al Franken, which I assume trod on someone's toes when I said that Rush Libaugh was an easy target and I let stand, and one for an album which I contested and had the review re-instated.

I used to have access to a useful Amazon-provided page that listed the reviews formatted for the laptop screen, and could order them by most recent comments. This was phenomenally useful in curating the reviews because if someone commented on a four-year-old review that I had something wrong or had worded something confusingly, I could a) know it had happened and 2) quickly go to the review, respond to the commentor and reword the review if required (always with credit to the commentor that triggered the edit and leaving the original text in unless doing so would cause confusion, so as to indicate that I acknowledge I am not infallible and am not above rethinking and redrafting if someone calls me out with cause).

Amazon recently, as in about two weeks ago, replaced that page with an almost useless one formatted for the smartphone I don't use to do such stuff and removing all the useful "fast-forward" mechanisms the old page had. The new page had all sorts of new "social media" widgets encouraging me to socialize with like-minded groups of on-line "friends", presumably to whip up business.

I wrote to Amazon, using the feedback link provided in the new page, and explained that all the new "community-geared" features they'd added were of no real use to me, that if I wanted Facebook-like functionality I would use Facebook and that I would very much like access to the old page please so I could continue to curate the reviews I write.

Three days ago all my reviews were summarily removed from Amazon listings.

When I queried this I got back a form letter reading:

We have reviewed this situation and have restored your reviewing privilege to our site. We are investigating your reviews. We will take the appropriate action, but it may take several days before we resolve your issue. We are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.

No word of what sparked the deletions. I suspect I.T. uckfup but it could be vengeance for my questioning the new profile format or other-customer complaint-related. No way to know.

I was and am pissed about this. In the larger scheme of things it doesn't matter of course. I don't define myself by the number of upvotes1 I get on Amazon reviews. But, like I said, these reviews represent a considerable time investment on my part, one that should merit a bit more than a form letter with no useful informational content.

But I should like to say that in the event my reviews are deemed unfit for viewing, I would really, really like Amazon to fade into the background position of transparent vendor being paid for a service and to stop nagging me to review sellers, packing and things I've bought.

And in the event Amazon decides to keep my solicited but unpaid-for reviews in the trash bucket, you can shove your "reviewing privileges" where the sun most assuredly doesn't shine Mr Bezos and crew.

  1. So many people responding to Amazon reviews think that “Useful” means “Like”. I reviewed one textbook on computers by a well-loved author saying that I found the style of this particular book grating and counter-productive compared to another of his I had found excellent and used regularly. I got four “unhelpful” votes only as of the last time I looked, and it was clear from the comments that these were likely all from current owners of the book who simply disliked what I said. I stand by my assessment of the book, though that is moot because it has been removed from the Amazon listing for it

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Why My Rage Is My Master

People are always telling me to calm down and stop shouting and/or insulting them.

They never consider why they get treated that way.

Consider the following:

Yesterday marked the first commuting day of 2018, and the Bloody Long Island Railroad managed to stuff it up by having the connecting Brooklyn train arrive at Jamaica1 so late that two more train loads of would-be commuters were waiting to cram themselves on than normal, and the next Brooklyn-bound train was sitting on a track behind it. I took the second train so as to avoid the kicking and biting needed to board the first one, and arrived at work a mere 45 minutes late as a result. This was time I had to make up.

Today the Bloody Long Island Railroad suspended service in its entirety from Jamaica2 but didn't announce that until those of us wanting to go to Brooklyn had gotten off the train and that train had filled with the previous stranded passengers. Such was the crowding the Bloody Long Island Railroad had to send out men and women in orange jackets to pull people off trains, in the reverse of the Japanese practice. I joined the next crowd of kicking, biting, enraged commuters who surged on the train as the uninformed would-be Brooklyn-bound commuters got off.

And they wonder why they have to put up signs explaining that punching Bloody Long Island Railroad staff is a serious felony. One more brain cell gifted to the collective staff would be lonely.

On Christmas Eve my car's "check engine" light came on, so I ran round to a local mechanic. He announced that the problem was a camshaft sensor or the timing belt. These had both been changed at Huntington Hyundai in March and were under warranty, so I had to pick up the car, now coughing and smoking like a son of a bleep, and drive it round to the dealer. They diagnosed a camshaft sensor failure, but not the warrantied replaced sensor. Another one. There are two. Honest.

And they couldn't get the part until the New Year.

None of this was volunteered of course. I had to call them. Which I did at about 3pm, having dropped the car off at an empty shop at 7:30am. It was apparent that at 3pm they were just now looking at the car. I asked why they couldn't have told me this in the morning, and got some waffle about the chief mechanic needing to look at it all before they could comment3.

All of which has meant that during this, the coldest weather on record for the area, I have been forced to ask Mrs Stevie to give me lifts to and from the station and can ill-afford to be dumped off a train at a freezing and refuge-free Wyandanch because I had to work stupidly late to make up time the Bloody Long Island Railroad spent on my behalf.

I just got a call to say the part is now fitted and I can pick up my car today before 7pm. I explained I cannot pick up my car today because the laws of physics are in force and the Bloody Long Island Railroad will be dumping me at the station 10-15 minutes after the beautifully inconvenient closing time at Huntington Hyundai has elapsed4 and that I can come around tomorrow.

Mr Huntigton Hyundai ummed and ahed and finally said: "Well all right but we can't guarantee to be open tomorrow because of the blizzard expected overnight and <*twelve minutes of excuses deleted for brevity*>. Long story short, If I don't pick up my car tonight, I probably won't have it tomorrow either.

Which leaves me looking at Friday. I'd rather not be doing my car-picking-up on Friday because after I do that I'm going to have to drive down to Babylon Town Hall and apply in person for a Wyandanch parking pass.

"But Stevie" I hear you say, "why on earth didn't you apply for it at the Wyandanch Community Center on the 30th of November when you had the day off for Operation Visit Doctor Clueless And His Staff Of Incompetence?"5

I have a distinct memory of doing so, but neither the pass nor the phone calls I made trying to find out what happened to the pass were sent back to me, so even if I have my car I cannot use the bloody thing to go to the train station because I cannot park it there because some incompetent bleep lost the bleeping paperwork I carefully arranged to lodge a bleeping month ahead of time. And I just know in my bones that Friday will be the day that all the rich git doctors and lawyers, back from their three weeks of skiing in Colorado or scuba diving in the Bahamas and working three day weeks anyway, dispatch someone to do the same application-in-person thing, making for lines from hell.

So yes; I'm mad as hell and it's all a bunch of incompetent idiots' fault.

  1. Not the good one
  2. Still not the good one
  3. The "Chief Mechanic" is a fictional device used by all dealer service departments, wheeled out when a reasonable customer request is not readily answerable to the dealer's credit using only the truth. It doesn't stand up to any sort of scrutiny, of course, and is dealer service department shorthand for "we can't be bothered to explain ourselves to you"
  4. assuming no leaves are on the track or another signal problem doesn't manifest or another rail doesn't break or the number of fish in the atmosphere doesn't exceed some pre-determined mandated stuff-up level
  5. That reminds me; I have an appointment with him on Thursday I won't be keeping because he is clueless, his staff incompetent and annoying and I don't have a bleeping car bleep damn it!

Christmas 2017

Is there anything sadder than Christmas in a house when the children are grown and gone?

'Nuff said.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Last Night I Had A Terrible Dream

No wait, it was real, but still a nightmare

For the first time in weeks I was able to get out of work in time to catch the 6:04 pm from Atlantic Terminal, albeit by racing to a subway, punching, kicking and biting my way onto a train, stampeding down the stairs at risk of life and limb, punching, kicking and biting my way onto an elevator, then doing the same to get off the elevator, vaulting the people-jam at the turnstiles out of the subway and into Atlantic Terminal, running to platform one and jumping on the waiting train. So far nothing out of the ordinary.

The train was one of those blessed with whatever condition causes them to surge from side-to-side presenting a considerable concussion risk to tired commuters in window seats, and before we’d reached Jamaica1 my shoulder was bruised from being smashed against the wall and I was nauseous from the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea re-enactment.

I should mention that we have been enjoying unseasonably warm temperatures (again2) but that this day the temperature had plummeted to suitably wintry levels of killing cold3.

So imagine everyone’s dismay to be told at Farmingdale that the train was being taken out of service because someone had been struck by a train in - wait for it - Brentwood, three stops east of us.

With a resigned sigh I pressed the button on my wireless earbuds to stop the music I was listening to4 and disconnect the bluetooth connection to my phone so I could properly concentrate on the fiasco in progress, pulled the earbuds from my ears and hung them around my neck.

We asked why they couldn’t carry us as far as Deer Park, but the conductor just shrugged and said everyone had to get off the train, which was being sent back west to Bethpage, Hicksville etc.

And imagine the mass consternation when, having lightened the train by removing the only reason for having it in the first place, the bleeping thing raced off east towards Wyandanch, Deer Park etc. I’ve never before heard so many people in unison scream “What the Fbleep!”

At that moment, my phone rang. I answered it but there was no sound. A quick check of the screen was all it took to confirm that Mrs Stevie was calling to yell at me. Saved! I would be saved if I could overcome this idiotic new problem with the phone.

“Hello! Hello!” I screamed into the slab of uncooperative glass. “Are you receiving me, damn and blast it?” I howled, but got no response.

I hung up and called her back. No sooner was the phone answered than the sound went dead again.

“Can you hear me?” I yelled. “Why don’t you answer you incredibly annoying woman! I’ll bet you activated call forwarding again. I wonder where I’m calling this time? Lithuania? Your stone deaf mother? Answer this bloody phone at once or by thunder I won’t be responsible for my actions!”

I was really warming up to the subject of Mrs Stevie’s lack of acumen with respect to smartphone technology when I became aware of an outraged squeaking coming from just below my chin. I suddenly thought of a possible reason I couldn’t hear diddly through my phone, and deciding speed was of the essence killed the bluetooth transmitter in the phone.

“…get my hands on your scrawny neck!” blared from the phone. Mrs Stevie was obviously dealing with some difficult person at work and was unaware her phone was live.

“Never mind that” I said, “come and rescue me from death by freezing. The Bloody Long Island Railroad has collapsed into its own incompetence again. They are turning a squished person into a major production.”

“Oh I’ll come and get you all right” snarled my beloved, obviously put out of sorts by whatever had provoked the threat I had overheard, but the good news was I was no longer at the mercy of the Bloody Long Island Railroad and would not end up another frozen corpse for them to deal with.

And so I pushed and shoved my way off the crowded platform, exchanging epithets and the occasional kicks with my fellow victims of the Bloody Long Island Railroad, and sat on the freezing cold cast iron bench in front of the station to await Mrs Stevie’s rescue.

Periodically some idiot would come on the PA system and tell us that we should take the Montauk branch instead of the Ronkonkoma branch, on account of the Montauk branch trains actually moving people,but this advice was about as much use as a ham sandwich at a Jewish wedding as the Montauk branch is an extension of the Babylon branch which lies several miles from Farmingdale and Farmingdale is singularly unequipped with connecting busses. The cab situation can be summed up as a waste of time too.

None of this mattered because the Montauk branch stays that far from all destinations on the Ronkonkoma branch. Anyone following the absurd directions would be faced with a monumental problem wherever they got off the bloody Montauk train, miles from where their car would be parked.

I admit to being a little apprehensive about Mrs Stevie’s possible overreaction to our little phone misunderstanding, but luckily by the time she fought her way through the traffic caused by the brilliant Bloody Long Island Railroad situation and the rescuers, cabs and uber drivers arriving en masse on a road system designed to handle one horse-drawn cart per hour, Mrs Stevie’s rage was focussed on strangers and the drive back to my car was almost uneventful.

Deciding irony was called for, I bunged From The Earth To The Moon in the DVD player and watched the episode titled Spider, about how a Bethpage-based NY company, whose engineers worked with slide rules and log tables, designed and built a machine in which six men went to the Moon’s surface and came back alive and well. And in this age of a powerful computer in everyone’s pocket, we can’t even get the trains to take us anywhere with reliability.

It’s not the accident I blame them for. It’s the monumental idiocy of throwing off passengers two stops before they had to into killing cold weather. Had they done this at Deer Park everyone would have ben nearer home, which means lower cab fares, and a vast number of people would have been where they intended to be, meaning a reduction in enraged customers. It seems simple cost benefit analysis is beyond the MBAs now “running” the trains.

Today I missed my train, and discovered that my “safety train” isn’t any more, on account of it leaving five minutes later, thus arriving in Jamaica5 after the connecting train to Brooklyn has left, meaning I had a twenty minute timesuck to while away until the next train to Brooklyn arrived6.


With two minutes to go, the PA drone announced that the train was “being held7”, so I jumped in the next train to Manhattan. I could then take the subway “A” train to Brooklyn and only be an added forty five minutes late to work.


Having punched, kicked and bitten my way through ominously thick crowds of bewildered commuters the entire length of the "A" train platform, a message came over the PA system concerning the “A” train to Brooklyn. I heard very little of it because the uptown “E” decided to leave the station at the same time, generating the NYC Standard 2000 decibel racket as it did so8. Fortunately, the message was repeated so I was made aware that all Brooklyn bound express trains (an ironic synonym for the “A” trains) were being held because of a disabled train at 125th street - the entire length of Manhattan away.

Cursing a light railway infrastructure that does not permit working trains to go around broken ones, I sprinted down some stairs, through a tunnel and up some more stairs so I could catch the whistle-stop “C” local train, and add another 30 minutes to my never-ending commute.

I got to work at 11:45, an hour and a half late, where life proceeded to suck mightily in every direction I looked9 and nothing worked no matter how hard I tried.

At 7 pm I threw up my hands, slammed the lids of all uncooperative computers and made for the subway, where a “C” train vied with Christmas to see who would arrive in Manhattan first. An 8:15 train from Penn got me to Wyandanch at 9:20 pm.

And so to bed.

  1. Not the good one
  2. Nope, no climate change, nossir
  3. Stevie’s Scale of Temperatures You Care To Notice: Hot Enough To Kill, Too Hot For This Coat, OK, Too Cold For This Jacket, Cold Enough To Kill
  4. Glass Hammer, Perilous
  5. Still not the good one
  6. I normally just sit it out in the Manhattan-bound train, but the subway ride has to work just right or I arrive later than I would had I waited 20 minutes for the Bloody Long Island Railroad train
  7. No idea where, why or for how long of course
  8. While on a visit to Montreal I once almost missed a train that arrived while I was looking the other way because although I was not three feet from the tracks the train was almost silent in operation. American engineers haven’t twigged that you can have your train and hearing too
  9. Mathematicians claim that there are ten directions, but six of them are rolled up so we never see them and one is called time by everyone not a stupid mathematician. I have no doubt that those six directions only mathematicians can see were this day tightly rolled packages of suck

Friday, November 03, 2017

More Annoyance, With Weather

Last week I had a day of such unremitting suckage I simply could not put fingers to keys to report it, but having re-lived the Project SinkingShip Meeting Outrage for my eager reader1 I have girded my loins and hitched my skirts and like that and will tell all in the interests of catharsis.

It started well enough with a trip to the Wyandanch Car Park under a cloudy sky, but when I had walked the hundred yards to the station there was an announcement that "due to *garbled* all trains into and out of Ronkonkoma were canceled until further notice."

My fellow would-be commuters either stared unwittingly into their phones with their earbuds in, oblivious to the cock-up in progress, or were staggering around, clutching their heads and moaning desolately. I looked around to see if any of either group were known to me or were trustworthy-looking enough to risk sharing a ride with, then walked the hundred yards back to the car park and drove the fabulous Steviemobile to a pay-as-you-go car park in Babylon, a mere three hundred yards from the station.

This is my emergency commute solution of choice as at a quarter for an hour the rate is not usurious and I can usually find a space there, unlike the situation pertaining to the next-to-the-station car park, which is always full by the time I get there.

I finally got to work, but the train was of course a local, which on the Babylon line means about 154 stops at stations I've never heard of, so I was at the very end of my "not late for work" window, which meant I'd have to work late that night and commute out of Penn Station.

Work was tedious and very tedious by turns, and when I finally walked out of the office it was looking like rain. I was mildly concerned because I didn't have a raincoat or umbrella with me, just my Wrangler jacket. I remembered not to get the Ronkonkoma train just in the nick of time and boarded an even-more local train back to Babylon (stopping everywhere there was even a hint of a station) and rode back reading a book on my 'phone.

For yes, I have a smart phone now, a rather neat Samsung J3, which I have fitted with the Kindle app and can hence access my library without either my Kindle or my iPad to hand and – you could have knocked me down with a feather – the readability of books on the phone is very good indeed.

My usual Kindle Consumer device is the iPad, but I find it and the keyboard I need to make it even remotely useful as a content creation device makes it rather heavy and awkward to carry around, and to be honest it has never been able to become a replacement for my laptop when it comes to getting life stuff done. If the software can compete with the PC-available stuff I have, the keyboard becomes problematical 2 and I hate that I have to have a cloud-based transfer in order to move anything out to my PC via the web.

So it was that I was paying no attention to the weather's doings as we rattled from Little Point to Wayster Space, on, ever on toward Babylon.

I alighted onto the unlighted platform at Babylon into a deluge like unto that Noah prepared for. I ran first in the opposite direction to the car park in order to find shelter from the rain and a toilet for the Sudden Onset Urgent Need To Wee I suffered due to all the splashing and waterfall noises, then I walked back under the station3 and waited under a bridge for the rain to slacken or (forlorn hope) stop altogether.

After about ten minutes the rain dropped to a light drizzle and I ran across the road, dodging the puddles and fast-flowing streams in search of a working drain, and began the three hundred yard walk past the softball field and fire house to the car park.

At approximately the halfway point, the heavens opened with a vengeance, thunder began crashing and lightning started poking the signals off to the west, around Lindenhurst. I picked up my pace but was resigned to a damn good soaking before I reached the Steviemobile.

The weather spirits, noting my resolute step and resigned attitude, increased the volume and velocity of the rain, to the point that I now was having trouble seeing due to the water sluicing off my glasses. My jeans were beginning to soak through, but my jacket was doing a fine job of stopping the wet getting to the new phone4.

I finally came to the Steviemobile, and I dropped off my wringing-wet backpack at the trunk, slammed the lid and sprinted for the driver's side door.

I've already mentioned the vision issue, right? Because it, along with the total lack of illumination other than the aforementioned lightning was the proximate cause of my not seeing that the car was sitting in a shallow lake of rainwater that had given up looking for a working drain and decided to just hang around until the storm stopped. I say "shallow", but it was actually one-and-a-half sneakers deep, allowing my feet to get into the spirit of things.

By the time I actually got into the car and shut the door on the rain I could not have been wetter had I jumped in the river flowing a few feet beyond the trees in front of the Steviemobile. The sleeves of my jacket had given up the fight and soaked through, though the torso-covering bit was remarkably dry, considering.

I started the engine, the heater and the a/c in that order. Once the air was warm I alternated using the defroster and the passenger-de-damper vents as I drove homewards. The rain got even worse, and Deer Park Avenue was now a series of shallow rapids because even the working drains were full, the pipes leading out to sea not having been cleaned out since the Roanoke colonists set foot in Virginia. It was a surreal experience, which I was not free to enjoy fully as no sooner had I cleared the windshield of fog I started to leak all over the car as various layers of soaked clothing drained. Also: wet feet. Possibly the worst misery of all.

Naturally the rain let up as I turned into my street, and naturally the heavens opened up again with renewed ferocity as soon as I stepped onto my driveway. But things were about to get much worse.

I squelched into he house and Mrs Stevie said "Oh, is it raining?"

"Yes" I said. "I'm going to throw my jeans and jacket in the dryer."

"I'd better empty it then" she riposted and went down into the basement.

I stamped off to undress and sling my clothes in the dryer as planned.

By the time I got down to the laundry room Mrs Stevie was standing before the dryer with "The Look" on her face. And two socks. And some underwear.

I was puzzled by her facial accouterments but in no mood for silliness. I opened the dryer and found it still full of clothes.

"Why haven't you unloaded this yet?" I demanded kneeling down to get a better look.

"You're so eager, you do it" she wittily replied. "You need to do something about the static clong."

"You mean static cling" I snarled sticking my head into the drum to see what was what.

There was a blinding flash, a loud CRACK! as the pile of static-charged clothing discharged a billion volts to my wet nose, my muscles all contracted violently, including the all-important ones in my back and neck, and my head jerked up and met the top of the drum with a loud and resonant CLONG!"

"I know what I mean" said Mrs Stevie, smugly as she left for the comfort of the living room.

  1. Still have one according to Google Stats
  2. a Bluetooth compact keyboard, it has "moods" during which it generates artifacts like double and triple keystrikes and is more trouble than it is worth. When it is in such a mood my own mood can dip south of homicidal very quickly too.
  3. I should explain that the South Shore line from Babylon to Jamaica (not the good one) is raised on concrete piers to a height of perhaps 30 feet. This was done because at one time all the people who mattered - City gents and the board of the LIRR - lived on the South Shore and they got fed up with flooding and people walking on the tracks and all the other stuff that happens to the other branches so they spent a bleeping fortune to lift the trackbed above ground level. Sadly, the branch sufferes from catastrophic signal failures every time there's a thunderstorm because lightning hits the signal masts a lot, but you can't make an omelette without having all the breakers blow out
  4. and voiding out the warranty

Life Keeps Being Annoying

Life suckage has achieved some sort of temporary saturation hereabouts it seems, which is a good thing.

Clueless people still fill the atmosphere of course. Right now II have one sitting across from me on the train. I'm in a four-seater, which means a two-facing-two configuration. My bag is ignorantly taking up the seat next to me which is a social faux pas but I will of course move it if asked. New Yorkers get offended by this behavior (while exhibiting it themselves) because they have the strange belief that they have a constitutional right not to have to speak to people and ask them to do what they want. Same New Yorkers think nothing of sticking their feet up on the seats of course.

But the clueless person in front of me chose to sit exactly opposite me instead of kitty-corner, then stuck her feet diagonally out. At the moment she's combing nits out of her hair with her fingers and flicking them my way. What an asset1. She also has a cough, but since I'm developing a sneeze myself we sort of balance each other out, clue-wise there.

I'm getting a new boss. The old one is now showering me with all the information I asked for each time he made a request for automation (but never got despite repeated asking). Case in point: a baseline restore of a training database. Asked for three years ago ("I do it manually now") and got my immediate response "What scripts do you use and when do you run them?", and then got it two more times that week. Cricket noise until last Wednesday. That Friday, after sending five of the six scripts2 he was amazed by the ease and ellegance of my solution. I can only guess that he was pulling down overtime for doing this stuff by hand after hours.

And yesterday I was pulled into an emergency meeting with my Boss's Boss. "The new C-level guy is telling us that his favorite product can do all the stuff we want from Project SinkingShip with none of the issues we see. He wants to meet. Here's an email he sent with a bunch of his answers to our questions based on what we hate about SinkingShip. I hate it all. Don't agree to anything. He garbles everything he says by misusing our technical terms and jargon. Say little and agree to nothing. NOTHING!"

I took a look at the questions and answers and made a number of observations about how our current solution works. I was argued with. I then went on to talk about what I could extrapolate about how the new thing would be working, which was a method we had rejected for SinkingShip. I was argued with. It should be noted that the person in the room with the most contact with SinkingShip was yours truly, yet I was told off for not understanding how we do the job and made to sit in the uncooperative corner.

Once the meeting with new C-level guy was in progress all my extrapolations on New Product were borne out. The slide he shows us on his hi-tech whiteboard to help explain to my bosses3 even matches the doodle I made for my own reference (none of my "superiors" would so much as look at it during the Shouty Disagreement phase of our own meeting).

Then my bosses start offering the new C-level guy congratulatory comments and announcing a new era of love for the new project. I am told that my lack of participation will be brought up in my yearly review, and I'm castigated for lack of team spirit and enthusiasm for new technology.

Ten minutes after the meeting they are all in denial about what they said to the new C-level guy. I've no doubt they will remember it a week from now as more "inaccurate use of jargon" on his part. As for me, I just want the project to be robust and not be a nightmare to fix when (not if) it all breaks down.

Oh well, at least my train is running late.

  1. Female gender assh*le
  2. the sixth was – and I quote - “an initiative test to see if you can find stuff for yourself”
  3. who react to any suggestion that we use a whiteboard to resolve the to-me obvious differences in internal visualizations of whatever subject is at hand with hand-waving and cries of "we don't need that"

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hurricanes Cause Change In Plans

So we had planned this vacation in Florida for the summer.

We were supposed to be going at the end of July, at least, that's when our timeshare week is normally scheduled1. However, on the day we were due to be setting out, Hurricane Zelda was just stroking Key West lovingly, and so on the night before I announced that while I was absolutely willing to continue with Operation Hell's Teeth I would only be doing so with two five gallon cans of gas and the chainsaw in the vehicle. I would also have opted for an inflatable dinghy on the roof but we don't have one2 (a rubber boat; we have a roof). We had already laid in a couple of cases of water and over a hundred protein bars "just in case".

Mrs Stevie, who was also undergoing some moments of doubt to judge by her Dark Looks™ and mutterings, took a moment to consider what it would be like to share a Honda Odyssey with such fragrant luggage and proposed abandoning the vacation plans, returning to work the next week and trying for a date later in the year.

I countered by saying that while she was free to do as she pleased, I was fried and six weeks overdue for some quality time away from work and already hanging on by a thread and by damn I was going to have my much-anticipated vacation because if I went back to work without it I would likely kill everyone with my bare hands before the day was out.

The conversation went back and forth in the usual manner until all the loose ornaments of suitable mass were either out of reach or hopelessly smashed, and I proposed that we consider altering our plans as to destination, opting on the spur of the moment for a trip to the Poconos3. In a trice4 she had called the people's timeshare soviet and arranged a transfer of lodgings, handed our mid-way stopover hotel room back to a rather flustered young woman who was apparently giving that same room to a Floridian evacuee as she negotiated the cancellation with Mrs Stevie, and we were good to go.

On Sunday.

So I took Friday and Saturday to do all the stuff that needed doing before we left rather than leaping around at two in the morning trying to do that - time had gotten away from me this month - and we set out for a leisurely two and a half hour drive5 without gas cans, chainsaws, amphibious landing craft and so on.

And had a quite nice time.

The place was a golfing resort, like our usual place is, but had me in stitches. Every green was surrounded by steep downward-pointing hills leading to even steeper roads running downhill. In Florida, you miss the ball and if it stays out of the lake you are basically looking at a short stroll over to it. In this place you missed a putt you could end up needing a car to go find the ball. It was like mini-golf designed by a seriously deranged person.

We nipped out the first day for a two-hour ride back towards NYC so we could visit Philadelphia. Mrs Stevie was sad about not going to see the Stevieling so in an effort to try and make everything a bit better I had suggested we go to a certain Artist where she had bough the hand-made glass earrings - the ones she was wearing on our last trip on the River Valley Rail Road when one of them fell out of her ear and was lost forever.

We found the place, which wasn't as I had understood an artists' market but a sort of artwork-in-progress called The Magic Gardens, located on South St. The work of Isaiah Zagar, it is an enormous mosaic of found items and tile arranged into a stupendous grotto. South St is littered with building that bear Zagar mosaic work, but this one has walls that soar three or four stories high. A bizarre work to be sure, but kind of cool. We couldn't match the earrings but found another pair.

Naturally this couldn't work out well, and Mrs Stevie had us walk ten blocks of South St before she would countenance a stop for what was now a very late lunch, by which time I was so dehydrated my legs had started cramping and my temper went even further South than the titular thoroughfare. The only upside of doing the Pennsylvania thing was that I wouldn't get "Theme Park Legs" and here that daft woman had engineered that eventuality on the first bleeping day. It would take almost the entire week before I could stand for any length of time without pain after that.

After about four days we decided to try and find the Frazetta museum, where many of Frank Frazetta's artworks depicting mighty-thewed barbarians infested with clinging, scantily-clad vixens are preserved6. Turned out it was hiding behind a screen of trees we had driven past literally twice a day. Never knew it was back there. It had an address, but since the road was really just Frank's driveway to his house, newly renamed so the emergency services could find it, it didn't show on the old GPS.

We spent quite a while in a state of artistic appreciation until Mrs Stevie was asked to remove me on a spurious trumped-up charge of “grunting in a lascivious manner in front of the exhibits”. Mrs Stevie also felt my occasional cries of “You don't get many of those to the pound!” were a contributing factor. We debated the point in our usual way, and after my nose had stopped bleeding we moved on.

Speaking of the GPS, it forwent it's usual practice of steering us through New York City, perhaps because we took the George Washington Bridge and so technically were in Manhattan for a very short time, satisfying the demented device's need for a visit. I was suspicious and on tenterhooks every time we went out with the damn thing switched on in case it decided we should visit scenic downtown Scranton, but it never tried to steer us into undesired metropolitan settings once.

Instead, it decided to capitalize on the number of roads best described as "single track unlit abandoned-then-paved roller-coaster trackbed of certain death" by eschewing three lane highways whenever one such death trap offered so much as a three yard as-the-crow-flies distance saving and steering us unerringly into an hours-long nail-biting trip up hill and down even steeper hill especially after dark. I imagine it was bored of all the urban route planning we usually asked it to do and was feeling its inner Shackleton juices flowing.

It did suffer a number of weird problems in one specific stretch of road, a giant Y junction cut through a mountain. Every time we navigated through that junction the vehicle position cursor would suddenly jump into a blank area of screen and wander around for a bit and the distance-to-destination calculation would suddenly add three miles. It was like the Bermuda Triangle, except that it was Y-shaped and in Pennsylvania and on dry land and was actually proven to be a repeatable thing not requiring a drunken captain, dodgy maintenance record and busted navigation instruments to happen. So not much like the Bermuda Triangle now I come to think on it.

Speaking of Y-shaped roads, this area seemed to have more than its share of roads that diverged in a Y, with both legs of the Y retaining the same road name or route number! Yes, you read that right dear reader. If you look at a map7 of the area around East Stroudsburg, Pa you'll see a number of places where three joined roads have the same designation. I commend state route 209 to the reader's attention as of particular note, it having two roads of that designation run side-by-side. I imagine that some time in the past the Pennsylvania State Commission on Sensible Road Names had a massive falling-out with the US Post Office and decided to screw with the mailman.

On the Thursday we went for a long drive east to find the Strasburg Railway and the Pennsylvania Railway Museum (conveniently located about 100 feet apart), which was absolutely great notwithstanding my leg problems. The train ride was about four and a half miles long, about the same as that on the River Valley Rail Road, but without a river to look at. The museum was ace. A huge selection of locomotives and rolling stock to look at, all preserved in a giant shed the size of a soccer field or so. There's more stuff outside too, but it was late and raining so we forwent that and went for dinner at a Dutch Smorgasbord.

If you are ever in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania you have to try one of these places. The Amish part of the state is littered with them under various names. Some are run by Amish communities, some by Mennonite families, but all have in common that they put on a buffet like you never saw before, both in terms of size and range of available things to eat.

These are typically all-you-can-eat affairs, and so draw the occasional Homer Simpson type of chap determined to get his money's worth and damn the consequences, but the food is out of this world. The vegetables and meat dishes are sourced from the seemingly endless farmlands that surround every town and village and each restaurant will feature specialty dishes unique to that particular place. Ours had a ham ball dish that was delicious and tasted like the tenderest ham in cherry gravy. I found the chicken pot pie to be especially toothsome this time. There must have been 20 different types of pie for dessert in addition to jell-o, ice cream and so forth, all home-made.

Definitely worth the experience.

On Friday we tootled around and swung up to the place where we honeymooned thirty years before, Champagne Towers at Who-The-Hell-Cares. This used to be part of the Caesar's group, and they had four similar resorts in the area. One was designed to appeal to DINKS8 - all sports and you needed an SUV to go from each highlight to the next. Another was family-themed, and had an all-weather ice-rink and stuff for kids to do. Ours was designed specifically for newlyweds. No feature or activity was more than five minutes from the rooms. Should the moment overcome a newly hitched couple there would be no tedious, mood-wrecking need to drive five miles over a peat bog. In a pinch you could sprint the distance should the car be disinclined to start. I found this highly amusing at the time. Still do.

The suites themselves were triumphs of architectural origami. On entering the small living area you had a fireplace in one wall, a giant champagne glass in another and a glass-enclosed area, ours was on the right, with a heart-shaped swimming pool, sauna and massage bed. Up the stairs to a bedroom with a circular bed, turn left for the bathroom and twin sinks on the right. On the left was the two-person shower/steam room, and to the left of that was an alcove that one entered, then stepped down into the balcony jacuzzi overlooking the living room - the bowl of the champagne glass9 when seen from below.

It is all great fun and Mrs Stevie and I enjoyed ourselves in each and every room10 and I don't want to talk about that any more.

On Saturday we ran over to Yardley to see our friends Ralph'n'Cate, who have a gorgeous house in Green Town, Illinois, or what I imagine Green Town looks like when Ray Bradbury talks about it in his stories set in the imaginary late forties/early fifties request-stop community. We love this couple, but hardly ever get to see them together since they have wanderlust and have been thousands of miles away for years, living in Georgia and Florida and I don't know where else since leaving New York with a merry wave and cries of “Good Luck, losers”.

Ralph'n'Cate have recently dropped anchor in the last piece of Ideal American Suburbia. We met the neighbours who were firing up a street barbecue as we were about to strike our tents and fade into the night, and I thought Ralph'n'Cate looked very happy and set, but they were talking about uprooting for France or maybe the UK. Gadabouts (or is it Gadsabout? Gadsabouters? Damn. Or possibly Zut.

Cate drinks coffee, but seems to deal with the side effects better than Mrs Stevie to judge by the lack of cauliflower ears, black eyes and limbs-in-slings showing on Ralph11. Either way, they were gracious hosts and treated us to a fantastic lunch at a very nice restaurant. I was going to treat them but Cate pulled a cunning "just going to wash my hands" runaround ploy on me and struck a deal with the waiters out-of-sight.

This wouldn't work on most people, didn't used to work on me, but after thirty years with Mrs Stevie such absences are excuses for me to flirt with the female staff without getting punched. Indeed, so distractedly good was the meal that when Cate excused herself I turned on the charm with the young woman pouring our iced teas and got roundly punched by Mrs Stevie, who I had forgotten was sitting not two feet away. Mrs Stevie disapproves of young female table servers.

The drive back to the timeshare was used to critique each other's performance at lunch, mostly to my disadvantage since I was too busy snoozing to fully join in the process. Mrs Stevie screamed vile things at me to wake me up, which I told her could lead to heart attacks and was a dangerous distraction when a man is driving. We were about to get into a heated debate on the matter when the GPS announced we should turn right and take the freeway to the Lincoln Tunnel, then went stupid as we drove into The Pennsylvania Y Shape.

On Sunday it was time to go back to New York, so, after an argument just to keep in practice, we did.

  1. We have two at the same "Country Club". One at the end of July and one at the end of January. We bought the July one first, when the Stevieling was on the drawing board, as a hedge against glum vacations. The second was a moment of madness
  2. It is only in the last year I have been able to shrug off the Canadian River Trip enough to even say the word "canoe" without screaming, the story of which I am not yet ready to tell but watch this space.
  3. Where we had honeymooned about thirty years before
  4. Defined as an hour or so
  5. Instead of the usual eight and a half hour hellishness, overnight stopover and seven hour more hellishness
  6. Many such paintings have adorned SF and Fantasy paperbacks and thus became a formative part of my adolescence not to mention the root cause of a muscular development imbalance between my right and left arms in my later teens
  7. Sort of like a GPS but made of cunningly folded paper which doesn't talk and nag you about driving into Manhattan and doesn't need electricity to work
  8. Double Income, No Kids. Keep up!
  9. Technically a perry glass, the sort John Steed used to toast Emma Peel with because everyone knows you drink champagne out of a champagne flute to keep the bubbles in yaddayaddayadda
  10. This was before she became addicted to coffee and shouting about every little thing like it was the end of the world and punching innocent husbands of course
  11. When I idly mentioned those facts on the way home Mrs Stevie said that Ralph never dropped a tree on Cate while she was parking her car or killed the front lawn in a bizarre rotary lawnfeeder accident or tried to run a model steam engine on her antique dining table but I didn't see her point and still don't know what she was getting at

Friday, August 11, 2017

Now That's A Pretty Song

Dominion Road by The Mutton Birds, from their compilation album Flock: The Best of The Mutton Birds.

If you've never heard The Mutton Birds they sound sorta like Deep Blue Something did in the mid 90s, melodically at least. Since the material on this album comes from then and a little later that's not really surprising, convergent evolution being alive and well in the arts. Call it alternate pop.

Lyrically the song is magical, telling a story that is vivid in only two verses and a refrain with a varying line (I dunno what this trick is called. I don't doubt the style has a name), one of a young man, dissolute, who loses everything and then starts rebuilding his life. How all that gets shoehorned into a song three minutes and fifty-five second long without denting it beyond repair is a trick I wish I could emulate.

Better yet, the album is full of songs with poppy tunes containing ambush stories, some of them very dark. The song "White Valiant" scares the snot out of me and after dozens of hearings I'm still not sure what's going to happen.

There's a love song about a beaten-up electric heater that's not creepy at all, no sir, one about the stupid things an American Senator said on the radio that has a Led Zeppelin/Kashmir treatment, one about a guy who leaves home after an argument, goes to his sports equipment shop and waxes lyrical about how hypnotically well-made an AK-47 is in an increasingly strident tone.

There's a magnificent slow-dance/wedding song in which the beautiful chorus was actually intended only as a place-keeper for something else but the songwriter was over-ruled by the drummer, and a driving retread of their cover of "Don't Fear The Reaper" - the original of which runs at the end of the Peter Jackson movie The Frighteners, which I confess was why I sought out the recording in the first place. This one is better.

There's a letter from a love-lorn young guy bemoaning the fact that she lives in Wellington and he ... doesn't. It's poppy and sad and wonderful. How this wasn't a radio-play hit is a mystery.

Flock cost me deep in the purse and I don't regret a single cent. You should give it a listen. At the very least try streaming "Dominion Road", "A Thing Well-Made", "White Valiant", "Wellington", "Queen's English" and "Anchor Me".

The songwriting here is nothing short of masterful, and the instruments are played by experts. Why these guys were not more popular "in the day" is beyond me. Surely not just because they come from New Zealand. I thought we lived in a global economy now.

Go have a listen for yourself.

LIRR Fiasco

So yesterday the commuters attempting to catch the 8:58 am connection at Jamaica for Atlantic Terminal were witness to a particularly egregious example of the Bloody Long Island Railroad letting their inner Buster Keaton out for a walk.

At Jamaica, tracks 3 and 4 are adjacent, but served by different platforms. To get from platform 3 to platform 4 one must run up a flight of stairs, cross a bridge and trot down a flight of stairs, all the time fighting past equally determined and rushed commuters trying to execute the exact mirror image maneuver.

While this is a normal commuting inconvenience for me, for the vast majority of people punching, kicking and biting their way up and down flights of stairs are new to the process, those who have followed the Bloody Long Island Railroad's advice to avoid Penn Station during the interminable Amtrak work needed to stop trains derailing when trying to park to let the passengers on or off. Who could have predicted that decades of infrastructure neglect could result in such chaos1?

The train to Hunterspoint Avenue, one of the suggested "alternatives" to Penn Station is a blocky, double-decker train pulled by a duplex drive2 locomotive. The Atlantic Avenue train is a single-decked EMU train, sometimes of surprising vintage3, like 99% of the trains on the Bloody Long Island Railroad.

The trains had been announced on the PA as arriving on their usual tracks, 3 for the Hunterspoint Avenue train, 4 for the one to Atlantic Terminal. All the nice new destination boards hanging from the platform awnings were saying the same in bright yellow LED writing.

One might have thought this was now a done deal, but as I stood waiting for my train to Atlantic Terminal a large double-decker pulled in and opened its doors. I checked the destination boards. Still showing this train as heading for Brooklyn. But a sneaking suspicion was forming in Mr Brain and instead of pushing, kicking and biting my way to the carriage doors as per usual I hung back and prepared to sprint.

Sure enough, the destination boards suddenly went blank as someone desperately pulled out the plug, killing the nice helpful yellow messages of a commute safely underway.

I sprinted for the stairs and hit the now-empty staircase running. In the dopplering sounds of the station behind me I heard the PA burst into life and announce the Brooklyn train on track 3, and the Hunterspoint Avenue train on track 4, along with a shamefaced “This is a track change for today only”4.

Yep. The Bloody Long Island Railroad had, in a burst of breathtaking incompetence, managed to steer the trains onto exactly the wrong tracks despite having destination boards and announcers saying what should be happening. I guess no-one told the idiots in the signal box.

Experience shows these people aren't the brightest bulbs in the bulb-holding thing at the best of times. Every day the train from Wyandanch pulls up to Jamaica and is blocked by a train that hasn't left for Penn Station yet - this despite the fact it happens every fbleeping day. I have the vision of a signal box staff clutching their heads in bewilderment and screaming "Look out! Here comes another one! It's just like yesterday! For pity's sake! Where are these trains all coming from?"

That vision was augmented yesterday by another in which the train drivers, leaning into the curve they expected to take, were suddenly swung the other way, banging their heads on the side windows of their cabs and screaming "WHAT THE Fbleep!" as they were hijacked by the incompetents tasked with setting the switches5.

I've said it before and will say it again: The Bloody Long Island Railroad couldn't organize a piss-up in a brewery.

  1. Apart from everyone but Amtrack and the Bloody Long Island Railroad of course
  2. As in, diesel but can run on electricity from the third rail if need be
  3. With a "nose" to match courtesy of the chemical toilet
  4. No shirt, Sherlock
  5. UK: Points

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Now That's A Pretty Song

Grand Hotel by Regina Spektor, from the album Remember Us To Life.

I was driving home from my monthly Delta Green RPG manly high-stakes poker game when I heard this on A Prairie Home Companion, an NPR radio show. I was immediately smitten by the Joni Mitchell-like delivery, the entirely un-Joni Mitchell vocal quality, the spare piano treatment and the story hiding inside the lyric, which I've come to realize isn't what I first thought it was.

Public radio and television have steered me toward many artists I'd otherwise have never come across, either directly or indirectly. It was on a late-night bread acquisition mission that I first heard Stan Rogers singing Barrett's Privateers, which caused a bout of collecting and listening itself causing me to discover Archie Fischer (Rogers recorded a shortened and livened-up version of Witch of the Westmorelands provoking me to seek out the original on an album called The Man With A Rhyme - which had the original of The Whale, a song I first heard done by Fairport Convention on Five Seasons).

I discovered Paul Brady's beautiful album Spirits Colliding after watching a Britcom on Channel 21 WLIW, and found out he was with The Johnsons and wrote a favorite of theirs I had on a now long-lost Transatlantic sampler album Continental Trailways Bus.

But enough of lucky finds and odd syncronicities!

Grand Hotel and Remember Us To Life are recommended to Joni Mitchell fans and everyone else too.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Dried Fish

Blimey, where did all these cobwebs and silverfish come from?

As the reader - long-abandoned by the humble scribe - will know both the land of my birth and my adopted homeland went temporarily insane, and in a fit of inattentive wet-baby disposal not seen since the Romans decided that there were a few problems with having a Republic the one stormed off vowing never to have anything to do with those terrible French, Germans, Spaniards and especially the Belgians and Dutch, while the other elected perhaps the one man on the face of the Earth least fitted to run the country.

Britain now faces rebellion in the Cheviots1 for the second time in recent memory, and the press is telling me that stout-hearted Englishpersons are madly signing up to be Dutch, French and even, I hear, Belgian to escape the chaos this bewilderingly daft decision will precipitate. It is notable that the major political figures who were singing the praises of this monumentally stupid move have suddenly found more important things to do with their lives. No doubt merely a coincidence, and not a desperate leap to be in a chair when the music stops.

As it soon will, what with the EC grant money drying up faster than a sub-Saharan waterhole in July.

America is in the unenviable position of wishing that it's political hacks had bolted instead of stepping up and "taking power". Our president seems blissfully unaware of certain things we all assumed were prerequisites of being the Head Cheese, things like how the constitution says that the government must work. He has a habit of telling the world too, then getting upset when people laugh at his ignorance, though to be honest it stopped being funny almost immediately.

Not only that, but once again, a Republican president is making public all the little holes in the laws and procedures that reasonable men before him have simply assumed were good manners and ethics to adhere to, and is busy making himself a yardstick for cronyism and nepotism. Lets Make America Great again like it was 1920.

And infuriatingly, no-one will fix said holes with laws because the man in power at the time never knows when he might need to use one of these loopholes for himself. Disgraceful.

There are many simplistic analyses on why this state of affairs has come about. One that has particular resonance with the public is that it is a reaction to decades of increasingly less self-aware political correctness, and there is some evidence that this might be the case, at least for some. But I think what has happened in both cases is that charismatic demagogues have managed to unify small groups of disaffected people under their banner and get them marching in lockstep.

I know that's what happened in the USA. Those who felt that not being able to tell Polish jokes or make fun of women drivers are supporting The Man with The Tan alongside desperate people whose towns were all-but shut down when the one industry it had closed down or relocated. That latter group I can sympathize with. I've seen first-hand what the innocuously-named "inflection-point" and "paradigm-shift" can do to people, and it's only the youngest who can survive it relatively unscathed as they have the freedom to move with least cost and to retrain in some other means of earning.

What this slow collapse of the country's workforce implies in big, red, shouty caps is that no-one with the power to do so has been laying out any long-term strategy for the country as a whole, nor has that been done at the state level in all too many cases.

This is part of the role of government, and the leaders of the country-spanning industries (we are, after all, an oligarchy with the word "republic" painted on it) but we've had a generation of industry captains and politicos growing up in a relatively benign atmosphere of sixties-era-and-before regulation switch-off. Huge financial gains were made, and lost of course, as the economy, freed from governors that had become onerous, slewed from boom to bust. The same is happening as these same people work to deregulate the clean water industry even as terribly damaging pollution scandals break over the country.

And the worst part is the disconnect between the obvious correlation of the events and the people responsible for sorting it out.

Alan Greenspan professed himself profoundly shocked that his policy of "enlightened self-interest" failed to prevent the recent banking crisis usually labeled "the sub-prime mortgage fiasco", but of course, he was equating the banks themselves as organic entities (which by law they almost are) when all the decision making was done by banking officers - who assuredly were working according to self-interest. Since the "enlightened" bit wasn't actually required, nobody bothered to do it, each assuming someone else would pick up the pieces and mop the floor when it all went to Hellena-Handbasket.

Politicians, particularly those pandering to the rabid right "republican base", like to froth at the mouth and bellow about entitlements, but the sense of entitlement that runs through the three-letter ranks of the banks of the USA could be cut only with an expensive Japanese ceremonial sword swung with malice aforethought™.

Now the energy companies are demanding the relaxing of "onerous" restrictions that prevent them operating freely, while at the same time fending off the lawsuits their corner-cutting already causes. Coal mine collapses, oil-rig disasters, tanker collisions, all come with a hefty taxpayer bill attached. Republican are fond of making funding available to public services dependent on following onerous limitations on how they operate. Why can't the subsidies paid from the taxes to these companies (entitlement, anyone?) be tied to adhering to the law of the land?

Silly me. It's because the politicians making the law are paid-off by have received substantial campaign contributions from those same companies. But no-one is asking: "If we do this now, what do we do in fifty years to clean up the aftermath of all this selfishness?"

Hence the lack of posts; with so much surrealism loose in the world, why bother trying to document small outbreaks of it in this blithering blog?

  1. Very painful I hear, requiring a series of increasingly agonizing injections into the stomach wall2
  2. Now I come to think on it, that might be rabies

Monday, February 13, 2017

More LIRR bleeptery

And the inconvenience and incompetence goes ever on and on

High winds have blown across Long Island all last night and most of today. As a result the incredibly long grade crossing booms deployed by the Bloody Long Island Railroad are snapping off all over the place forcing the crossings to be guarded by police cars and introducing increasing delays and, eventually, cancellations in a desperate attempt to get the timetables to match the way the trains are pretending to run.

Now this isn't the first, or even the eleventy-first time this sort of thing has happened. If you look at Wyandanch (Pearl of the East) grade crossing you can see it has one short boom and one really long one, about fifteen feet or longer. The long one has broken off just about every year, and was "wind proofed" after the second or fifth time with the addition of a metal Y-shaped bracket that the boom lifts into and protects it while it is parked in the upright position. When it is lowered, it uses a small leg to support it that also serves to stabilize it against the wind. This sort of lash-up set-up can be seen at many grade crossings across the island.

Can you see the oversight in the engineering of this elegant solution to the problem of high winds snapping off the booms?

If you answered "the part where the boom is traveling between each of these situations" then give yourself a toasted sausage sandwich with HP sauce. Indeed yes, the winds are free to tear the bejayzus out of the booms as they climb laboriously back into the raised position or lower themselves to place the inch-thick plastic boom between any hurtling cars and the trains, thereby preventing collisions.

So one has to wonder why in the name of bleep the Bloody Long Island Railroad "engineers" haven't come up with anything better in the thirty years I've been looking at the problem.

Either way, as of the time of writing (5:23 pm) there are numerous emails about fallen utility poles, broken crossing gates and whatever. Long idiotic excuses short - cancellations and delays of up to 70 minutes on all my trains tonight.

So far the Bloody Long Island Railroad has managed one day of acceptable performance since I returned from Florida five working days ago.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Back To The Same Old ****

One. bleeping. Day.

That's how long I was back in New York before the LIRR started bleeping me about.

I had spent the last nine days in Florida visiting with the Stevieling and just lazing about1 but eventually was forced to return to Chateau Stevie, life and the LIRR. By Wednesday the LIRR had cost me several hours of my time by cancelling or delaying trains despite the fact that the weather was unseasonably mild and dry

And the reason it took so long for the LIRR to start wasting my time and costing me money? I took the Monday off to recuperate from the drive.

So when I say "one day" it was actually "no working days".

Tuesday was lost to "signal trouble"2 and Wednesday to yet another track blockage caused by a derailed freight train3.

And what do these two problems have in common?

Neither would be mitigated in any way shape or form by adding a wildly expensive second track in the Pinelawn/Wyandanch Single-Track Chicane.

  1. Actually, two of those days were spent driving at each end of the vacation but I was out of New York the whole time so the point stands
  2. And never ask "Why, when the tax payers and commuters of NY bought the LIRR a new set of signal wires less than a decade ago?"
  3. I suspect the bloody freight trains run overloaded gondolas over the light gauge rail (since passenger train derailments are few and far between and these sodding freight trains seem to derail four or five times a year, taking out the route for days on end). Any other railroad would impose ruinous monetary penalties for this sort of thing