Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Oh It All Makes Work For The Working Man To Do

So last night I got home, had pizza for dinner and started work clearing a space in the crowded and dangerous basement I used to use as a workshop, before the advent of a bunch of crap and a flood or two.

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I wasn’t going to need my table tools because I was going to have all the wood for Bog milled to size by other people. That plan survived contact with the enemy1 for exactly three and a half nanoseconds.

The new plan requires extensive milling of boards in the basement using tools buried under crap hurriedly relocated during domestic flood Yolanda and thus the simple act of respecifying the bill of materials has produced yet another major unwanted job not on the original itinerary. Oh Well.

In the middle of this the Stevieling howls that her school project, some sort of PowerPoint presentation, won't fit on a diskette. I ask her if she can use a CD and she answers that she can, so I tell her to put the project on a CD. Much muttering, gradually raising in volume from the womenfolks.

Yes, it's true. After owning this computer for over three years and after specifically "upgrading" the burner software from my beloved Roxio to the less-than-stellar-in-my-opinion Nero2 as part of a major system upgrade to allow Mrs Stevie3 to make movies on the damn thing, no-one but me knows how to burn a G-D CD.

"Is the project finished?" I asked the Stevieling as I settled into the chair to begin yet another unplanned-for job.
"Except for the music."
"Then it isn't finished, is it?" I bellowed. "What music do you want to use?"
"Mom is getting it now."
And in due course Mom1, 3 appears clutching....a DVD!
""This isn't music!" I yell.
"I want the music from it though" says the Stevieling.

Thus the hunt was on to find the music and figure out which of the umpty-tump packages included in Nero Professional would be able to snatch the music as the DVD was playing. The answer was, of course, none of 'em. Well, not strictly true. There were a couple of packages that would grab the music as it played, but they themselves would not play the DVD in question. The DVD player software, on the other hand, would play it but not permit any naughty sound grabbing (though screen shots were allowed - go figger).

The answer was to set the track playing in the media player (I prefer this to Nero's version) and grab the sound from the card with Nero's quite nice wav file editor. That sounds simple doesn't it? Well, factor in that Media player wouldn't rewind the tracks and so I was forced to play a different one, then bounce back to the one I wanted to restart it. Then factor in that bloody windows span the DVD down and then was too busy to spin it up again so there was a nasty gap in the recording. Then factor in that the recorder behaved in an odd manner, GUI-wise (one of the two major hates I have about Nero is its GUI. The other is how slow the GUI is in some pretty critical apps). Now you should be able to see how grabbing a five minute sound sample took best part of an hour and caused me to miss the crucial "come-uppance" episode of Boston Legal and you will see that I ended my day in somewhat less of a good humour than I began it.

Oh well.

  1. Mrs Stevie
  2. Due to the fact that against all reason we still do not have a hard standard for how to arrange the interfaces for bloody optical drives, resulting in the positively Victorian need to sweep compatibility lists before buying them if you don't want to switch software. Roxio would not work with the Mad Dog dual density drive I got Mrs Stevie3 so she could make big movies
  3. The Enemy

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Another Night In Paradise

Mrs Stevie greeted me as I came in the door last night1 with the demand I "do something" about the smell in the basement which was "worse than ever".

I had relocated two of the three plywood boards of not-being-big-or-thick-enough to the basement, placing them next to the furnace so that any remaining volatiles would be driven off the wood and this was playing havoc with the washing of the clothes.

"Did you open a window?" I asked2 as I climbed out of my coat and dumped my bag. I was assured by Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling that they hadn't tampered with the settings of any of the windows, so I went downstairs to open a window and deploy a fan to vent the admittedly thick fumes back out into the neighbourhood where they belonged.


I could not reach the rear window for the wall of crap Mrs Stevie had artfully erected in front of it. Hearing the happy sounds of my comments on this sitiuation (one I've remarked on several times in the past three years) and the crashing of "valuable stuff" being moved with less care than one might typically use for relocating such treasures as collections of shoes that no longer fit or cases of rock-hard stage makeup Mrs Stevie immediately abandoned the elaborate brewing of some Espresso Muy Forta and came down to help out. Unfortunately I had wandered around to the other side of the basement at that point, and was almost frightened out of my skin when I came back, looked up and saw her crouched on a pile of boxes, positioned up into the rafters of the basement like some hideous predatory vampire recently risen from the grave and on the hunt for human sacrifice. Stupid tricks like that really get on my nerves, and I began plotting some elaborate revenge straightway.

Of course, the screen on the other side window was not in place so I had to improvise lest the basement fill with itinerant cats, racoons and other freeloading wildlife on the hunt for a comfy place to doss down for the winter. This I did by propping a large broken screen over the hole from the inside. Then I ran a fan for a couple of hours to drag cool air through the place, took the boards up into Bog and the problem was largely solved.

Fortunately, the Stevieling had used the weekend to not do some due-tomorrow homework which involved an elaborate photo-shoot and a box of Playmobil characters, so any chance that peace might break out was nipped in the bud. She finally got everything ready for school at around Ten thirty and went to bed, having produced a display about AIDS in Africa.

This she researched entirely on the web with entirely predictable results in the quality of the information she got (did you know that Zimbabwe was "an average African city"? I didn't). I corrected that one but felt that she should find out what happens when you put your trust in the internet as your sole sources so didn't make her change anything else, other than to cite her sources.

Maybe when she gets her mark she'll get the message I've tried drumming into her for years: that without peer review the material on the web is best regarded as suspect and for safety's sake should never be used as the sole source of any "fact"3. Since I'm only her father and couldn't possibly understand what the demands of a modern life are she naturally treats my advice as complete hogwash of the first order4. I love the girl more than life itself5 but she can be very trying at times.

Now what to do about acheiving vengeance on Mrs Stevie?

  1. Late, missed train necessitating trip to Penn delaying arrival at The Steviemanse by an hour
  2. A crazy plan, but I felt it might just work
  3. Except this site, which is the truest depository of facts ever invented. Trust everything you read here. It has the Stevie Seal of Approval
  4. I once tried to correct her technique on the recorder. She let me know in no uncertain terms that her technique was teacher sanctioned. I said I didn't think so. She disrespectfully disagreed. I halted her in mid dis by commenting "Before you say anything more, you might consider that on the shelf behind you there are four recorders that belong to me, and that I was playing in a recorder band when I was two years younger than you are now." This sudden confrontation with unhelpful facts drove her into a rage. I gave up. She, of course, gave up the recorder since she couldn't seem to make hers sound like the ones on my recordings of them. Go figger
  5. I'm speaking of someone else's life here obviously

Monday, November 27, 2006

Saturday, Saturday, Saaaturday Night's All Right

Saturday was "Stop f***ing about and go out and get the plywood for the bathroom floor" day. My plan was to buy a sheet of half-inch thick external grade playwood and have it cut to five feet, and from that fabricate a single, one-piece subfloor panel. I took so long debating over whether to buy a tatty exterior grade board or to go with the nicer non-waterproof one and varnish it after the fact that Mrs Stevie began to search out alternatives.

Mrs Stevie means well but she drives me f***ing nuts when she starts in on improvising around my jobs. She has no idea what this job entails and cannot visualize it in terms of the problems and challenges because she doesn't understand them despite many attempts to remedy that state of affairs. Add to that that I have no time to explain my thinking (again) when we are down to the wire and buying materials and you can see that the day was doomed to be unsuccessful from the get-go.

Mrs Stevie had found these 1/4 inch boards on a previous visit and badgered me to get them, and she went straight for them again this time around. Never mind that they were not thick enough and I would have to laminate them. Never mind that they weren't long enough (4x4, I need 4x5) and that would mean I would have to jig-saw up a plywood mosaic for a subfloor, exactly what I had repeatedly said I did not want to do since joints in the subfloor cause other problems that have to be solved by methods that were at the root cause of the previous floor coming apart at the seams. I tried to explain but she went on about how these were "water resistant". Right. Maybe as in driving through a light fog won't cause them to warp on the truck, but I damn well bet they aren't "oops, I overflowed the sink" waterproof. Mrs Stevie of course did her "Well, I just wanted you to see them" routine as she did last time we were in that department. I made a snap decision - I would use these bloody boards and when the bloody floor warped and fell apart I would be able to say "you picked it. Live with it".

I bought three of these things and then tried to regain my inner balance by suggesting we buy some replacement landscape lights while we were at it. I fitted some very nice mushroom-shaped plastic ones years ago. Unfortunately, the company that made them discontinued the line about six months after that and we not only cannot get replacement clear filters for them, six of the ten were stolen shortly after our front fence was demolished. Aparently, the open driveway with the fence spelled "private property". The open driveway without the five feet of chainlink spelled "free landscape lights, help yourselves". We ended up with four steel mushroom-shaped lights and Mrs Stevie worrying that the company would not be making them in six months. Obviously an industrial-sized snit was building that I had no hope of quenching.

While we were putting the wood (wrong sort, wrong size) on the roofrack her brother called. The in-laws are in town and wanted to meet for dinner at one of a chain of Italian pizzeria restaurants in the area, Bertucci's, and they wanted to go to one in Hauppage1. Mrs Stevie says "Bertuccis?" and looks at me with the universal "do you know what they are talking about?" expression2. I say "We've been there" since we had had a rather disappointing dinner at the one by Roosevelt Field. Mrs Stevie took that to mean that I knew where the restaurant was (despite the fact that at that point she hadn't mentioned the town out loud) and so no sooner were we underway than she called her mother and said that I had been to that particular restaurant and could tell everyone how to get there. This triggered yet another argument. Saturday was beginning to resemble every other non-starter of a day that week. Once that was sorted out I suggested we switch to the California Pizza joint in Huntington (much better pizza in my insignificant opinion), but she wouldn't hear of it.

Anyway, we got home and I decided to varnish the thin sheets of plywood to minimise the damage when they get a good soaking. I set up shop in the garage rather than the basement so that the whole house wouldn't reek of varnish and spent the afternoon treating the wood as fast as I could. It would be important for the varnish to have as long as possible to dry before night fell because once the temperature dropped to evening levels the drying process would come to a halt.

We got to the restaurant with no trouble, packing me Mrs Stevie, The Stevieling, The MrsStevieDad and MrsStevieMom into the fabulous Steviemobile, and rendezvoused with the Brother-in-law and the other Brother-in-law avec son famile and a fine time was had by all, even by the neices who started the evening behaving as though I was the creepy uncle instead of loveable Uncle Stevie but ended up just ignoring me. Then came time to go home and trouble reared its ugly head.

I packed the Stevielings stuff in the trunk and reached for the MrsStevieDad's take-home box-o-leftover-pizza. He pulled back on it. "I'll put it in the trunk." I say. "It'll cause a smell" he says. "No it won't, and it will stay warmer in the trunk" I say.

What I am avoiding saying is that no-one takes food into my car. Period. This is my first new car and I never allow anything that might spill or stain into the passenger compartment. It's a rule. No markers. No cups of coke. No McBurgers. And no greasy pizza. My precious upholstery is worth more than five bucks worth of leftover pizza any day.

What I didn't grasp is that the smell MrsStevieDad was worried about was not the smell of pizza in my trunk, it was the smell of my trunk getting into his pizza. I only found that out after I had dropped them at home. Apparently, even though the Thanksgiving veggies (cooked on the new stove and ferried to them ready-to-serve) arrived chez them with no noticeable taint and despite the fact that I carry pizza for my own consumption in that same trunk with no problems, there was imminent danger of this gourmet leftover pizza3 absorbing the foul charnel stenches that well out of the trunk every time it is opened4, rendering them less appetizing the next day5.

The MrsStevieDad is lucky. If I had aprehended his concern I would have spritzed the box lid with industrial strength winshield cleanser before closing the trunk.

We arrived home to find that due to some arcane physics allied with the actions of various malign anti-handyman spirits6, the whole house reeked of varnish.

  1. Pronounced "HOP-og"
  2. The very same one used the day the Stevieling announced out of the blue that Santa was going to bring her a "Fluffy my come-here puppy who comes when I call him and eats his bone". It being a week before Christmas and said mechanical wonder not having appeared on any Xmas wish-lists up to and including the all-important Letter to Santa this might have been a disaster but for the fact that I had chanced to see a commercial for the wretched cybermutt. Mrs Stevie had no inkling.
  3. Three or four slices were left, at an approximate value of about 8 dollars when new. Subtract depreciation and factor in that said pizza had sat next to a child for an hour or so for true market value
  4. Probably caused by the compressor, the road map, the bottle of winshield cleanser and the emergency Ausiie Outback fedora I keep in there
  5. Mmmm, nothing more appetizing than cold thin-crust pizza, if your tastes run to tomato paste and ricotta cheese on hardtack that is
  6. Possibly white spirits

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More Stupid Nonsense Courtesy Of The Bloody Long Island Rail Road

So I get to the station a few minutes early and decide to save a few minutes by buying my December ticket now instead of at the last minute.

Dimwit me.

The stupid f#$%ing ticket machine delivered only the receipt to say I'd been charged for t' privilege. No sign whatsoever of the ticket itself.
"How Innovative!" I exclaimed and went upstairs to inform those "in charge" that there was a problem.

There I was obliged to stand in line due to there only being two harrased-looking ticket sales people on duty. A young african american guy wasn't taking things very well. His technique for avoiding queue-tension was to walk up and down the length of the line muttering "I hate white people". Thus I was shown the heartwarming fact that full-blown irrational racism isn't just the province of white entertainers best known for their part on "Seinfeld"1 or rich Australian actor/directors2, but is also practiced and enjoyed by the black man in the street too. Lovely.

When I finally got to the window the lady behind it listened to me with a sympathetic ear then directed me to fill out a form. I was a little downhearted by this, but cheered up considerably when she told me I would not have to file the form in Jamaica (as so many LIRR processes seem to involve) but could leave it with her. By the time that was done I had about three minutes to catch my train home. Magic.

During the journey I reflected on the chances of the LIRR processes taking less than a few weeks to grind into action, especially since there would be a series of holidays in the same period that would serve to slow everything down to a managable speed. I resolved to call Visa when I got home and begin the charge disputation process from my end of things.


After the obligatory and always unwanted robot recital of my account balance I was conected in surprisingly short time with a human with a cultured eastern seaboard accent typical of Maryland. Who took all the details and passed me to another human, this one with a charming southern accent.

It is, of course, all but certain I was talking to people in different Indian towns throughout.

Who informed me that the charge hadn't posted, and probably wouldn't for another 3 business days. Since it hadn't posted there was no way to begin the process of flagging the charge as a total and complete rip off.

So now I have to wait until monday to go through the whole muzak/robot/muzak/person/muzak/person chain, at which point there may or may not be a charge showing that I may or may not be able to dispute.


1: Michael Richards, who played the loveable "Kramer", reportedly exploded on stage a couple of days ago during an extended heckling from some rude african americans and became extremely rude in return, expounding on the historical role negroes played in interracial exchanges in the USA and the use of cutlery in non-consensual bondage situations3
2: Mel Gibson was arrested a few months back for drunk driving, whereupon he reportedly became incensed at the arresting officer's possible semetic heritage and felt moved to expound on the role of Jews in starting world wars3
3: I'm not surprised that people think and feel this way. Humans are irrational. But famous people are not allowed to articulate their thoughts on the matter in public and stay famous. Go figger.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Man Who Went Up A Mountain And Rolled Down A Wheel

A story not unlike this one once appeared in Scaryduck's blog, years ago. I wrote to him to congratulate him on the quality of his writing and Stevie-oriented humour, and to remark on the coincidence of our experience with wheels. In his reply he encouraged me to have a go myself. I didn't, since he had already told much the same story much better than I could have - and who needs a rash of lookalike stories blooming all over the web? Time has erased Scaryduck’s archive from much of the public consciousness, and so it is now time to tell the tale of the Man Who Went Up A Mountain And Rolled Down A Wheel.

Once Upon A Time In The West (Of Welsh Wales)

Ken and I were once again in Wales, ostensibly to muck around climbing in the old slate quarries but also to do a bit of mucking around on a certain defunct narrow-gauge railway. We were staying with Ken's friend Dave, who had one of a row of cottages that faced the foothills of Cader Idris.

Everything in the area was made of slate. It was everywhere you looked. Where there wasn't sparse, short-cropped grass there was slate poking out of the earth. Slate boulders littered the countryside, cast-off from the Victorian-era slate industry that had bellied-up catastrophically long before I was born. You couldn't walk far in the hills without coming on at least one ghost village, not much more than a collection of slate walls usually, and you had to watch out when you sat on a wall (dry-stone, slate) that you weren't perched backwards over a bottomless chasm left by the slate miners1. The danger wasn't trivial, since much of the time you would be walking on slate and it rains quite a bit in Wales. Wet slate is about as easy to walk on as wet soap. The only thing that will grip on it is a pair of dry socks and that is because the water gets soaked up from the slate as you step. The men that dug the stuff out of the earth walked in boots with iron cleats in the soles. I can't think that the cleats worked very well. After a week in this town I generally went colourblind, only able to see in shades of grey and green for days after leaving Wales.

Ken was heavily involved with the local narrow gauge railway restoration effort, at the time an extremely unpopular undertaking with almost all the locals in the area. The railway was little more than some decayed buildings and abandoned track bed then. Ken, still at school but already showing signs of being a master carpenter in the making, had persuaded the technology department to dig in and try their hand at coachmaking to see if a collaboration project between our school, the society and a foundry couldn't conjure a period replica railway carriage from the raw materials. To say he was keen on this whole railway thing would be a massive understatement. I just liked the view from the clifftops.

Ken and I had decided to walk into the hills that day. The sun was shining for once and we were looking forward to doing some hiking and climbing.

We set off from the cottage, which was as I say one of a row on the main road that cut west to end up at Aberlefenni or some such place, crossed the road, navigated the ditch on the other side of the road and began the ascent up "the hill". Said hill, following a pattern common in that part of the country, had a slope that put the ground approximately at eye-level when one stood upright on it if memory serves. What can I say? We were young and knew not the meaning of the phrase "coronary infarction".

We were about halfway up the hill, almost to the edge of the first abandoned village when I found it. A cast-iron railwheel, something shy of a foot in diameter with a characteristic and very hard to reproduce curved spoke pattern. Ken identified it as ultra-top desirable and then some in a heartbeat.

"We have to get it back!" he said.

I wasn't keen. We were about 3/4 of an hour up the mountain, still in sight of the main road and the row of cottages we'd started from. We intended to loop around the mountain and would be coming back some distance to our current left. We would, experience said, also be completely knackered after climbing all over the mountain. I remember that the joy of walking downhill to the road was often offset by the need to walk gently uphill along that road for a mile afterwards to get back to the house. Anyway.

We dithered about the wheel for quite a while. It was far too heavy to lug with us. It was far too high up to leave and come back to another day (our itinerary was full of other walking/climbing stuff too and no-one wanted to cancel one of those epic feats of derring-do). These conditions were perfect for creation of an innovative solution to the problem at hand. Unfortunately, it was also at this point that Mr Brain, whom I would later realise would never let a golden opportunity like this pass him by, began to work insidiously for my downfall.

I looked at the wheel. Round, with a flange on one side. It was heavy and would exhibit a considerable bias were one to roll it along the floor. It would, in fact, roll in a huge arc.

I looked at the mountain. Steep (apart from the bit we were currently standing on). Soft, except for the bits of slate sticking out of it. Mostly flat if you ignored the village we were standing in and the boulder-choke around the ditch at the roadside. A plan formed as subliminal trumpets played "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and the sun touched the very edge of a ruined house wall to my back.

"We could roll it down" I said.

Ken did a little dance on the grass and yelled that it would be stupid to risk shattering the wheel on a boulder just because we didn't want to climb up here again tomorrow.

"No! We'll roll the thing thataway! It'll curve right around over there and come to a stop. We'll only need to climb halfway up tomorrow!" I urged.

I imagine my eyes were aglow with my own "brilliance" at this point. Whatever it was, my evangelical powers persuaded Ken that I knew what I was talking about (Ken may actually have been the first person to experience the roller-coaster emotions resulting from that assumption but he should comfort himself that he was by no means the last). I positioned myself and set the wheel rolling. It promptly fell over. I tried again, but the same thing happened. The flange was simply offset too far for the wheel to roll.

Unless. Unless I tipped it radically off-center and rolled it more directly down the hill. From the fevered chambers of Mr Brain 'twas but a moment's work to finally get the damned wheel moving according to the new plan.

A sad mistake

The wheel promptly turned to follow the slope and began to gather speed at an alarming rate. It also, bafflingly, showed no tendency to turn whatsoever, instead adopting an arrow-straight trajectory on the steepest, shortest path to the main road2 and the houses! Azathoth, I could see that already the wheel, less than halfway down the hill, was traveling fast enough to punch a hole straight through the slate walls of the houses down below and also through anyone unreasonable enough to be standing behind them.

I began to gibber and dance in place as the wheel, now with the bit between its teeth and firmly infected with speed madness leapt several feet in the air to clear what must have been an insignificant clod of earth. The energy it represented was considerable, whispered some tattered remnants of Mr Fischer's A-Level Physics class on kinetics. I looked wide-eyed at the ditch. The wheel was on course to run down the ditch, up the other side and launch itself like some cast-iron exocet into the second storey of one of the cottages (although I comforted myself that I couldn't be positive it was Ken's friend's house it was aiming for). Both Ken and I stood with our mouths hanging open in shear terror and disbelief at this totally unpredictable fiasco in the making. Someone was screaming quietly. I think it might have been me.

In a surprisingly short time the wheel ran down the ditch and slammed into the opposite slope whereupon it leapt vertically about twenty feet into the air and about a foot backwards. It crashed down again, laying a fantail of loose slate pebbles in its wake and repeated the process, this time only getting to about twelve feet in altitude. A couple more bounces and it was all over.

I swallowed, pushed my eyeballs back into their sockets and said "There you go, Ken".

Ken, overcome by euphoria at the elegance of my solution to the vexing wheel problem stopped throwing up and playfully tried to kill me with a lump of slate.

1: Slate was mined by cutting into a vertical face of slate cliff, then tunneling down. A slate mine looks like a quarry with a huge (and I do mean huge) pit at the foot of the cliff. Guard rails were usually rotted and gone. It wasn't the sort of place many people came for fun, really.
2: I had not noticed, until that moment, the cars

The Long Island Rail Road's Enlightened Stance On Traffic Priority And Some Issues Arising From The Implementation Of It.

Well, once again my commute was made more bloody than strictly necessary by the Long Island Rail Road.

The whole network was running a little late last night because of a sudden monsoon that arrived at the same time as the opening of the rainy season. Volumes of water were belting various parts of Long Island all night, but (and this is crucial) not at the same time.

I had been delayed in departing work and so traveled to Penn Station to begin the business of getting home. As I've mentioned before, if I miss the 6:04 from Flatbush I have to change at Jamaica. This would work except that the trains I would be changing to start from Penn and are usually full from the get-go. Hence, it is usually a better proposition to go to Penn and get on the thing there, as far as getting a seat goes anyway.

The Late start meant that a light rain was falling over NYC when we started out, but we easily outpaced it. The rain made a determined effort to catch us and a light drizzle was falling on the train when to pulled up on the west side of route 110, just after Farmingdale and just before the single track section. Where we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Waited for the westbound off-peak train to get through the chicane.

I am absolutely bloody sick to the back teeth of this f#$%ing nonsense. If westbound trains are going to get priority no matter where they are in the g-d network, why am I being charged an arm and a leg for peak fares on the eastbound leg of the journey? Where else in the world do off-peak trains get traffic priority over peak ones?

This enlightened procedure once again cause me to have the joy of arriving home late. Once again I was drenched because the weather caught us while we cooled our wheels for five minutes and watched the traffic go by on 110.

These idiots couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery. They should all be flogged naked around the f#$%ing Hillside Facility (major capital investment boondoggle, incapable of achieving the design parameters that it was built on), then Harold Junction ( major capital investment boondoggle, incapable of achieving the design parameters that it was built on as demonstrated on the first day they opened it) and the West Side Loop (you can guess this bit).

Seen It All Before

If you meet a Princess of Mars and could swear you've seen her before, is it a case of Déja Thoris?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Excavating Bog

Last night I arrived home in some depression over the fact that the work outstanding in getting the subfloor of Bog up hasn't done itself, so I got changed, went upstairs and began hammering, levering, chiseling, swearing and sweating and as a result have finally managed to uncover the entire sub-sub floor of Bog, a rather substantial inch-thick hardwood plank affair. Well done those builders for doing something right.

Since there was absolutely no chance of uncovering any new wonders in what is left of the Bog/Bog II/Bog III complex I spent the weekend feigning illness, wandering around muttering to myself and generally not doing stuff with the result that Mrs Stevie became increasingly optically communicative until I was forced to install a hall light1. There is still some stupid problem, but I don't know if it belongs in my cheap multi-meter or in the wiring. Basically, with the switch installed I'm showing 30 volts on the open circuit. Not when the switch is out of circuit though. A quick test showed the light fitting and switch combo worked without fires breaking out, lights remaining on or other non-lighting manifestations of loose electrickrey so I went with it (new switch I might add, bought fresh from  Home Despot  and not the old one on the off-chance water had gotten inside it and was finding a path to ground)

When I pull out the downstairs bathroom walls I'll run new Romex back there. Short of tearing out the hall wall there is no other option.

Now I get to put down a new layer of plywood for the foundation of New Bog, followed by a layer of backer-board that is the preferred material owing to it being a) waterproof, 2) strongish, when backed by an inch of hardwood and another 1/2-3/4 inch of exterior-grade plywood and γ) highly dangerous in dust form, a significant point when one considers that I will probably need to break out Mr Spiral Saw to shape it around the flange fitting. Clean-up of the dust is said to require the "wet method" to avoid the hideous diseases it can cause if you sniff the stuff. Presumably, this involves getting someone wetter than you to vacuum it up while you are safely somewhere distant. I'll probably do all my cutting outside so the neighbours from hell can share the joy.

Next will come wall installation interleaved with a phase of pipe reconfiguration sure to test my patience as I attempt to solder in confined and flammable spaces. I refer to this as the Time of Plumbing and Wall Fitting, and regard it with much superstition and dread.

Then it is time for breaking out the highly toxic petroleum-distillate-based glue in the teenytiny confines of New Bog to stick down the no-wax floor and I should be pushing up daises no later than the second week of December if my calculations are correct2. Assuming that against all odds I am still "enjoying" my health after this, it will be time for commode installation, sink installation and the ever-looked-for chance to get soaked while connecting up the faucets and so on.

1: I also replaced the drop ceiling installed in the downstairs bathroom five years ago as a "temporary measure" but since the job involved several embarrasing screw-ups I am not going to detail it. Suffice to say that I continue to believe no-one will notice the black dots on the ceiling tile that was marked up exactly back to front in permanent marker before I re-measured the gap and noticed the mirror image (in a mirror as it happens).
2: Not a foregone conclusion, as the mound of earth in the driveway still attests to

Ears Still Whistling

I forget how long this nonsense has been going on but I'm truly fed up with it already. Two courses of anti-biotics to try and shake the underlying infection. Two courses of steroids to attempt to open up the pipes Doc Rubberglove seems to believe connect my nose and ears (I humour the man, but really!).

On the plus side my foot hurts slightly less today than it did this time last week. This may have something to do with the drugs, but probably just represents major nerve damage in my foot. The elbow, injured most likely while trying to cow the guitar into submission, is still as painful as it ever was (at least, ever was from about two weeks after guitar acquisition).

The Stevieling has an ear infection now, and when I just called Mike the Shaman over some trivial tech thing he confessed to being in a doctor's office watching a tinnitus video. Yesterday I ran into another colleague who has had the same bloody thing for almost a year. What is going on? Is the whole bloody state falling prey to some sort of stealth ear attack by the forces of evil?

Answers please in really big type1 on a 3x5 card.

1: Otherwise I won't be able to hear what you've written over the steamboat whistle in my left ear

A Brave New World

Consumer Alert: Any humour in this article is of the computer-in-joke kind and therefore fundamentally unfunny to just about anyone with a life, even me. I include it to enable the reader to get a sense of the inertia that really good tech tedium can have.
Mrs Stevie does not appear in this story, except during a phone call I have edited out of it.

Well, I was (against all expectation) included in yet another meeting with the Linux installers (whom I now suspect to be highly dangerous, if quiet, psychopaths1 instead of peace-loving alternate-tech geeks) and it was all go.

A previous meeting with my boss had prompted me to ask how the whole thing was supposed to work, a move that has now gotten me identified as some sort of tech-terrorist due to the answers to that question.

The Linux bit is basically a couple of towers of high-powered servers connected to unimaginably large data stores. The primary purpose? To provide connectivity between people all over New York with the central mainframe computer (something we used to do with a few hundred Unix SVr4 computers and a few dozen hundred green screen dumb terminals). The Two Towers are essentially a load balanced fault tolerant auto failover solution. That means that of the x000 people working on "the computer" x/2 000 of them will be going courtesy of software running in one or other of the towers2, and that in the event of a problem, some of them will be swapped automagically into the other tower until the broken veeblefetzer gets fixed. It's all very modern and ann goode thinge.

The thing is, that the boss thought (due to being told that this was the case by a Linux installer) that this process would be "seamless".

It won't be for anyone wanting to do more than run a console application in one of the servers because the mediating terminal emulator software will take a stop and need to restart in its new digs. This will take about 4 - 10 minutes, the cost of booting a virtual Linux computer. Then comes the good bit

The connection to the mainframe computer requires certain addresses and session information be kept otherwise each attempt to talk to it would ask the comms manager at the mainframe for new connections every time (kinda like needing a cookie for those born after the web, or like needing a return address on a letter for those still denying computers exsist). To avoid this we keep the session identification credentials in a file and check for an existing open connection there (the mainframe comms manager cannot be queried for this data without opening yet another connection, and the total number of connections it can have is very large - about 50 times x000 - but finite and easily used up by poor programming practice). If we find a set of creds for the process, we use that connection.

After a move to the Tower Next Door, a process will not be able to do that, even if we replicate the credentials, because the Process ID is part of the data required and that changes when we move.
"No problem, we'll just open new connections" you say and you are spot on.

Unfortunately, the connections that are open can only be closed by timing out (about 5 - 10 minutes or so) or by being closed by a script.
"The script then!" you triumphantly howl, and that is how we do the job right now in our Pre-Linux lash-up.

Only thing is, if a server takes a stop, its IP address isn't available any more due to automagic. The mainframe connections can only be explicitly dropped from the same IP address they were opened with.
"Simple!" you indignantly yell. "Map the virtual IP addresses used by the fault toleration gubbins instead of the hard IP address of the server!"

A good plan. So far a room full of Unixgeex and Linux Quiet Psychopaths has failed to manage this feat. Not surprising since the application software was authored on papyrus.

1: The Linux world is apparently populated not, as I had been led to believe, by earnest yet gentle techies but by reputedly violently no-doubt deranged allegedly homicidal possibly mad persons as detailed here
2: Upon being asked what we should call the cabinets, my suggestion of "Minas Morgul" and "Minas Tirith" was duly, and dully, rejected. Phillistines! The computing world does not need another "Calvin and Hobbes" or "Nixon and Agnew", and despite the feelings of just about everyone else in the IT world these "jokes" do indeed get old.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Dragged into Shady Company By My Company

So I am dragooned into taking up arms in our march towards democratic freedom from corporate borgdom etc. the glory of open systems etc etc Linux to be new watchword under pain of sanctions and so forth.

Yesterday I found out from our Unix groo that
  1. The Suse Linux boot disc has an underlying FAT file system1 that cannot be deleted or "it won't boot"
  2. The Linux cluster control consoles we just bought run embedded XP2, without which "nuthin' wurks"
  3. One of the suggested file systems for our new enterprise solution is not to be used on account of its future is uncertain due to the inventor currently awaiting trial for murder3
So, to recap: Our Linux systems are closely intertwined with MS XP anyway and the Linux community is apparently comprised of violent alleged criminals rather than the peaceful Finns I had been led to understand ran the show. Thus, by moving to Linux we don't rid ourselves of our dependancy on Microsoft, but we do get the chance to be associated with alleged criminals of the most virulent stripe.

I already have a smoke machine4. Anyone got a mirror?

1: As in the same one used in Microsoft's DOS and Windows AnythingYouLike
2: As in Microsoft XP
3: Hans Reiser, no relation to Paul Reiser (who did try to kill Sigourney Weaver but ended up getting eaten by seven-foot tall aliens instead)
4: See A Little Night Madness

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Not Much Fun In The Elevator (If You're A Fire-Fighter)

While I was attending a Linux presentation (pauses for cries of "say it ain't so" and "two faced bugger" to subside) I spotted this sign in the elevator. The thought of an irate manager turfing a firefighter with "tackle out" from the elevator made me snort coffee. Something to do with the rubber clothing I guess.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Alcoholic Wasteland that is Britain in the 21st Century

From the Guardian (Online Edition): Printing technology has moved on, but some of the old what-the-hell-is-it thrill returned this week when the Macclesfield Express published an alleged picture of a badger. It was from footage shot in the town centre by local resident Simon Churchman, 38, after seeing an animal on his way home from the pub.

I have to wonder what is happening when

  1. protected species would rather spend their evenings in the pub than preparing for winter in the set1 with their mates as they did when I was a lad
  2. Newspaper editors are either so afraid of being sued or so drunk they cannot positively identify a picture as a picture
Hell in a handbasket.

1: The proper name for a badger nest

Doing Science

From The Guardian (online version): "Here in the Afar desert, one of the hottest and driest places on earth, the tribe had witnessed the birth of a new ocean. Images from the European Space Agency's Envisat satellite showed that a huge rift, 37 miles long and up to eight metres (26ft) wide, had opened deep in the Earth's crust. "

Obviously in reaction to the idiots who go around declaring Pluto "not a planet" and Lake Huron "not a real lake", some British scientists have swung to the other end of the daft spectrum and declared a crack opened up by an earthquake to be a new ocean. This despite the rather diminutive dimensions of the thing (as compared to,say, the Pacific or Atlantic which are distinguished by having boundaries that run for thousands of miles) and the complete lack of water in it (normally considered to be the sine qua non of oceanic seaness on Earth).

I have to admit that I have put the scientific establishment on notice in the past and demanded that scientists stop mucking about redefining things that have been around longer than they have and do real science instead. In this I must bear some of the blame for this obvious dash to look busy. However, scientists should be aware that we are on to them and can spot fake science when we see it. This new "ocean" typifies the kind of thinking that is bringing western civilisation down.

Scientists! Stop mucking about! We demand the following projects be followed with all dispatch

  1. Develop the flying car at an affordable price
  2. Moon rockets that work properly
  3. Moonbases that are worth going to. Some shed with no ameneties doesn't count!
  4. Anti-gravity liftbelts
  5. Pistol-size death rays
  6. Telepathy pills
  7. Free electricity for all
  8. Elimination of the gene that enamours one of "push to talk" cellphones from humans
  9. Robots that look like real robots instead of the idiotic steamshovel affairs that populate our car factories
  10. Digital Cable TV service that doesn't look like crap when compared to old fashioned analogue cable TV.
  11. X-Ray vision goggles
  12. Rocketshoes with an altimeter in the heel
  13. Gill Pills for those who like to SCUBA but can't afford the ridiculous welding-bottle affair currently in vogue
  14. FTL Star Drive. We'll never get anywhere interesting lollygagging around in Einsteinian space.
  15. Solid state music storage and reproduction gear that doesn't compress the signal so hard it sounds like crap when played back
  16. Generic Remove Disease Pills. That should put paid to the stupid HMOs

That's enough to be going on with. No more arguing about minutiae! Do science!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Little Night Madness

Hallowe'en is my favourite time of the year. I love getting dressed up in some juvenile horror-themed costume and behaving like thirty years haven't happened to me. What can I say? "Up yours" if you don't like it is what.

Each year some friends of ours who own a stonking mansion of a house run a Hallowe'en party and they have invited us for lo these many years to attend. I feel that such devotion deserves the very best efforts on our family's part in order to wring the maximum enjoyment from the event. The best we ever did was to have Mrs Stevie and I turn up dressed as aliens in costumes that concealed us so well the hosts eventually had to give in and ask us if we were who they thought we were. Last year we repeated the theme and included the now old-enough to come along Stevieling. This unreasonable crimp on the young lass's creativity caused a row that lasted for many weeks so this year no attempt was made to enforce a family theme. In the absence of any sort of agreement on so much as a trend in our choices of costume, I improvised.

I decided to celebrate my body hair this Hallowe'en with an "Urban Werewolf" portrayal and began growing out my hair for it in July. For three months I withstood the increasingly strident taunting by my colleagues, staying true to my vision. I would wear my suit to the party, combing my hair and beard out wildly. Once inside the door I would remove my jacket to reveal that my shirt was shredded, allowing much of my body hair to be observed by one and all. It would be a great triumph, especially if anyone threw up like they did when I took off my shirt at our pool party last July. My fallback position would be to don green "rotting corpse" makeup and go as Gerry Garcia, whom I was beginning to resemble more than passingly. All bets covered and everything on course for merriment, undead-style.

Mrs Stevie then wistfully grabbed me in a choke hold and opined that she wished she could attend the event in her Victorian costume bought for the murder mystery party these same hosts held about three years ago. I said that I felt she should go as anything she liked, and I could help her since my own "werewolf" idea was coming together nicely. Mrs Stevie applied a passionate hammerlock and explained that she thought it would work better if we went as a themed couple. I pointed out that werewolves could be of any era, but my particular plan called for the wearing of my suit and though not perhaps in the height of current fashion it wouldn't pass for Victorian since they hadn't invented the Nehru jacket or 40" knee-bag trousers then. Mrs Stevie then demonstrated her ipon-seonagé followed by her signature pile-driver and explained that she felt we should both wear our murder mystery togs in order to create the illusion that our family was a tight-knit unit and not just a bunch of people having the misfortune to live under the same roof. I defended my "werewolf" idea hotly, with many fiendish arguments but eventually came to see her point of view as I settled into the barber chair. A quick session with Mr Clippers and Mr Braun and I once again resembled Nigel Green in his portrayal of Colour Sergeant Bourne in the movie "Zulu".

Fortunately, events took a turn Steviewards when we arrived at the party to discover that the host’s au pair, a delightfully perky Danish lady of about 19 years, had invited a baker's dozen of her au pair friends and the house was overrun by giggly international crumpet of a very satisfying calibre. By judicious moving from room to room I was able to engage many of these vivacious young women in lively debate without the presence of Mrs Stevie who disapproves of au pairs, youth and happiness in approximately equal amounts. I felt sorry for the young things, since the one guy at the party of their own age, who was supposed to bring some of his friends to meet them, had decided (in a moment of brilliance the like of which has not been seen since Hitler looked around and said "It's a bit crowded in this country, let's find some more room") to “forget” to invite them so he could have his pick of the crop. This plan succeeded right up until the time he was called upon to actually talk to them, at which point it dawned on him that he would have been more heroic in their eyes by sticking to the original plan since there was no-one there who could prompt him to talk about himself or egg him on to relate tales of his derring-do. Those au pairs not entranced by my own tales of tool-related environmental dominance (which was, bafflingly, most of them that spoke English) went and hid in the host's au pair's apartment.

Hallowe'en itself brought on much cursing, swearing and a spot of emergency tool usage in a hazardous environment. For the last two years we have added a new dimension to our Hallowe'en tableau with a fog machine. Anyone who has used one of these outside knows that the fog generated has a tendency to rise, since it is made of vapourised glycol and water and the air outside is on the cool side this time of year. I combat this with a homemade device to chill the fog, which helps to keep it sticking to the floor. The device is essentially an old beer cooler with a netting pipe running through it. Ice (about 45 lbs or 18 kilos if my metrimaths is working right) is packed into the cooler to form a pipe of ice through which the fog is routed. It all works about as well as can be expected which is to say the fog wells out of the delivery pipe at a reduced speed but does stick to the ground.

If the air is still.

Unfortunately, the air was not still last night so the fog had a tendancy to disperse quickly. However, that problem paled into insignificance when the fog machine abruptly stopped working about two puffs after coming to the boil. Hurried fabrication of a "pricker" to clean out the orifice didn't cause it to suddenly start working again, so I unplugged it, decamped to the kitchen and began diagnosing the problem.

I could hear the pump motor, but it seemed much reduced in volume and I decided it must have become blocked. I decanted all the fog juice out of the thing into one of Mrs Stevie's saucepans (naturally, I had filled the fog machine reservoir just before it broke down) and tried running the machine with a charge of water in it in the hope it would shift the blockage. No joy. I would have to resort to some warranty voiding tactics. I broke out Mr Screwdriver and removed a dozen screws holding the metal case together and pulled off the top to reveal the chassis and fog-making gubbins inside.

There was a large fiberglass-wrapped parcel just behind the orifice, a transformer, some spliced wires and the tank/pump assembly. Remarkably few bits and pieces really. The design of these things isn't hard to understand: The power passes through the transformer and is either stepped down from lethal mains voltage to lethal sub-mains voltage levels or stepped up from lethal mains voltage to lethal higher voltage, then passes to the pump via the timer device (an external plug-in affair) and the fiberglass-wrapped heater/vapouriser. Plenty of scope for getting juiced there as you can appreciate, since all those connections are made with the assumption a nice steel cover will be in place when the power is applied. Of course, although it is strongly contra-indicated everywhere including here, it really wasn't feasible to reassemble the cover every time a test run was going to be done so the chances were good for a voltage-related fiasco before the night was out. This always gets the old juices flowing. The second circuit was the one for the fog juice. Simple enough. Juice is forced out of the pump (or not, as was the case last night) though a primitive metering device which allows the juice to return to the tank if the pressure is too high (just like the fuel delivery on the Triumph PI system used on the 2500 and TR6 marques as chance would have it) and thence to the vapouriser. First order of business was to detach the pipe from the pump outlet and pressurise it to clear any blockage. Actually, first order of business would be to either figure a way to pressurise the pipe aside from the obvious one or to check the toxicity of the fog juice since it appears to be similar to anti-freeze in makeup, but that only occurred to Mr Brain after the Stevielips had tasted of the forbidden fog-juice brew. No matter. That which doesn't kill me will only cause massive internal bleeding, neurological damage or genetic disorders. Cursing and swearing at the vile taste I grabbed first a glass of water to swill out my mouth and mucous membranes, then the fog juice bottle for any poison control center directions, located on the label under a smiling skull and crossbones icon. From what I could make out from the badly translated label the fog juice is "not for the internal use or applications unlike from the making of foog" but wasn't outright toxic. Once the headache had subsided and the double vision reduced to a manageable level, I began a tankectomy with a view to seeing if the bottom of the pump could be removed to expose the impeller and whatever was blocking it (probably a fog-juice booger or a small bug).

As an aside, sometimes on rotary pumps it is possible to free a blockage by reversing the polarity of the motor so it runs backwards, ejecting the blockage from the intake pipe. This, for all the Trekkies out there, is the only real world case I can think of where the phrase "have you tried reversing the polarity?" actually would be a useful suggestion and not total bollocks deserving a taste of Mr Phaser. For almost every other application, reversing the polarity would likely just cause massive, expensive and irreversible damage to the electronics of the device in question, such as a sensor array. Anyone doubting this should simply reverse the polarity on their stereo and watch it burst into flames. Reversing the polarity wasn't an option on the fogger pump because a suspicious circuit board absolutely packed with polarised electronic components was permanently mounted on it preventing the improvisation of a low-volt power supply to drive it. Back to the Hallowe'en FX Debacle

The pump proved to be a sealed unit, much as I feared. In order to get it to run now, I would have to use an extremely technical process. I plugged in the exposed chassis, and was rewarded by an immediate crack and an actinic blue spark from a cable splice, which oddly didn't blow the circuit breaker or fuse the fog machine. Thank Azathoth for crummy oriental design and construction. Everything seemed to be working despite the impromptu SF FX so I inverted the pump, pressed the "make fog" button and whacked the pump smartly about a dozen times with the handle of Mr Screwdriver. This proved to be the right course of action and the pump let out a shriek as it span dry. I hurriedly reassembled the unit and added some water to the tank. Pressing the "make fog" button now gave me volumes of steam. Perfect! I decanted out the water and replaced it with the fog juice in the saucepan. Another quick test filled the kitchen with choking amounts of fog, so I turned on the hood over the stove and went out to mount the fog-machine on the cooler in the now-pitch-dark garden. The kids were impressed but in all honesty this year the wind was too high to use the machine to its best advantage.

As I was leaving the house, Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling returned.
"Why is the kitchen full of smoke?" demanded the Stevieling.
I was about to answer her when Mrs Stevie, blundering about in the stygian depths of the kitchen in search of the refrigerator, slipped on a small puddle of spilled fog juice and collided with the sink, discovering the saucepan with the remnants of fog juice in it. I decided to let the child figure it out for herself and retired to the garden until Mrs Stevie had calmed down.