Friday, June 30, 2006

Neighbours from Hell and the Police Force that doesn't

Mrs Stevie alerted me to a story breaking on Long Island of an arrest of a Syosset man for storing a shirtload of fireworks1 in his hot2 attic, conveniently near his ammo cache. The outrage in the story was over the supplies of big-bangables being directly over a baby's bedroom, but Mrs Stevie was more interested in the comment of a neighbour who was asked for his opinion of the whole affair.

The neighbour said "I dunno why anyone is surprised about this. We've reported them to the police every year for years with no action. Every year they build fires in the middle of the street and let off fireworks for days leading up to July 4th, and the police have never intervened. All they ever do is drive past and look."

The humour here is that that is almost word for word what I would have said if it were my neighbour being arrested for his activities in the world of unsupervised amateur explosives. The cops do not intervene. Indeed, one year when someone informed the police that my neighbour had taken delivery of a three ton truck loaded with fireworks (bright yellow truck, three-thirty in the afternoon, no real effort needed to spot the crime in progress here) the cops actually informed the perp that he had been shopped and left the clear indication it was me that blew the whistle (a misconception it took several years for me to eventually clear up).

I would have to say that given that it is almosty certain that many cops on the force would have bought fireworks from my neigbour in their youth or at the very least have friends who did, given that he deals them out of his garage with no attempt at stealth, given that he runs huge firework parties that shut down the street and last year reached the pitch that it took me over a week to clean my property of the fallout3 - all of which was observed by two cops in a squad car parked not fifty feet away - that only two conclusions are possible.

  1. The cops hereabouts are dumber than a cowpat with a learning disorder
  2. The cops hereabouts are all bought and paid for

Only when someone gets hurt (and it is a given that it won't be one of these idiots that gets theirs) will the boys in blue race into action and stand bewildered when the public doesn't herald them as heroic defenders of the public good.

1: Illegal in New York without a permit, which is damn near impossible to get as a private individual
2: Attics in this neck o' the woods that aren't power ventilated can easily become hotter than 100 degrees F.
3: We ain't talkin' Benwells bangers here. These fireworks are of the kind and size launched at Walt Disney World and the payload can include plastic squibs about the diameter of a Bic crystal pen and half the length of one that have a shattered, razor-sharp end and globular pieces of a sandstone-like mineral 3/4 inch in diameter. I still find stuff from last year in my lawn from time to time. The plastic razors are good toys for the kids to find.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Drainpipe Affair.

It rained solidly through most of last weekend. Saturday, I didn't mind so much because the nonsense with the CD tower had written off that day, but I was looking forward to a sunnier Sunday. T'was not to be.

During one of the infrequent breaks in the torrential rain I went round the back to check on the swimming pool and make sure it wasn't overflowing. This was when I discovered the water pouring down the siding of the house at the southeast corner. So much had washed down the siding that the earthen ramp I had built there for future Hosta installation and to aid drainage away from the house had in fact largely washed away. "This not look good" said Mr Brain for the second time that weekend, and he was definitely on a roll.

Since the rain had stopped I nipped round to the garage and got my light-duty ladder (aluminum, good for conducting any lightning strikes safely1 down to earth) and erected it next to what I assumed was a gutter blocked at the downspout bit with sycamore seed pods. No sooner was I on the ladder than the rain started down in a manner calculated to show everyone a thing or two in the line of deluges and prove that the previous monsoon was merely the opening movement in a piece of Wagnerian proportions.

Undauted, mostly, I continued up the ladder with a lighthearted "Screw this for a game of soldiers" and discovered that the gutter was empty of both water and seed pods, but the drainpipe was brimming full. I probed the end of the pipe but found no blockage. "Curiouser and curiouser" I said and deladdered at speed as the lightning started flashing decoratively around the sky.

Probing at the bottom of the pipe, I discovered a blockage. In order to help stop the basement flooding, I had long-ago equiped all the drainpipes with extending downspouts that telescope out to about three and a half feet from the house itself. They have been a very successful experiment. In order to secure them to the pipes, however, it was necessary to use a pin that goes through the pipe center made from 1/4 inch aluminum bar. In the twelve years or so that these things have been fitted, not one blockage has resulted from the arrangement despite misgivings on my part on that score, but this time the pin had hooked up something that had allowed the pipe to get well and truly clogged. No matter.

I pulled off the capitve end of the pin with Mr Pliers and (eventually) managed to withdraw the pin and remove the downspout. Still no joy. I was looking at the pipe in consternation from about a foot away when the blockage chose to clear itself. A plug of degenerate vegetable matter2 was ejected from the pipe with frightening force, to be followed immediately by a rocket-exhaust-like jet of water that slammed into the ground (already the consistency of chocolate pudding) and flung liquid mud in every direction but mostly mine.

When the pipe had exhausted its resources, where there had once been a modest earth embakment there was now a sizeable hole filled with water. Not for long though, since fortunately there was a basement for it to drain into. So it was that the neighbours, alerted by some sixth sense (or my loud cursing) were gathered to see me trudge back to the garage, ladder in hand, looking as though I had just tunneled out of Colditz via the castle sceptic tank.

1: Safe as long as you aren't on it, of course.
2: I later found it to be composed of 95% seed pods, 4.9% roof shingle grit (a binding agent with no nutritional value whatsoever) and .1% rotten hardwood dowel dumped in the gutter either by some mutinous bird or the resident squirrel terrorist which had got the ball rolling, so to speak

The CD Tower Fiasco of Death

Last Friday evening, as I was about to leave the house for my fortnightly Dungeons & Dragons manly high-stakes poker game, I was almost crushed to death by a crapolanch of epic proportions when the overloaded rotating CD Storage Tower of CD Storage leaned over and dumped the sixty or so CDs perched on top of it on me while I was tying my shoes.

As I lay groaning amongst the CDs, gray backing plates and crystal lids with one hinge busted off, Mrs Stevie arrived home and stepped over me with a witty "I thought you were going out to play soldiers tonight!" I explained the situation as best I could but she had already fled upstairs to do whatever it is she does with the door locked. I gathered up the debris and reorganised it, skillfully matching discs to storage cases and cases to lids with little regard for the matching of CD label and little-booklet-trapped-in-the-lid and made my way ot of the house, staunching the two or three dozen minor nicks left by razor-sharp CD lid shards.

And a manly time was then had for about four hours or so.

Saturday dawned and I realized that the CD tower problem wouldn't go away. Fortunately I had an appointment to get the Steviemobile serviced that would preclude Bizarre CD Tower Behaviour diagnosis and so had a couple of hours to myself. Once back I unloaded the 400 CDs from the tower and gave it a twirl. There was a disturbing crunching noise every rotation and the tower leaned at that point in a disturbing manner not conducive to peace of mind, CD-dumpage wise. Clearly "action" was needed. I turned the thing upside down, discovering a mound of ground plastic granules on the floor. "This not look good" said Mr Brain, and he wasn't wrong.

The turntable bearing on these things is actually a shallow plastic pipe, about 10 inches in diameter and, I dunno, maybe four deep that is latched inside the recessed base of the tower by four lugs. Once I had this detached by a process of gentle levering and genteel swearing I discovered that the bearing itself was a sandwich of ball bearings held captive in a ring of polythene. Elegant and simple.

The whole thing might have worked very well too, if not for the desire to produce the base as cheaply as possible. It was a double pipe of very thin plastic, with regular cross webbings to hold it all together. The flanged bearing surface ran between these two pipes, and was quite thin. Over the course of ten years the ball bearings had worn a shallow track in the flanged surface, deep enough to actually penetrate in two places, at which point the bearing surface had fractured and collapsed.

I considered several plans to repair the surface over a cup of tea, but none of them worked in Mr Brain's simulations without coming apart a few days from now. There was only one thing for it. I grabbed a piece of scrap pine from the coffee table which fitted inside the old flangeway quite nicely. It was warped so I gave it a couple of minutes with Mr Belt-Sander set to regulo 6 and leveled it. Then I grabbed a section of an old computer desk that fell apart on me owing to a basement flood too many and cut it to match the inside dimension of the recess in the tower base with Mr Japanese Pull-Saw. Then, weilding the Mighty Tube of Gorilla Glue of Fixing Stuff, I wet all the surfaces and stuck the pine slab into the base and the bit of computer desk onto the pine slab with lashings of glue, placing my Yes, Bowie, Fairports and Mrs Stevie's Elton John collections atop it in lieu of a clamp while the glue cured. Once it had set up I had converted the recessed base of the tower into a nice flat flush one. To this I screwed one of the 12 inch lazy susan bearings I rejected for use in the Hexagonal Jewelry Display Case of Inconvenience.

Thus it was that a mere 6 hours or so after I got home that the CD tower was once again happily storing CDs. It actually runs a lot smoother now. The bearing seems to only come into its own when loaded with whatever 400 CDs amount to. It bound up when I tried to use it for the Jewelry Display Case of Annoyance.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Breaking the Paradigm

Last weekend saw me conclude a job that breaks my lifelong rule: "No Tool, No Job". Yes, for the first time in kiloyonks I did a job without buying any tools.

I have spent the best part of two years staring at the inevitable results of doing elementary geometry in Mr Brain1 sitting on my driveway. I have spent 11 years moving four really old fenceposts that I reclaimed during a rare burst of energy when I refenced the entire property in '95. Said fenceposts had been preserved with something (I know not what) that was much more efficient than the carpenter ant & termite attractant they use today,and as a result had spent 30-odd years in the ground with no damage whatsoever. I wanted to use them for a deck I've been planning for years, but realistically, that deck is almost certainly never going to materialise and two weeks ago I just got fed up and decided to use them as scenic ties for a small landscaping project near the swimming pool.

Basically, I was going to turn a rather ratty sloped area into a nice tiered effect, which would then allow Mrs Stevie to relocate some of the Hostas that are in the process of reenacting the Triffid victory over Earth in our front garden. Ratty grassless area reclaimed and hidden, collection of fence posts arranged to good use, pile of dirt in the driveway severely diminished in size. A win-win-win situation.

Accordingly I collected some 2 foot long bits of rebar I had bought a year ago for a similar abandonned project, 4 lanscaping spikes purchased with the rebar, four fenceposts, Mr Chopsaw, Mr Hammerdrill, Messers Spade Bits, Gerald the Crowbar and Mr Powerwasher and got to work. Pulling eightpenny nails out of wood they'd sat in for forty years or so was interesting in the Chinese sense, but the posts cleaned up nice. A quick bit of visualising inside the unreliable chambers or Mr Brain and we were off.

I soon discovered that my elbow hadn't healed properly2 and that trying to do the job without Mr Lump Hammer (loaned to a friend some months ago along with Mr .22 Calibre Nail Gun) was going to be tedious. You see, the project called for the construction of three levels of interlocked ties/posts. The upper courses would be nailed to the lower ones with the landscaping spikes, but the lowest courses would need to be anchored in some way.

The way I chose to approach this was to use a two-foot length of ½ inch rebar as a spike. I drilled a ½ inch hole in one end of the first post once it was in position and drove the spike through the hole and into the ground. It worked rather well. Due to the incline, the other end of the post was buried in the ground and didn't in my judgement require a spike to stabilize it. Time will tell.

Of course, several sawn-off posts had to be laid in the ground and required spiking, and a good few of them would be over buried bricks, tree roots and other impediments to urban landscaping. Once the decision to start driving a rebar spike was taken, it couldn't be revoked, resulting in recourse to Mr Hacksaw on two swear-word laden occasions. The first one may have been the result of my ingenious method of ridding myself of a concrete and chainlink fence, demolished by idiots and that I couldn't persuade the town to take3. The second was a bloody Sumac root. Well, driving the rebar and landscaping spikes proved so tedious I broke off work and tried to locate the whereabouts of my lump hammer. I am still awaiting a call back on that as I type. Fortunately, Mike the Shaman had inhereted a rather nice lump hammer and he foolishly offered it to me when he heard my moans of pain the following monday and demanded the full story. It was therefore fully enhammered that I strode forth last Saturday.

Into the rain.

So Plan "B" was immediately put into effect and La Famile Stevie decamped to IHOP for breakfast. On the way home I bought two more lengths of rebar and four more spikes "for my peace of mind".

Sunday dawned relatively dry and so I set to with a will and managed to get all the posts spiked in place and a good quantity of soil relocated from the front drive to the Tiers of Niftyness.

I ran out of wood, of course. Fortunately I still had the three-foot offcuts from the monkey-bar extension to Fort Stevieling lying around eating crisps and so I was able to press-gang them into service. I was even able to get around a short (about a foot and a half) tie that lay right over a really really thick tree root by using a scavanged angle bracket to attach the short tie to the longer one it abutted. It all worked rather well.

1: There are not nine cubic feet in a cubic yard, it turns out
2: Injured during The Flatpack Gazebo of Death Fiasco
3: What I like to call the "Bury It Under The Swimming Pool" plan

Monday, June 12, 2006


La Famile Stevie attended a Fairport Convention concert on the evening of Sunday, June 11th, at the University Cafe on the Stonybrook campus.

The lineup was:

  • Simon Nicoll - Guitar, vocals
  • Ric Sanders - Violin
  • Chris Leslie - Mandolin, Bazouki, Flute, Violin, Maracas and Vocals

The set list (as far as memory serves me) was:

  1. Over The Next Hill
  2. Woodworm Swing
  3. Banbury Fair
  4. Sheriff's Ride 1
  5. The Upton Upon Severn Stickdance 1
  6. Already There
  7. Sophisticated Lady2
  8. Here, There and Everywhere3
  9. Now Be Thankful
  10. Canny Capers
  11. The Wood And The Wire
  12. Over The Lancashire Hills
  13. Rose Hip
  14. The Fossil Hunter
  15. Slipjigs And Reels
  16. John Gaudie
  17. Hiring Fair
  18. Cosmic Fiddle Break
  19. Summertime
  20. Written on the Stone
  21. Meet on the Ledge (Encore)
1: Albion Band
2: Duke Ellington
3: McCartney

The concert was of the usual high standard, and although there were bound to be reservations about the "rhythm section free" lineup, the musicians' skill and years of experience more than compensated and the lineup stood well on its own merits.

The setting was small, I'd estimate a total capacity of a hundred or so, making for an intimate atmosphere that lent itself well to the evenings entertainment (notwithstanding a clerestory window that allowed the setting sun to blind everyone at times). And entertainment there was in spades.

When musicians are as accomplished as the three we are discussing here, and moreover have such a lengthy pedigree of live performance that one might imagine nothing could derail them once they are on stage, one is almost guaranteed a rewarding musical experience. Add to everything else a chemistry between the band members that enables them to anticipate each other and work together to imbue the music with a rare energy and verve and you have the ingredients for a really good time for the ears and eyes, and Sunday night was just that - a really good time.

Material varied from staples of Fairport performances such as John Gaudie and Hiring Fair to rarities like the haunting Over The Lancashire Hills and the unrecorded-as-Fairport The Upton Upon Severn Stickdance. Ballads were followed by rapid-fire jigs and lazy jazz-era numbers that were a treat to see done "Fairport-style". The band looked like they were having a good time and the audience definitely were.

I look forward to seeing them again next year, and to the return of Peggy and Gerry to the line-up, but would urge anyone to go and see this show if they have the chance.

The only fly in the ointment was that this was also a "Matty" free performance, the first I've ever seen. I confess to being disappointed by that