Thursday, October 19, 2006

More Alertness from the Wyandanch Law Enforcement Brigade

So I'm walking across Wyandanch Car Park and Breaker's Yard last night and I see a guy about to get into his car. I also see a car battery propped against his passenger side door in such a way as to be almost touching terminals to paint. Mr Brain (ever vigilant) runs a short video of the battery exploding as the car pulls out and I start waving and halooing and generally raising the alarm.

The driver of the vehicle turns and calls out that he isn't going anywhere as his car interior has been stripped. I walk over. "Stripped" in this case turns out to mean that the steering column cladding has been removed and dumped in the driver's side footwell1. The driver, who looks vaguely familiar turns his key and says "See? Nothing".

I look at the car, Mr Brain pulls up library stock footage of the battery and I ask the driver to turn on his headlights. Nothing.
"Are you sure that's not your battery leaning against your car?" I ask.
"Yes" says the driver. I am not convinced.
"Open the hood a minute" I say and he does, while I search in Mr Briefcase for my CSI flashlight.

The engine compartment is very busy with component and corrugated hoses everywhere I look. The driver pats a large square plastic shape and says "The battery is still here".
I look across and say, "I hope not. That's your air filter" and continue the search. Finally I locate a small rectangular gap with two finger-thick cables dangling loose.
"There's where your battery should be. Shall we put it back in? Do you have any tools?" I say

Perhaps it was the way my whole body shivered and my voice became filled with lust when I said the word "tools", but he backed off and put the car between us and said he didn't, in fact, have any. It might surprise those who are familiar with my writing but I don't routinely carry tools my latest car either. It is the first new car I have ever owned and I am reluctant to start the process that ends in riding around with a trunk full of crap at all times. 'Sides, why else carry Triple-A gold coverage? So, here we were in a Class One unexpected tool deployment opportunity (UTDO) situation and all I had was me Swiss Army knife and some popcorn. I was disgusted.

I lifted the poor sod's battery into place and replaced the "hot" connection so that he could close the hood without triggering a short, welding the battery to the hood and quite possibly setting fire to the vehicle2, and offered to give him a lift or the use of my cell phone to start the process of getting him home. While he was refusing both I caught a glimpse of his new wheels, secured by locking wheel nuts, and Mr Brain flared with recognition.

"Aren't you the bloke who had his wheels nicked only last week?" I asked in a tone of disbelief.
"Yes" he answered.

Some people just can't catch a break.

1: I concede that there may very well have been other damage I did not see
2: As it happens, yes I have seen this done, and no it wasn't me what done it

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Wond'rin' Aloud

Question the First: If the USA has the best health care system in the world, why are American insurance companies shipping American patients to India to have surgery?

Question the Second: If it is ethical, good, right and safe to ship patients outside the USA for medical treatment (where they presumably get foreign drugs and medications), why is it unethical, bad, wrong and unsafe to get my Lipitor from Canada?

Richard the Third: What good is a health care system that no-one can afford to use?

Monday, October 16, 2006

More Wonders Found In The North Wall

On Saturday afternoon, several exciting new finds were made on the left side of the North Wall of Bog. These were tentatively assigned a more recent date than the artifacts recovered from the dig on the right side of the North Wall1 and included an item not unlike a Monopoly banknote of the 500 dollar denomination, another resembling a Hot Wheels® Ford Deuce Coupé, what appears to be a knitted gym sock and more dyed wax writing implements. Some of these items may or may not be of modern lineage, dating back only as far as Bog II despite the age of the structure, since evidence of a recent wall puncture and its repair was found. Mrs Stevie was once again openly dismissive of any attempt at the scientific method and simply re-iterated her widely discredited "bored child" theory.

New excavations in the East Wall revealed fewer artifacts, although an antique intercom was found nailed to one of the studs once I had both layers of sheetrock off them. It fell off the wall before I could photograph it, unfortunately, but I will clean it up and get a picture before I dispose of the item. Work on the West Wall progressed nicely, and only the continuing worry over how to transition the new construction with the old caused a halyt to be called. To recap, I do not want to pull the walls from around the bath because I absolutely do not under any circumstances want to be stuck with a re-tiling job, which will lead to Azathoth knows how many other unexpected but vital jobs before I'm done. Thicker sheetrock is available that will allow for a seamless join if I think that is the way to go. I'm also gonna pull the old insulation2 out and replace it with itchy pink fiberglass while I'm at it.

Pulling down this bathroom has given me a new appreciation not only for The Builders of Bog3 but also for the framers of the House who, when working at their best, could teach Genaro a thing or two about the Bodge Job. From my observations I am compiling a list of the more controversial construction decisions taken by various authorities for my lucky and probably non-existent readers.

  • Laying mains voltage wiring on top of a stud and trusting a channel cut in the lower level of sheetrock will allow for safe installation. The chances of someone driving a nail through the wall and coming to terms with 100 volts RMS @ 60 Hz on a personal level are so small as to be negligible
  • Doing this twice
  • Leaving wiring dangling so as to cheap out on staples normally viewed as being "essential" for "safe" installation
  • Using 1/8th inch plywood where a 2x4 cross-brace is called for
  • Installing a stud without a header4, trusting to the sole-plate5 nailing and a cross-brace 1/3 the way up to hold it in place and not allow it to flap about alarmingly

Sunday found me triumphantly weilding Mr Chainsaw in an effort to get the deadfall that has been sitting on the driveway since it all came down from upon high in the spring in a form acceptable to the town "garden refuse" collectors. I included the termite eaten fence rails I swapped out in June to the load. Five bags of wood later, I was done. Now I have an unrestricted view of the mound of soil that has graced the drive for two years on account of I can't trust Mr Brain to do bloody simple math6. I have been slowly using it up, and Mrs Stevie made vast inroads when she moved some Hostas that have been doing an impersonation of the jungle of central Congo, leaving huge holes in the front garden that required very satisfying amounts of the pile to level off.

Then, ignoring Mr Back who was quoting from the lyrics of Aqualung7 I continued with the deployment of the missing components of the half-erected Maison Stevie Hallowe'en Montage. The gravestones, human bones, creepy gate-arch, gate gargoyle with flanking bat-reliefs, the skulls on the fencepost newels and the scarecrow8 had been installed but there were still some ghosts that needed repair before they could be deployed, the lights to festoon, the nocturne eyes to drape o'er the Alberta Spruces and the silhouette cats to position in the lawn9. I was just fixing the purple light-pipes to the front deck fences when Mrs Stevie entered theater waving a Quiznoze sub at me and threatening lunch. Seemed like a good time to quit, so I did.

Later I renovated the four plywood ghosts I made for our first hallowe'en. They are basically plywood shapes on a length of Dexian. This had become rather beaten up over the years due to the destructive force of the hammer when driving into hard ground, so I vowed to sharpen the stake and attach a wooden hammer block to each. This I achieved by removing the Dexian stake, turning it upside down and reattaching it and cutting an angle in the new "pointy" end with the rotary tool Mrs Stevie gave me for last Christmas (Mr Dremel being upstairs and configured as a spiral saw this was a perfect opportunity to break out the new tool).

This rotary tool10 came with almost every wheelpoint11 known to mankind, but I would be using only the fiberglass-reinforced carbide cut-off wheels tonight. The first cock-up unplanned excursion beyond the tool's design specifications came when clumsy handling of the rotary tool caused the wheel to bind, shatter and cut off the screw holding it to the mandrel (probably because it wasn't tight enough). I selected a new wheel and mandrel and attempted to assemble them into a complete unit. It became apparent that there was a problem when the screw wouldn't tighten after about a minute's screwdriving. Turns out the mandrels are a two-piece construction. The bit that goes in the collet12 is pressed into the bit with the screw thread, and the two parts were not that securely attached in this case. I grabbed a third mandrel and managed to get the wheel mounted and began cutting. It was dead good. The steel yeilded nicely and in a trice13 I had cut really nice points on the Dexian stakes. The cutting process is really a grinding operation, resulting in lots of sparks, much ejected powdered, burned metal and the wearing down of the wheels at an alarming rate (I was tired and probably too heavy-handed in the application).

It was only afterwards that it occured to me to wonder where all the powdered silicon carbide and fiberglass had gone. Fortunately, it turns out I have these two bags that collect any dust in the workshop. I call them "lungs".

1: After the large and potentially valuable piece of amber I found turned out to be a rather less-valuable piece of fossilised soap
2: It seems to be a gypsum/asbestos/fleece blanket that may or may not have been treated with mercury and dusted with powdered lead as preservatives
3: Who are known only as "Genaro"
4: The 2x4 that forms the top of a wall
5: the 2x4 that forms the bottom of a wall
6: Memo to self - There are not 9 cubic feet in a cubic yard
7: Specifically, the bit that talks about screaming agony
8: I know, but for some reason it looks in place in the graveyard when it's done
9: Not to mention the walking ghostly footprints, illuminated skeletal bits emerging from the lawn, screaming bark face to attach to the "good" tree, the family banners with creepy artwork and the four disgusting, motion-triggered gibbering heads - the placement of these items has been saved for later "enjoyment"
10:A Dremel-clone made by "Alltrade"
11: Rotary Toolspeak for "bit"
12: Rotary Toolspeak for "chuck"
13: Defined in this case as the time taken to go through three cut-off wheels

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Magnificence That Was Bog

Excavations have been resumed at the Bog site, and have resulted in some exciting finds which I shall have more to say about in a moment. First the pedestrian technical bits.

As all of you who have been eagerly reading the saga of the wax-ring and no-doubt agonising over how to solve this vexing enigma1 know, the matter of cleaning up the unexpectedly unremovable flange has become urgent. Well, I was discussing it with a friend of mine and I opined that I would be forced to used Mr Blowtorch to melt the bugger off. Said friend ventured to suggest that a heat gun would be a safer bet, and thus was the problem reduced to mere details. By placing aluminum foil under the flange and using Mr Milwaukee Heat Gun on "Low" with the tiny concentrator nozzle fitted, I was able to melt the nasty wax and scrape it off with a paint scraper. Not only that, I was able to melt it off the paintscraper when I was done too. In a matter of about 20 minutes the flange looked almost as good as new, and I was able to resume excavations at the North Wall site without so much as a burned finger or impromptu leg-hair fire2.

I pried off the second, outer layer of sheetrock to reveal the underlying structure, to which I am assigning the name Bog II. The lower half of this wall had once been tiled, but the tiles had been prised off leaving only the old tile cement. The upper sections looked as good as when they were put up, but I still wanted them gone because I was toying with the idea of installing a pocket door. This would entail replacing the studs with special metal ones constructed with a gap in them to accommodate the door.

I attempted to deploy Mr Dremel with the spiral saw attachment to cut away some sheetrock but within a few seconds the bit began to bind and burn. I repositioned, assuming I was hitting a stud and had the same problem. A third relocation was equally pointless. Reluctantly I gave up and using Messrs Hammer and Wrecking Bar dug out a couple of small inspection gaps. It looked like the wall was wood-lined wherever I selected. Odd.

I relocated my efforts to the damaged lower sections which proved much more amenable to being torn off, and that's where I made the exciting discovery I mentioned at the start of the posting. There, inside the cavity wall, was a collection of what initially appeared to be plastic chess pieces. Here was the proof that The Builders had indeed built Bog II on an even older structure! Someone had obviously incorporated the artifacts into the construction of Bog II, possibly for religious reasons that we may never be able to fully explain.

With trembling hands I carefully removed each artifact from it's antediluvian resting place, fully cognizant that I was probably the first person in hundreds of years to see them! I arrayed them and took stock (and photographs, of course). The initial impression of these artifacts being modern plastic chessmen was immediately shown to be naive, since although there were what looked to be "Knights", Bishops", "Rooks", "Pawns" and so forth, there were far too many of each. Not only that, some otherwise identical pieces (I shall term them that, although the identification of the artifacts as game pieces is extremely speculative and only tentative at this point) were of different sizes! In addition to this, there were different numbers of white pieces than black ones. Chess sets come in many guises of course, but they have this in common: The same kinds of chessmen have a uniform size and there are equal numbers of white and black pieces. Mrs Stevie was, it has to be said, contemptuous of my find and was of the opinion that someone had just put the parts to two different chess sets into the wall. This "theory" doesn't hold much weight, since it would hardly be worth the time of the builders of Bog II to dump garbage inside the walls of their edifice, and I have entirely discounted it.

Besides, it doesn't account for the other artifacts2. Specifically, two square tiles bearing inscriptions remarkably similar to modern letters and numbers, each tile having a large central "letter" and a smaller, offset "number". These have no place in a chess set. Nor does chess require two cubes inscribed with decorative dots, evocative of modern "dice". Nor does chess require a small item resembling a small-block hemi from a matchbox car, or even one of the three curious cylindrical items recovered from the North Wall Site. These latter superficially resemble AA batteries, even down to having deceptive "writing" on the side. When work continues, highest priority will be the seach for some sort of stellae or clay tablet so that I may confirm the nature of the markings as genuine writing rather than simple decoration for religious or decorative purpose. One can, of course, always hope for a "Rosetta Stone" that will result in eventual translation of some part of any writing I uncover, but the chances are probably very small of such an item being uncovered. That the builders of Bog II used writing, I am fairly sure because one of the artifacts recovered was a primitive writing stylus made of some sort of dyed wax. Orange dyed wax, to be precise.

Overcome with emotion at these wonderful discoveries I attacked the upper portion of the wall with renewed vigour and soon had removed enough of the cladding to reveal that the pocket door plan had been well and truly scuppered. The wall seemed to consist of a solid rank of half a dozen studs, followed by two odd sections of plywood (which connect the studs but leave a hole for wiring to pass through). I had a think. I reckon the over-studding was used to support the roof where it changes its line to accommodate Bog's outer walls (which poke through the roofline in a sort of half-arsed tower). Were I to pull them out to fit pocket door studs, the roof would likely end up in the downstairs bathroom. I heartily approve of over-design and use it myself in all my projects. My fear now is that the poxy plywood, intended to transfer stress between studs and stop them "walking", isn't near strong enough. I may be adding more jack studs to taste.

After all, I would be building on a great tradition in both senses of the word. Bog -1, or New Bog being built atop Bog, which is atop Bog II, which is (arguably according to that harridan Mrs Stevie) atop Bog III.

Photos here.

1: Which may be succinctly summarised as "how in the hell can I get all this nasty, mould-infected wax off the flange so I can put a nice new one in?"
2: Such as the fiaso that marred the attempt to strip and repaint the staircase, itself echoing the earlier debacle with the living room window frame.
3: I won't waste your time with her ridiculous "bored child and hole in the wall" theory that she came up with on the strength of a repair to the outer side of the wall4.
4: The repair was indeed made, probably using dried guano and quicklime as a binder judging by the colour and consistency of the repair material. Mrs Stevie claims it was just drywall compound of course.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Wheels Are Coming Off. Literally.

So today I turned from the main road into the mile-long (or so) drag past a school to Wyandanch rail station and was almost hit by a police cruiser pulling out from behind the doughnut shop on the corner. Who proceeded to bust my balls by driving at 25 in the 30 mph zone and 35 in the 40 mph one.

Since the cop was a typical NY driver he positioned himself on the crown of the road, making it easy for me to take up a better, more curbward position and show everyone piling up behind me who the culprit causing the obstruction was.

Good police work there. What a shame these bastions of the law weren't anywhere when the wheels were pulled off the white sedan now propped up on two cinderblocks1 in the Wyandanch car park, having entered this wheelless configuration two nights ago. This being the third day in the last seven someone has removed the wheels from a vehicle in this car park without either the owners consent or the ever vigilant police doing anything to stop them. Well done there, officers of the local PD.

[Aside] Well done blogsot too. I've spent days trying to get the much vaunted picture upload to work but it keeps vomiting an error message so useless it could have been written by a Microsoft staffer. If you would like to see the car anyway, follow this link. If the link does not work, leave a comment to that effect and I'll see what else needs to be switched off or on.

I even tried to do the decent thing and report this vehicle two nights ago. The operator asked if I was the owner. When I said no they blew me off and hung up. To appreciate the irony of this to the fullest, you need to be aware of the anti-terrorism mantra being disseminated via tannoy on the subways and LIRR (and no doubt Metro North too): If you see something, say something.

Being a (basically) law-abiding person, wanting to do my bit to thwart the evil f***ers who exist only to hate and destroy and having lived through my youth in terrorist-targeted UK cities, I've done quite a bit of seeing and saying of late. Some examples of seeing and saying to other commuters and the results follow:

  1. Guy bolts from subway car just as doors close. No train on the opposite platform. I say to the people sitting in the seats he just left "Did he leave anything under his seat?" I ask. Blank looks. I repeat, more forcefully "Did he leave anything under his seat?" and get only scowls and "nutcase" body language back. I take a deep breath and say very slowly "Did the guy who just left the car in a manner that prevented anyone following him leave anything under his seat? The seat you are sitting on? Anything that might go 'Bang!'?" That provokes them to look. Oh yeah, New Yorkers are on the ball all right
  2. A guy boards the LIRR train, waits until everyone is seated, leaves his briefcase in the entry plenum of the car and starts to walk to the other end. A fellow commuter points out the bag to me. I stand up and loudly2 yell "Who owns this briefcase?" Blank looks from the crowd and the guy owns up and says he is going to the bathroom. "Take it with you!" I insist. Crowd begins to mutter about my mental capacity, guy says he will be back soon. "Take it with you" I insist. "If it explodes, it is going to take you with it first!" At this point the crowd "gets it" and changes sides. Oh yeah, vigilance is our watchword
  3. I am about to disembark from the LIRR train at Wyandanch when I notice a bag on a bench seat with an electric cord running from its insides to the power socket under the seat3, no-one in attendance. I turn to the young lady in the seat rank next to it. "Did you see who left this bag?" I ask. I get a blank look. "Did you see who left this bag here?" I ask again. "What's it to you?" she responds. "Does it bother you?" "No" I reply as the doors opened, "But it might bother you why someone would leave a bag with a hidden device in it, and it might bother you what sort of device needs power and the absence of the person who brought it aboard." I step off before she can react. Oh yeah. Eyes on the prize, no question.

That's just for starters. Then we have the official response. Like the time I saw a guy inside one of the news vendor stores in Penn Station with a camera and telephoto lens. He was pointing it at various people (and I would have thought that the guys browsing the porn racks would have objected at this point but they didn't) but every so often he would turn and sight through the register counters at the ticketing area of the station itself. I couldn't tell if he was shooting since today's cameras have all-but silent mechanisms, but even so it was a bit suspicious to me. Add to that his "Mediterranean" or "Middle Eastern" complexion and looks (I admit to profiling a bit here) and my hackles were, rightly or wrongly, up.

I left the premises and looked about but couldn't see a single cop or national guardsman (or guardswoman), normally thick on the ground but that night invisible, so I made a beeline for the MTA police office. There I attempted to report the suspicious activity, only to be told "Well, technically speaking you are allowed to take photographs in the station now". Seldom has my flabber been so completely ghasted. I looked at officer dimwit and said "Well, you guys are saying If you see something, say something and I've just seen something that, were I back in London, would have me phoning the police. I no longer use this station, so I won't be here when the ticket area is bombed." and I left. Oh yeah, highly trained in anti terrorist measures these guys.

1: UK breezeblocks
2: I truly had no idea just how well my voice carried until that incident. Je suis un foghorn when needs must
3: Used to power cleaning equipment like vacuum cleaners, power washers and so forth

Thursday, October 05, 2006

MTA - MT Brains

Two nights ago I descended to the platform of the subway for my hoeward commute intending to board an  M  or an  R  train to Flatbush Avenue and thence transfer to the LIRR.

Or not.

On arriving at the platform I could see one train stuck in the entrance tunnel and another stuck in the exit one. This situation did not change for 10 minutes, during which time not a single announcement was made. I finally deduced that even if the trains started moving there was no way I was going to make my LIRR connection, leaving me with the option of sitting it out, going to Flatbush Avenue if and when the subway started moving people again and then making my way across Long Island by way of a longish stop in Jamaica so I could watch the full Ronkonkoma trains go by or just biting the bullet and going into Manhattan to catch a train from Penn.

Which is what I did.

No sooner had I boarded the Manhattan-bound train and the doors closed, than the trains Flatbush-bound started moving. Stuff like this makes me glad I don't really have super powers like Professor Xavier1. There would be bodies everywhere and I would have to take up residence in the center of the Earth in a secret Fortress of Evil.

1: Which is pronounced "zavier" NOT "ex-avier" Azathoth dammit! It isn't a bloody ex-ylophone. There is no such thing as ex-enophobia.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Week of No Progress

No new work has been undertaken onsite at the Bog Excavation (ibid). So far Mrs Stevie has not penetrated the clever web of lies, red-herrings and diversionary tactics I have deployed to avoid actually doing anything for a week. It's only a matter of time though.

I did manage to finish closing down the swimming pool though, while the rest of the family went into Manhattan for a reading of a musical version of The Last Starfighter that one of Mrs Stevie's thespian friends has penned. With them out of the way I could work in peace. This year I didn't follow my usual schedule of removing the pump hardware and allowing the pool to drain down to the lowest water port in favour of installing a plug in the water return and a faceplate over the skimmer hole and keeping the pool itself as full as possible. This has a number of possible advantages, chief among them the maintaining of the pool cover at a higher level than usual, thereby providing less of a well for the disgusting rainwater/sumac-leaf concoction that brews over the winter months and which must be removed before opening the pool the next year. The stench from this foul concoction is beyond belief and because the sucking fumac tree drops leaves continuously cannot be mitigated in any effective way. Whether or not this new pool protocol will be effective is yet to be seen. Time will tell. The downside is that I normally get to add 1/4 of a pool of new water which helps keep the chemistry sweet (our water comes out of the ground at pH 7.5 and about as calcium free as you could wish). I can always drain some off next year though. The upside is that under The Policy1 I acquired two nice new belt wrenches needed for undoing the submerged water return port.

Sunday morning I took a shower, then wandered into the basement to discover that the bloody bath had leaked (again). Mrs Stevie entered the theater of ops and was duly warned that I had to fix the downstairs bathroom leak before I would even consider doing any more work on excavating Bog. I duly began investigating but could not induce the *&^%ing bath to leak whatever I did. I reluctantly concluded that it only leaked when I was in it, probably due to malign water spirits and just caulked the only uncaulked pipe joint in the line as a precaution. Drying out the stuff that got wet (again) was annoying and time consuming. In this fashion, Sunday morning was used up.

I took advantage of the nice Sunday afternoon to get the tent roof off the Gazebo in preparation for the winter before the autumn winds pick up and we have a re-run of the Flying Gazebo of Fence Destruction Fiasco. Unfortunately, this was a bloodier task than last year due to pockets of water that had formed in the inadequately supported roof, to which Mr Sumac Tree had added a few leaves. The disgusting brew added a very aromatic component to the job. Add to that the huge spiders that had colonised each corner of the frame and wrapped everything in webs so thick it was like cotton candy2 which made accessing the little snap-pegs that keep everything together problematic. Add to that the colony of ants that had taken up residence in one of the roof cross members. And the woodlice that were attempting an assault on the east face and had established base camp under one eave. Add to that the ear damage from feminine shrieking as each of these became evident. Of course, Mrs Stevie eventually calmed down once I made it clear there were no more creepy-crawlies and hence my feminine shrieking would not be continuing3.

1: No Tool, No Job
2 :Candy Floss for the UK readers.
3: She left the work area at full speed anyway once she copped sight of one of the spiders. Not exactly Amazonian Bird-Eaters, but not far off either.