Monday, September 25, 2006

Beware Australians Bearing Chocolate

Mrs Stevie's Australian friends sent home a bag of Cadbury's chocolate Caramelo Koalas for me, an Australian delicacy of some note. Milk chocolate Koalas filled with soft caramel. Death in a bag.

I should like to take this opportunity to thank them for their kindness. I would write more but I'm feeling sick on account of all the caramel-stuffed chocolate Koalas I've eaten. I am so going to run off to Australia one day and start a new life on a sheep station. Or in a newsagent. One that sells chocolate Koalas.

You Know Things Are Bad When Even The LIRR Can't Muster The Enthusiasm To Have A Proper Delay

We lost 10 minutes off todays start time because first a brake jammed on then a door jammed open. Then they fixed both and off we went. This, for the LIRR constitutes a new low in attempted commutation disruption. It is the functional equivalent of that curse from The Black Adder that went: Dear Enemy, I hope something unfortunate happens to you like an egg falling on your head (or something).
They simply aren't trying.

Monday, Monday, Can't Stand That Day

This morning I was treated to the sight of the bloke sitting across from me on my train flossing his teeth. Up until that point I had thought I had seen so much in New York my gag reflex was well and truly under voluntary control. Not any more. No doubt acts of personal hygene will become standard performance art pieces on the LIRR now that people think they can get their pictures in the New York Daily News.

Spent Sunday closing down the swimming pool, sorta. The residual chlorine levels are still so monumentally high that I have to forego adding the Egg of Stasis1 and dismantling the filtering system. This year I plan not to drain the pool down to the outlets, but to install blanking plugs over the skimmer and return jet. We'll see how successful this plan is in the next few days as and when I actually get round to that bit.

I scrubbed, washed and deflated all out inflatable airbeds, "river-rat" tubes and so forth using the patent mini inflator/deflator I bought to defeat the safety nozzles these damned floaties are fitted with last year. Granted the idea that prevents the float from deflating if the plugs get kicked out by boisterous kids is a good one, it makes deflating them without a special tool very difficult and time-consuming. Luckily, my deflator really sucks, which in this case is a good thing.

Saturday I spent feeling ill. Some sort of residual problem has my ears still whistling albeit not deafeningly so, and my blood pressure seems to be spiking every now and then and making my face burn as though I had taken some B12 and boy am I sweating. Mrs Stevie offered some comforting words along the lines of "Could be worse, could be me" and departed Manhattanwards to meet with visiting Australians clutching the Stevieling in one hand and a jumbo mug of Hi-Test Espresso con Espresso in the other. So, she would rather spend the day with visiting Australians than her husband, eh? I would show her! I went back to bed.

Around midday I decided to get my finger out and perform the commodectomy I promised I would. Gathering Mr Socket set, Messers Self-Adjusting Pliers and Son, Mr Really Long Cabinet Screwdriver, a pair of polyethylene gloves and a fistful of contractor's garbage "steel sacks" I performed a rapid tankectomy, loaded the tank into a garbage bag and moved it out of theater. Only about a pint of water fell onto the towels I put down to catch fallout, but it was nasty blue-gunge infested water2 so that was all right. I had drained the tank as far as I could, but didn't want to wrastle my wet-vac up two flights of stairs for the eggcupful of water I knew was trapped by the tank geometry. Once the first bolt was undone the gunk and water drained out onto the towels without further ado. Now came the unpleasant part. One flange bolt came off with no problem. The other didn't. I eventually fitted a cut-off wheel to Mr Dremel and started trying to cut either the nut or the bolt itself. After about three minutes of this, the rubber gasket in the commode base melted and the flange-bolt simply fell through the hole that left. I quickly yelled "Exactly as I planned" in case there was anyone watching and steeled myself for the next bit.

I dunno if anyone reading this has ever thought much about how a toilet works, or how the stuff you put in there goes away when you flush it. I will try and explain as delicately as I can. The wastepipe ends in a flange about 6-8 inches across with an internal ridge. The two bolts that anchor your toilet to the floor (usually hidden by two little domes of coloured plastic) are actually fitted into a keyhole slot in this flange and tightened to mate the pipe with the ceramic shaped fitting on the underside of the commode. Naturally, it is of primary importance that this mating of pipe and ceramic commode be tight. As in watertight. We don't want each flush to result in leakage of, well the technical term is greywater, under any circumstances. This would be worse than bad. It would be positively medieval. "But how can the required tolerances be achieved?" I hear you ask, and that is very perceptive of you. Even though commodes are made by a moulding process these days, it isn't practical to engineer them to exact tolerances when it comes to pipes and flanges. For a start, the commodes may be metric these days if you buy a fancy French one, and your fifty-year old pipes are probably measured in units derived from the distance between the elbow and tip of the middle finger of Canute. Uncertainty ensues, which we have already ascertained is not a good thing in this instance.

The answer is that wond'rous invention of modern plumbing, The Wax Ring. Basically this is a large washer made of wax. It goes inside the flange fitting and squelches up around the commode as the flange bolts are tightened, forming a watertight Gasket of Greywater Containment. Elegant and simple to install. What's not to like?

I'l bloody well tell you what's not to like. What's not to like is what confronts you when you finally get the flange-bolts removed, lift off the commode and see what it looks like after 20+ years, that's what. The wax ring had deformed as it should which meant it was going to be a bastard to scrape out so I could install a new one. It had also become home to a colony of mildew that was having a very nice time. Luckily, any residual "greywater solids" had washed down the pipe before the flood (this had been a something of a worry at the back of what passes for my mind) and the pipe environs were dry and if not exactly sweet, not reeking cess-pits worthy of Satan hisself. I moved the commode into another steel sack (great products these by the way: 5 Steviestars) and got it outside before tackling the job of wax removal. Which I'm still doing because the wax is a bugger to shift. I'm tempted to use a torch to melt it but I don't want to send molten wax into the wastepipe. I got the vast majority of it but of course it's the last five percent that will take forever, like in any clean-up.

My original plan was to replace the entire flange fitting but the way the pipe is shaped I won't be able to do that. The fitting is soldered in place and without dismantling the entire sub-floor I really can't get at the joints with a torch. The shape of the pipe also means that Mr Sawzall won't be able to step in and mediate either. It's all very irritating.

I decided to stop work and wound down by pulling up some of the original tiles. Interestingly, I found that those I call The Builders3 followed standard historical practice from time immemorial and built the current edifice over existing ruined structures. My sense of wonder was kindled as my eager hands excavated further into the dig, but soon I realised I was losing the light and so reluctantly had to close down operations for the night. My discoveries were placed lovingly in a steel sack for transfer to a suitable evaluation facility and I was laft as dusk fell contemplating the eerily beautiful sight4 of what I'm calling Bog II, which I've tentatively assigned to the Kennedy period. What lies beneath that? Only time and further excavations will tell. I can reveal that Bog II had a plywood floor that was already damaged by a previous inundation. The repairs, made by spreading mortar over the broken surface to level it prior to installing ceramic tile, were crude even by the standards of Kennedy-period artisans. Could Bog II be even older? I think not; it is always a trap to assign more primitive dates to Genaro-fashion installations as the basic naffness of the artisans must always be factored in. Though this is a subjective process, the keen eye of experience is rarely fooled. I believe Bog II, the precursor to the current ruined Bog, to be itself built on the ruins of a far older Bog III. If true, this could rock the establishment to its very core.

1: A copper sulphate dispenser from what I can make out. It's supposed to help fight witer algae build up. Works, more or less, judging by previous years.
2: Was the blue gunge some sort of thread sealant on the tank securing bolts? Was it leftover bowl disinfectant, distilled down to blue toffee after a month in the tank base? No man can say for sure without licking it. Not it!
3: Genaro (ibid)
4: Relatively speaking

Friday, September 22, 2006

Extra! Extra! Read All Abaht It!

In breaking news yesterday the NYPD started a radiation sweep to determine background levels for some purpose probably having to do with the war on terror. They found a park in Staten Island which had very high levels of radium contamination hitherto unsuspected1, left over from some dumping operation (Staten Island is essentially one big landfill which explains why their periodic threats to secede from NYC are treated with humour instead of the vicious reprisals such lack of loyalty demand).

Speaking for myself I find great comfort in finally being able to breathe easier knowing as I now do that were a 'dirty bomb' to go off in NYC, chances are no-one would be able to tell the difference.

Of course, this represents the most awful PR disaster for Mayor Bloomberg. If he had been on the ball and in the know, he could have tipped off the President years ago and the search for WMD could have come up with a result which didn't require all that mucking about in Johnny Arabland. The troops could have been sent to La Guardia for a fraction of the cost of a trip to Bagdhad, and could have taken in a performance of "Phantom" before their triumphant return home to Washington DC bearing "Mission Accomplished" pennants.

To those who object to the jocular comparison of a legendarily run-down, cratered, un-navigable, war-torn flea-infested pestilential stench-hole with a hub of international travel I say "Well, I don't suppose Baghdad is very nice now either".

1: except by the fire department who apparently knew all along but weren't telling anyone not wearing big yellow rubber boots according to the rather confused report I saw last night.2
2: This, more than anything, highlights the importance of having good relations with your fire department. Be nice to your firemen, lest they hide all the really good radium contaminated waste. Words to live by.

At The End Of The Day

The New York Daily News, fresh from whatever it was that it just got done (the illegal parking going on by court officers in Chinatown I think) has decided to take on the 'lack of politeness' by the LIRR commuters. This is a bit rich. Although they definitely have a point about people not behaving politely, reasonably or even rationally on the LIRR everyone knows that it is the railroad itself that is the source of all annoyance, inconvenience, bad humour, poor intelligence and poor service. The rude commuters are simply a symptom of this deeper ill, this malaise, this blight on civilisation. One cannot deny facts like that.

Besides, no-one writing at the Daily News actually rides the LIRR for any meaningful length of time on a regular basis. I don't mind people joining in the call to, for example, tar and feather anyone taking a call on one of those misbegotten squawkphones with a bleep so loud it loosens fillings while on the train. Nor do I object to having the filthy bastards that dump old food and beer on the floor at 2:15 pm so the evening commuters can enjoy them later revealed as the animals they are. But if you are going to write the stories, at least have people who ride the bastard trains to realistic destinations do the writing, eh? Rule of thumb: If you can get there by subway, you aren't a LIRR commuter because you have options. If you ride to anywhere neare than Jamaica you aren't a LIRR commuter because you both have options (' E ' from Sutphin Boulevard for one) and barely have the time to notice whatever is wrong before you disembark. And if you only commute three days a week, you don't count because you are an affluent git who probably can afford their own airship in the event of trouble.

If the NYDN wants to get the real story, it should have it written by those sterling souls who commute from Port Jefferson and further away, no less than five days a week. Only these poor buggers have the investment of time on the system, investing as they do three or more hours a day on the bugger.

And Just When It Reaches The Point Of Not Being Able To Get Any Worse, The Wheels Come Off And It Does

I finally got a very stupid, annoying, overlong-in-the-solving-of, boring [ three pages of adjectives ommited for brevity ] rse-end of a job to run properly last night and so I celebrated by going home for my tea. I should explain that for this conversion of an old job to a new transaction environment I checked all the error handling first (really the only bit I designed myself) and when that was airtight I tested the working condition and I had the world's best error-handler that actually wouldn't do anything useful for the longest while because of a stupid switch setting and some legacy architecture that wasn't being helpful. The ear-whistle is also having a detrimental effect on my concentration (still). Gah!

When I got to Wyandanch (Pearl of the East) I was walking across the car park towards the Fabulous Steviemobile when I cam across a Toyota Something missing a few feet of expensive rear bumper and four wheels, posed artistically on two axle stands placed under the sills midway down the car's body. Mr brain milled for a moment and then leapt to the conclusion that someone had stolen a vehicle, driven it to the carpark and stripped it for crack-money (it would be difficult to envisage a less businesslike attempt to divest a vehicle of the valuable bits). Crackheads are bad news because they cause a lot of damage in their attempts to get small but valuable bits from one's car, and once they start they often go on a spree. With some trepidation I approached the Steviemobile, but all was well1.

I fired her up and coasted round to the sculpture, intending to get the number so I could call the police and report the "stolen" car, when I came upon two gentlemen standing nearby, obvious LIRR commuters by their dazed expressions and haunted looks. I wound down my window and asked if anyone had already called it in. "Yep", said one, "When I called in the report on my own car". It seems that the car hadn't necessarily been dumped after all, but may have been one of several that were jacked up and had their wheels stolen while their owners were at work. Magic.

Wyandanch is a depressed area, with a large population of people in what is usually described as "reduced circumstances". Pink Floyd put it rather better in Breathe2 when they used the phrase "quiet desperation", but occasionally things aren't so quiet. What galls is that there are often plenty of police around writing tickets, typically at the month's start or end (nope, no ticket quotas here in NY, nossir), but there is always more broken windshield glass lying around than anyone is comfortable with. This new level of skullduggery is a bit much though. You'd have thought someone would notice three cars losing their wheels in less-than-optimal circumstances.

1: I try and park so my car is either fully visible from the street or is next to the fence of a local autobody shop. Anyone thieving from my car would be seen straight away. It is my hope this drives the skittish and shy Thievingus Crackheaddium to greener pastures.
2: From Dark Side Of The Moon. Keep up!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Same Ol' Say Mole

A miserable day spent wrestling with a problem at work while the weather gradually turned foul.

A commute that went well for 20 minutes until Jamaica, at which point two Spanish ladies sat opposite to me and a computer consultant sat in the next bay. Thence began the cell phoning. Spanish #1 lady yapped until Bethpage (35 minutes) then passed the phone to lady #2 so she could have a turn until Farmingdale when they got off thank Azathoth, but the prize had to be the foghorn-leghorn consultant who sat down and began howling into his phone to someone about powering down the server and then powering it back up and didn't stop until Wyandanch (40 minutes or so). Indeed, he only hung up when he had to get off the train at my stop. What the hell did we do before cell phones were invented? How on earth did civilization endure? Well, I managed to read part of my book, in the pauses these two major subscribers drew breath probably since the stream of quickfire spanish and the yelled instructions regarding toggle switches were a tad distracting to the process. I reckon if you tell someone to turn a device off and they don't get it you should just give up, go back and do it yourself.

Got home in fog and rain, and walked the 1/4 mile to my car (now in the overflow car park since all the rich lawyers are back at work and filling up my regular spot with their osamamobiles), picked up the Stevieling engaged her in homework gear, dismantled the rest of the vanity, dumped it outside, drained the toilet tank, washed and did a bit of work on my home computer and then it was 12:30 am. Magic. Day well spent.

Or not. Mrs Stevie just called to ask if I had written "my letter". Apparently, one of the Stevielings teachers had this "cute" idea that each parent write their kid a letter covering four bullet points like What we felt like when she was born (and I bet her mother doesn't write "split from belly button to anus" for that), what our aspirations for her are and so forth. I pointed out that I didn't have the crib sheet and therefore couldn't be expected to get the assignment done. Mrs Stevie snarled that she thought that I was typing it last night. I told her that no, in fact I was doing other important stuff. There was a pause while she swigged from what was undoubtedly a Double-Double Espresso Muchas Grande and opined that I should have picked up the assignment sheet she left for me that morning (why would she leave it for me if she thought I'd already done the bloody thing? No man can say). I pointed out that if she wanted me to get the paper, she needed to give it to me since the process of crap siltage in our house is a constant one rather like that seen raining down on the Titanic 24x7 only worse. The paper was undoubtedly buried ten seconds after she put it down under other things before I left the shower. Stupid Japanese-American back-to-front comic books, text books, bits of paper moved to find any of same on the coffee table (which is actually an elevated crap support platform whose sole purpose seems to be to make sure there is plenty of room for about fifteen pairs of shoes under it without the need to put "shoes" on top of "crap" or "crap" on top of "shoes"). All these have a way of moving over stuff I have placed in clear view so I don't forget them when I leave the house (my car keys, wallet, train ticket and cell phone are usually lost within seconds if I put them on any surface that the others can see for example).What a way to start the day. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Bathrooms and Pools - Never Go In Them

Having recognized that Mrs Stevie is getting serious about rebuilding the upstairs bathroom1, I arrived home last night determined to make a start by tearing out what's left of the chipboard vanity. I decided to leave the commode to later since it involves draining it2 and lugging very heavy porcelain bits hither and yon, which meant that working room would be in very short supply, there being about five inches between the lip of the commode and the vanity now (why this was built this way beats me, but I've been too scared to actually start doing anything about it until now). My solution for this nitwit design is to move the sink into the corner which will mean a zigzag trip to get to the bath but more legroom all round. We hope. Relocating the Commode by any means other than an angled flange fitting (which allows about a four-inch sideways shift) is right out. I am not in the market for either a bathectomy or a major soil-pipe relocation.

I started by removing the vanity doors. That went rather well. Then I nipped downstairs to turn off the upstairs water. This is achieved by turning two handwheels, much like U-boat crews staunch leaks in those old WWII movies with the exciting difference that in U-boats the designers took the elementary precaution of not locating handwheels between the pipe they control and a cast iron wastepipe. The wheels turned fairly freely but are old so required nipping up with Mr Stillsons the pipe wrench. Job done and back up two flights of stairs to recommence sink excision.

I decided to bank on the sink, a one-piece faux marble fiberglass affair, being attached to the vanity Genaro-fashion (ibid) and a few tugs on the thing confirmed that this might be the case so I simply undid the flexible couplings at the risers3 and confronted the Wastepipe Question.

A wastepipe is a very clever thing really. It incorporates a u-bend that serves two major purposes. Firstly and foremost, it serves as a weak spot that will fail and flood the vanity with a foul admixture of soap, mildew, hair, hairgrips, backing clips from ear-rings, hair bands and water when using a rubber plunger (aka plumber's helper). Secondly, it forms an airtight seal that prevents the Stenches of the Septic System entering the domicile. It is obviously crucial to somehow preserve this seal when removing the sink if one is not in a position to immediately refit another in it's place. Since our sink will be absent lo! these many weeks while I tear down and rebuild I was faced with the prospect of improvising a bag/rag/plug of some sort or leaving the obviously working water trap in place. I elected for the second option on grounds of less brain needed (Mr Brain is not my friend, the less he is involved the better is my rule of thumb). This choice presented another bout of introspection. I could see that the water trap had been installed Genaro-fashion too, with the top of the trap's compression fitting below the waste pipe mean datum, and were I to simply undo the compression fitting and slide out the waste pipe a good deal of the water in the trap would spill out onto the floor. I therefore elected to cut the sink wastepipe above the fitting. I dithered for a bit, mentally struggling with an imaginary Dremel in the confined workspace, then simply shrugged and went back to basics. I used Mr Hacksaw. I have relied so much on the Dremel of late that I'm afraid perfectly good tools like Mr Hacksaw have sat for years unused. Then I made a display case for a friend and needed the precision that a handsaw can give and was pleasantly surprised by the speed at which this thing could cut. I had quite forgotten.

In two shakes of a lamb's whatsit I had the pipe cut and was able to swing the sink into a vertical plane so I could reach the flexible pipe fittings and the faucet mounting bolts. Thank Azathoth for the Genaro ingenuity of eschewing all the screws that are normally used to secure an integral sink/vanity top to the vanity itself in favour of allowing good old-fashioned gravity and the wastepipe to hold the thing in place! Much quicker to get the faucet off this way that to install it during the aftermath of the flood, I can tell you. Once the sink was out in the back yard with the vanity doors I was able to see a small amount of water welling up from the risers. "This not look good" said Mr Brain and so I leapt into action with my nifty self-adjusting Pliers of Gripping and managed against all expectation to get the buggers to turn and close. Of course the little taps turned out to be stamped brass hollow shapes rather than solid handles and were badly mangled during the process but serves the buggers right I say. Then it was back down to the for'ard torpedo room to nip up the handwheels a bit tighter in anticipation of a leak free commodectomy later this week and I was done for the night. I went and had my dinner (leftover General Tsao's chicken, a bit soggy but leftover Chinese always is) and we watched the first half of Without a Clue to decompress.

The rest of the vanity will come apart tonight with a screwdriver and I can start worrying about the sheetrock conundrum. This can be basically stated as "The sheetrock has been laid Genaro-fashion". A previous aborted tile wall has been covered with new sheetrock rather than tearing the old wall off first. So there are two layers of sheetrock to come down. So far, so doddle. But. The bath area also subscribes to this two layers theory. I emphatically do not want to tear out the walls around the tub and re-tile so some sort of transition must be arranged 'twixt new single-layer wall and old double-layer plus tile. I plan to run my Dremel in Spiral Saw configuration down the tile line to cut the sheetrock parallel to the tile edge, but what then? I doubt I shall be able to find a commercial bevel tile that will do what I need. It's all very frustrating.

On the plus side I think I'm finally getting the swimming pool water back to it's proper state. I have been struggling for most of last month and all of this one to combat a recurring problem with green algae. Experience has taught me that keeping this stuff at bay is fairly easy. Keep the pool chlorinated, filter at least six hours a day and most importantly, keep the pH at around 7.5 because as soon as the water turns acid green algae will bloom. Well, I done all them things guv, and I still had a problem. Cloudy water, filthy floor, the works. I worked each night to clean it but nothing seemed to do the trick. I finally decided to bite the bullet and fitted a new filter (something I was loath to do right at the seasons end since they cost a fortune) and that seemed to turn the (green) tide. I also went very much against my policy and added a cupfull of black algaecide, something I was proud to have avoided the need for since I want my kid and the neighbours kids swimming in water, not developer or battery electrolyte. I added some shock, ran the filter for 12 hours, eight of them connecting it to The Pool Cleaning Robot Of Extreme Uselessness4 and this morning there was only the smallest patch of green fallout. Job almost done, hopefully. Once the water and pool floor are clean I can close up the pool since I am the only one who would get into it now with the water so cool and that would be to clean the bugger. It's a pity really. If I could have nailed this a week ago I could have swum last weekend, the weather was so nice. Of course, I've also got this bloody ear infection. Never mind.

1: She does have a point. Not only is the place a complete wreck and totally unusable for any purpose but storing all her hair-care products in the tub, we've had a replacement commode sitting in a box in the front bedroom for about five years now.
2: Can't flush it dry because I believe the wax flange sealing ring has broken up. Any flushed water will overflow the soil pipe and run either down it to the lower floors (bad) or all over the floor and initiate Domestic flood Zelda (very bad indeed).
3: The little taps under the sink that are supposed to let you shut off the water in a controlled fashion in the event of a problem Ours welded in the open position around the time pterodactyls decided to call a spade a spade and grow feathers.
4: So-called because it runs in patterns that miss spots and won't work at all unless the filter is squeaky clean which it stops being about three seconds after The Pool Cleaning Robot Of Extreme Uselessness is deployed.

Monday, September 18, 2006


The infection is gone but the quack says my crustacean tubes are still blocked with fluid. I think that's what he said. It's very hard to hear anything over the whistling of the Tinitus. This, and a hefty dose of laziness has precluded posting the tale of how the Long Island Rail Road almost got me to the doctors a week last Thursday but not quite. I'll do it at the end of this one.


I was invited to attend a wine-tasting with some friends this night and so I decided to make a day of it, took the afternoon off and went to my quack where I demanded an ear-syringing with menaces. I've been a rather good customer of Doc Rubberglove ever since he figured out what was trying to kill me in '94 and though he couldn't fix it he did get it sorted enough for me to return to what I laughingly call my life, so although he (correctly) said that he didn't think it would do any good he obliged me. It didn't do much good. He suggested a course of cortisone pills to open up the crustacean tubes that he believes connect my nose to my ear. I humoured him and accepted his scrip for yet more pills, even though his suggestion that my ear and nose are connected by some sort of tube smacks of 18th century Burke-and-Hare era quackery. If that was so I should be able to hear through my nose and detect frying bacon from the next room by hearing the smell. I mean, the idea simply does not stand up to rigorous scientific examination. Were the nose an organ of hearing, Dolby wouldn't have had to invent 5.1 surround sound from scratch because 3.1 of it would have been there for him to crib from. QED.

The wine tasting went very well, with me restricting myself to 1/3 of a glass of each vintage, washing my mouth with copious amounts of water between them and so forth. Everyone else was using the 'fill 'er up, no, use the same glass, it's quicker' method so the staff were a little surprised at first. The snacks were good too, but I waited until I had picked my favourite and grabbed a full glass of it (I went for the champagne-style fizzy plonk; very nice brut I reckon and bought a bottle to take home) before I dug in. The group I went with, about ten strong, was amazed when I turned up with champers and demanded to know how I got it. 'By asking nicely' I said. I gave a bottle of Merlot to the people who invited us and to Ralph'n'Mrs Ralph who are just nice folks we know well and see far less often than we'd like. Even though I drank pints of water from the time I left to the time I went to bed (I put a bottle of ice water in the car before I set out) I ended up with a headache most of Saturday morning, but it got better when Mrs Stevie went to NYC with her friend Bill to see some play about the Singing Nun. The Stevieling and I just hung out, had breakfst at noon, played Nintendo, went shopping for swimming pool bits and ignored each other for most of the late afternoon. It was judged by all except Mrs Stevie to be a great success as days went. Mrs Stevie was so enraged that we hadn't 'done anything useful' that she insisted on going out on Sunday to buy the corner vanity we need to start repairing the bathroom from hell, destroyed by Domestic Flood Xena (ibid). She phoned Lowes and was told the package was 16 inches on a side, not unreasonable if it was a flat-pack. She wanted to put it on the roof of the Mrs Steviemobile but I told her it should go in the cargo deck. She grabbed a Trippple Espresso Latté Sinus Cleaner Special, downed it in three gulps and stomped off to remove the boat-personlike collectione de crappe she routinely has filling her vehicle, and then we set out.

We located the  Lowes  after an exciting trip around the hucking fuge shopping complex and then located the sink. It was on a shelf eight feet up and was 34 inches on a side, being a fully assembled unit (weighing 65 pounds, around 30 kilos for my Eurometric-conditioned readers to blinded by the pounds to do the math). "See how fortunate it is that I insisted on cleaning out the car?" I said, but Mrs Stevie was brooking no conversation. We persuaded the one guy on the floor to help us. He declined to seek out a forklift in favout of my helping him get it down. I couldn't reach it and have a curent problem with my left elbow and permanent problems with my right (damaged in the  Home Despot  flat-pack gazebo loading of agony fiasco debacle) and so I declined that option. Two  Lowes  staff wrastled the thing down eventually but they were seconds from serious injury the whole time from where I was standing. Then came some faucet buying, wallpaper buying and curtain rod buying that left me with the distinct impression that Mrs Stevie was actually serious about me rebuilding the bathroom. I had been working to a slightly different plan that involved closing the door and not speaking of the place ever again, but came to see the logic in her choice after a frank exchange of views on the drive home.


The whistling in my ear got so bad that I couldn't sleep and I arrived at work (eventually, the Long Island Rail Road staged a minor event at Mineola by having the crossing gates short out. Mineola has about six to eight grade crossings around the Station so there was 'some congestion' while one guy with some jump-leads raised and lowered the gates by creative Igorism in the junction box) in no state to actually work. Being essentiually honest I elected to go back home rather than sleep at my desk and so Monday afternoon saw me tucked up in bed, finally, asleep. Then I slept through Tuesday until Mrs Stevie rang me around 5 pm to see if I was 'all right'. This is something she has been publically avowing is not the case, so what with the whistling and the sleepiness I was a tad confused until I remembered the dishwasher needed loading, so I got up and did that then went back to bed. Could she in fact be begining to suspect the truth about the periods when I am unsupervised at home (ibid)? A quick check of my collection of rare continental DVDs showed all was secure and undisturbed, the browser cache was totally clean as were the three other places in the computer I know that information gets caught so my occasional visits to certain instructional sites remain my own affair. Perhaps I wasn't thourough enough last time in the clean-up. I made a mental note to be more careful with the laundry hamper and the honey and went back to bed. I woke up on Wednesday fit for the world and so back to work. Not much to say there really so I'll skip back to a week ago.

A Week Last Thursday

I got a phone call from the Lawyer at about 3:45 to say that the poor git who I saw creamed outside my house by a landscapers truck had gotten them to settle and so I wouldn't be needed. This was good news because the problem with my ear was making me feel very ill. I quickly dialed my quack and begged to be put on his schedule that night. They told me he could fit me in if I could get there at 5:30. A quick look at the LIRR website showed a train back to Wyandanch, Pearl of the East in exactly 40 minutes so I slammed the phone down, and dashed for the train. All went well until we got to Bethpage, three stops from Wyandanch. Then an announcement was made that there was a stalled train at Pinelawn.

Pinelawn is a stop conveniently located next to a cemetery. It has off-peak service on about four trains. It is not a popular stop by any means. Its main claim to fame in this unfolding disaster is that it lies at the start of the single track section of the line that stretches from there to Deer Park, one stop after mine. Thus, the LIRR was for all intents and purposes crippled in both directions on the Ronkonkoma branch. The announcer jovially said that we were going to be dumped at the next stop, Farmingdale, and that busses would be arranged for our continued commute.

This sounds more helpful than it really is. Typically, it takes around two hours for these busses to start arriving and by then, usually, the problem is fixed. No-one with more than 6 months LIRR experience would believe this story was good news. I leapt over several less-savvy commuters and raced to the cab rank to discover two, count 'em, two cabs waiting. One a small Voyager-type 7 seater, the other a standard five seater sedan. Luckily I ran into a co-worker and we hurriedly negotiated two to Wyandanch with the driver and two others wanted to go to Central Islip, about 5 miles along the line further east. Job done? No. When I went to get in there was a woman sitting in 'my' seat, claiming she was one of the two to Wyandanch.

Normally I would cede the seat to a lady, but my ear was killing me and I had the driver and my co-worker on my side so I turfed her out and we got underway finally. As we passed Pinelawn we could see hundreds of people sitting on the grass killing time because no cab company had the brains to send out a car to dispatch for them there1. It was like Woodstock (the good one, not the stupid retro thing done a few years ago) but with less nudity on account of it being a cemetery.

I finally transferred my flag to the Steviemobile at around 5:30 and began the drive to Quackland (Bayshore). A drive that under normal circumstances should take no more than 25 minutes ended up taking 45 due to the above average quotient of dimwits in Osamamobiles. Once again the principle of Bigger Car = Smaller Brain was in prominent display as these behemoths of the road seemed to constantly be in the wrong lane, requiring them to jam themselves over two lanes and the odd solid line in an attempt to correct the situation sans signals. So much for the vaunted extra visibility these stupid things are supposed to convey to the driver.

Eventually I got to my quack and he very efficiently diagnosed a middle ear infection, prescribed antibiotics and away I drove with my right ear doing selections from the Steamboat and Union Pacific Locomotive Steam Whistle collection for company.

As for the Long Island Rail Road I have a couple of questions.

  1. When a train begins indicating a fault is occurring, why allow the crew to pull it into a single track section before declaring it unmoveable? I've actually been on trains that did this. The single-track section should be verbotten if the train is showing a fault of any kind. This should be a rule of operation.
  2. When a stalled train has taken the service out, by all means call these busses. But wouldn't it have been an idea to forewarn the cab operator at the station so he or she could have called out their reserves BEFORE the hordes descended on their two drivers? I know the LIRR is not affiliated with the cab companies but this would seem to be an elementary bit of customer service that would cost nothing to implement that a call from the local station manager's representative. That's what a station manager is needed for.
I also have a question for the overworked cab operator and his/her colleagues along the line.

You obviously (to judge by the radio traffic) were not prepared for the rush, nor willing to undertake journeys to the further stations. Why do you not have agreements with the other local station operatives to daisy-chain the fares from one to the other? If the Farmingdale company does not want to send all its cabs east because of a reasonable objection to starving their usual local customers of their means of transport, why not pass the load on and (and this is the clever bit) receive paying return fares for the journey west. After all, the west-bound trains were out of action too. If you wanted to really make the customer happy, you could do this for a very reasonable rate (rather than the entirely unreasonable 20 bux you charged me for a two mile trip because you feared you would be 'dead-heading' back again). 5 Dollars would have covered it nicely I should have thought.

Once again a fairly well-known and well-defined problem caused the LIRR to break down in a welter of information loss and dithering. It boggles the mind that a company that has been doing a simple job for over a hundred years still cannot get this stuff right. Every year the service is interrupted because trees get blown down on the tracks in the Fall. Of course, knowing this one might take the elementary step of inspecting the trackside and cutting the trees during the off-peak holiday seasons of July and August when ridership is down. Every year the tunnels get blocked because only one is signaled in both directions. If listened to this lame excuse for twenty five years. Yes, signaling a tunnel in an expensive and labor intensive operation, but when it is done the benefits will outweigh all that for Azathoth's sake! When blizzards cause problems they get exacerbated by the LIRR not having clear plans and staff to execute those plans. One time I watched chaos form at Jamaica during a bad nighttime blizzard because the LIRR staff were doing crowd control (not their strong suit) and the police were assigned to show people to the busses (not their strong suit). The situation would have been comical if not for the fistfights that were breaking out. There is never a 'lesson learning' phase after a LIRR disaster, or if there is, no-one is tasked with remembering what they did wrong and what they should and should not do next time.

1 : Most towns in Long Island have a policy about not allowing cabs to just pick up people from the street. They must be called for. But if a cab were to stop by the people and forward their requests for other cabs...If I can think of it, why can't the money-grubbing cab companies?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bloody Sodding Asimov's Science Fiction and the Bastards at the Post Office

Periodically (ha!), the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction (ASF) waxes poetic on the subject of their own covers, of which she is justifiably proud from all accounts. I can't comment on that because mine always arrive with a bloody great address label glued to the cover.

Many magazines now mail out without any sort of bag. Some used to use plastic, some used a cardboard "cigar band", but most now just glue the label on the cover and mail the magazine loose. To do this they must glue a label on the magazine cover somewhere. Do they glue it on the back? No, because that is valuable advertising space (although ASF actually seems to use it to advertise itself mostly) and Azathoth forbid they should use up valuable ad real estate. No, they glue the damn thing on the cover art.

Moreover, relatively few mags have the wherewithal to use a glue that will release from the cover (like Model Railroader does). It makes me furious that my National Geographics and ASFs, both mags that have spiffo covers, glue a buggery-bastard label across the cover, often obliterating some desirable feature of the artwork, using some secret milspec adhesive that cannot be enduced to let go without tearing the cover itself. If they used this glue to stick tiles on the Space Shuttle we would never hear another "tile" nightmare ever again.

If that wasn't bad enough, my last few issues of ASF have been arriving with their covers pretty beaten-up, with the current double issue so badly mangled it looks as though it was delivered by passing it through the works of a hay-baler1. The entire bottom right-hand corner is missing. To add insult to injury, this issue is the first one of the newly upped three-year subscription they were begging me to take out.

I find myself asking why I have these magazines delivered when I could get them in pristine condition for just about any newsagent in NYC and many in my area of Long Island. Yes, it would cost more, significantly so in the case of ASF, but I collect these things and want to pass them on to the Stevieling one day. To do that I don't want to have to set about a laborious reconstruction of the bloody covers before packing them in storage.


1: Curiously, the copies of Analog that arrive from the same publisher seem to get to me in one piece.


Tinnitus in my left ear.

Sounds like a wonky timebase in a 60s-era TV set running 24/7.

Thanks to lawyer uncertainty over the exact day that the swearing at in takes place for the great Stevie Witnessing Fiasco1 (ibid) I can't get to a quack before Tuesday at noon.


1: Should be Thursday, might be Friday. Saturday? Don't make me laugh. These buggers don't work weekends, but my doctor isn't in this weekend either so heydeho.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ah, Damn!

Steve Irwin (aka The Crocodile Hunter) is dead from a freak accident involving his getting stabbed in the heart by a stingray.

Many people didn't have much time for this guy, but I rejoiced that there was another idiot in the world who would do things so blatantly stupid. I do them because I often don't think things through carefully enough at the time. He did them for entertainment purposes, and by Jove what entertainment it was! We all sat an waited for him to get bitten in one of his interminable "This is a grumpy snake! I'm gonna push my face right up to him!" scenes and sometimes we weren't disappointed. His out-takes were hysterically funny for anyone not Steve Irwin. He discovered that the public was only in love with danger to his own person when he fed a croc with his new son on his hip to general outrage, but we all have to learn that lesson sometime and no-one got hurt thankfully.

I think the world is once again a smaller place today than it was on Friday, when the star of The Great Kangaroo Rescue Despite The Kangaroo and How To Get Your Ear Torn Off While Chasing Rhinos Through The African Bush was still alive and kicking.