Monday, July 30, 2007

An Appology To Anyone Not Yet Drowned In The UK

Last week I made some disparaging remarks about the thickness of the nap of British Rain when compared to a recent downpour in New York.

Having just viewed several picture-larded news stories of the current sumberged state of large parts of the Home Counties, along with some truly splendid pictoral examples of British Stiff (if Waterlogged) Upper Lip, I wish to offer a heart felt appology to my British Readers. I unreservedly withdraw my off-the-cuff slur on the density of your rainfall.

You got rain.

A Weekend of Bleachhh!

What a non-starter of a weekend.

On Saturday I got off to a running start and replaced the broken parts on the Stevieling's swing. I built the Monkeybar, Vertical Ladder and Triple Swing Extravaganza wing to Fort Stevieling a few years ago, when she was still in 4th grade or thereabouts. And a back-breaking, herculean task of recreational engineering it was to design, build and mount the thing on the pre-exsisting structure, itself designed and built by these two hands (with some managerial-style input from The Stevieling, then about 5 years old). In the intervening years, the screw eyebolts I used for universal swing mounts (what do we recreational engineers know of proper bushed bearings?) had begun to show wear and tear, especially the pair used for the regular swing1.

This year I had omitted to grease the little carabiner-style snap rings that attach the chains to the eyebolts, with the result that the Stevieling managed to saw through said eyebolts in two months of furious swinging. Fortunately she hasn't inherited her mother's lack of concern over changes in mechanical environmental behaviour so she was alerted to potential trouble by the scream of failing metal, and came running into the house to report that the swing had broken before it actually failed completely and tossed her into the collection of old barbed wire, dead washing machines and broken glass I keep at the side of the house.

The damage was spectacular, in a quiet way. The spring clips had eroded almost 2/3rds of the way through and the eyebolts were showing about the same amount of wear. One of them had unfolded at the wear point (but hadn't actually broken off) due to the centrifugal forces of the swing.

It took several days to track down replacement parts. I tried Arse Hardware but they only sold 1/4 inch or 5/8ths inch eyebolts, and the ones I had settled on back in the design phase were 5/16ths. I was also of a mind to replace the zinc plated eyebolts I originally used with stainless steel and was willing to get out Mr Drill and rebore the holes out to 5/8ths if need be to accomodate them, but no-one sold those in the length I needed. So it was back to Home Despot who originally supplied all the hardware for Fort Stevieling, and back to zinc-plated hardware at that. What a pain.

Of course, I still had to get the eyebolts out of the monkeybar side-members.

I have a tendancy to over-design when kids are involved, and had originally drilled the holes for the eyebolts exactly to size so that they would have to be screwed into position. This would, in the tortured meanderings of Mr Brain's thought processes provide that little bit of extra safety should some inventive little sod child manage to climb up on top of the monkey bars and remove a nut or two.

Of course, the chemicals in the wood had long-ago formed a nice layer of corrosion on the shaft of the eyebolt, making it impossible to turn by hand. All was not lost though, because Mrs Stevie had bought me a set of those "undo anything" socket wrenches that consist of a chrome steel cylinder filled with spring-loaded pins that retract when the thing is pressed over a fastener and adopt the shape of the fastener head. This tool was able to grasp the loop of the eyebolt securely and allow me to unscrew the it with a speed-wrench (the thing that looks like an old fashioned carpenter's drill2 in your socket set) in only about a minute (the thread was about eight inches long and fine pitched).

In some time at all I had installed the new hardware, rehung the swing, applied a little 3-in-1 in lieu of grease and dashed in for a late breakfast, which was when I got a call from Jeff the Kung-Fu Accountant to help him in his search for speakers.

Jeff has recently moved from a small mansion to something slightly smaller than the Tzar's Winter Palace. When he and his clan moved they took the furniture. They took the barbecue, which let's face it, has seen better days and doesn't go with their new swank neighbourhood3. They even took the ceiling fans, which were expensive and hard to find by all accounts, but they left behind the speakers for their surround-sound home theater4. I did ask him why he did this, knowing that my readers would be eager to engage in heated discussion of his reasoningand conclusions, but I'm afraid I didn't understand any of the three of four answers he gave during the course of the afternoon. Bottom line: He had taken the center channel speaker and the subwoofer but left the satelite speakers on the wall brackets when he left.

I "tsked" at this turn of events, hung up and mournfully reported to Mrs Stevie, on her fifth cup of java of the day and beginning to simmer nicely, that I would not be able to work in the garage that day owing to having to go and help Jeff do stuff. Then I left before she could swallow the mouthfull of sausage she had just taken and issue any counter-instructions.

Jeff and I went to the Bose store, where one can hear a variety of "sound solutions" that only cost the GRP of a small African nation, and to the "Sony Styles" store, where we were obviously the uncoolest people and therefore subject to the hostile stares of all the under thirty-fives desperately trying to throw money away on expensive toys. Even Jeff got into the spirit of the thing until I reminded him that two thousand dollars is too much for a set of speakers if you have fifty year old, fifty-buck ears. I didn't say that I felt two thousand dollars was too much for speakers in any event, but I sure thought it.

More stores, more hype, little substance until I announced that by "sheer chance" we had fetched up on Merrick Avenue, home to our batchelor-days hunting ground, By Gad It's Friday, and I was in the mood for a cold beer and a snack.

Over the course of the next two hours we dissected his speaker problem and my life plan. On the speaker front, we decided he was happy with the old speakers so he should either get on the web to Sony and get replacements or break into his old house and take the ones he had left behind. Jeff had had only two whiskies at that point, and so my daring "break-in" plan was rejected in favour of the safer "google search" one. On the Life plan front, we did some complex real-time analysis and concluded I didn't have one and was better off not adopting one at this late stage as it would involve faking my own suicide, adopting a new persona and moving to the Yukon. Fortunately I had managed to consume enough Bass to prevent the analysis causing anything but the smallest crisis, and I escaped with only a mild concussion from banging my head into the bar and crying "Why Me?"

I dropped Jeff off at the East Portcullis and drove home, where I was confronted by reality and had to go to bed in the hope I could sleep it off.

The next morning I bounced out of bed at around ten, and spent the next two hours cowing the back lawns back into submission with Mr Mower and Mr Weedwacker, who was in fine form and had me dismantling the spool to untangle the nylon cord four times. Consider that the damn' tool was only in use for about twenty minutes and you get an idea of just how uncooperative it was being. By Jove, I'd give it a damn' good thrashing if I didn't know it would get it's revenge the next time I fired it up. It can usually take me three rounds in four without trying. No sooner was I done, smeared in honey and contemplating a quick game of "fashion model" with the contents of the laundry hamper before the women got back from church, than the women got back from church. Lucky escape that. I managed to explain away the honey as a snack-related accident and my nakedness in that I was just going for a shower to remedy the snack-related accident. Mrs Stevie, fuelled by an hour of coffee with the Lutheran Women's Auxilliary, was twitching and paranoid, but in need of a bathroom more urgently than in need of interrogating me.

Then, in a completely unexpected turn of things for the better, Steviewise, the heavens opened, lightning blazed and thunder crashed in continuous waves of concussive majesty, rendering any sort of cleaning out the garage work totally unpractical. This kept up until nightfall, meaning that I had nothing to do but sit around watching TV.


  1. The other two positions are taken up by a trapeeze and a glider, which the Stevieling is a little too big for now but we leave up for visiting family's kiddies to ride
  2. Properly called a "Brace"
  3. It didn't go with their last one either, to be honest. Last time I saw it it looked as though Jeff had hosted some sort of toxic waste rendering effort inside it, then had a large unrefined crude oil fire in it. I am in awe of this man's barbecue technique
  4. Which, ironically, would also turn out to be expensive and hard to find

Thursday, July 26, 2007

No New Stuff For A Few Days

I've finally managed to grab five minutes to explain that I'm in a very intensive training course this week, so although plenty of things are happening at me, I'll be too busy to report them until after it's over.

I'd post during the lunchbreaks but Mistress Alexa1 won't allow me out of the pony harness until 5:30 pm.

Whoops, got to trot.

  1. Owner and operator of Mistress Alexa's House of Pain, a discrete correctional facility for the busy executive

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Up Scope!

Yesterday a brief but destructive storm swept over eastern Long Island, forcing a twenty minute downpour in front of it.

When I say "downpour", I don't mean the petty nonsense I used to see in England, with a few inches dropped over the course of a day or two. I mean a full-on biblical plague of vertical dampness the likes of which I've seen in Florida, in which people can be swept off their feet and motorcyclists get washed away.

It didn't help matters that the drains in most of the towns were so badly clogged they couldn't drain off a spilled cup of coffee in less than a day or so.

The Long Island Rail Road suffered catastrophic failure of everything but (amazingly) the third rail power throughout it's non-South Shore lines. Signals? A thing of the past; soaked, shorted, so much scrap. Of course, these signals will short out if a dog so much as thinks of piddling on one of the cables, so that's no real measure of the sheer volumes of wet that were being dropped on us, but take my word for it, this was one that would be painted on cave walls, carved into stellae, passed by word of mouth down the centuries and have people looking for an enourmous wrecked boat two thousand years later. The LIRR immediately went to the back up system: Train order movement.

Train order movement is as old as railways and probably older than mechanical semaphore signals. The dispatcher somehow communicates with the local signal boxes how the trains are to be prioritised, and the chef-de-signals hands a written order to the person in charge of each train as it passes each signal box.

I'm guessing that about now you are spotting one vital flaw in this system under conditions of monsoondeluge. Paper and ink do not stand up well to a light drizzle. I suspect the train orders were so much papier maché within seconds of them being produced.

Westbury was underwater on both sides of the station.

"See that lake that has made a thing of aquatic terror of the car park entrance?" I said to a fellow commuter. "That is the same flood that used to form when I lived here twenty years ago. So much for progress".

It's amazing what a few dead leaves, left for two decades to compact down into the drains, will do to a small town's streets.

Mineola, a watery hell-hole at the best of times, was a thing of high comedy. A construction pit, some twenty or thirty feet deep, was now brimming with water. There was heavy plant in that pit. You couldn't tell from looking at the small inland sea that had formed next to the station though. Did I say station? I meant to say scenic waterfall. Water was literally cascading over the infill that the platform was built over. this because the Winthrop hospital multi-storey car-park had been transformed into a five-storey cataract of death. Some doctors had foolishly parked expensive foreign sports cars in the lower level. Lower as in "lower than the local ground datum". These were bobbing merrily in about eight feet of water like a bunch of fairground bumper boats. One or two were undergoing a reenactment of the wrecking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

We sat stalled in this station for about 30 minutes (another thirty having been lost about two miles east at Westbury) while the thundering River Huntingdon-Main-Line pounded and crashed about our wheels. What a magnificent sight it made as it swirled along, washing away the balast applied only a couple of months ago. We took bets on the floating dog-corpses as to which would reach the grade crossing at the high street first (having previously agreed where the grade crossing would be said to be located, it being totally invisible due to the newly formed Ganges where once there was trackbed).

All too soon the adventure was over and we were turfed off the train at Jamaica, which for once smelled and looked clean since all the filth from the railroad cars, station and the trackbed had washed into the gardens of the local citizens.

A wait of only 25 minutes saw us on the Brooklyn train, which whisked us to Flatbush Avenue station, now transformed by nature into a Ridley Scott "Bladerunner" set with water cascading onto the marvelling passengers as they debarked (and deswore) and flooded into the subway station.

I got to work only about two hours late, my commute having consumed three hours (forty miles, remember).

That evening I had an uneventful trip home, and arrived chez Stevie to begin pumping out the basement. After I had done that I emptied about a pound of soil-like silt from each downspout, it having been powerwashed off the roof shingles by Mother Nature that morning to ensure maximum chaos. The downspouts are made from sheet aluminum with a seam down one side. Said seam will burst if the pipe loads up with water, which it must have doone since at least one of the pipes had over four inches of compacted muck in it and a split seam. Still, I expect the gutters are clean now.

Flipping through the TV channels I discovered that in Manhattan the cold influx of about a gajillion pints of water to the subsurface steam pipes had caused "water hammer" , resulting in a violent explosion that tore through the road surface in a manner Hollywood film-makers would have cried to see. Fortunately, the steam pipe was of early 1920s vintage, so the fallout of filthy (and hot) water was laced heavily with asbestos sludge. The damage to the road was sever enough to cause a tow truck to be swallowed a-la earthquake, and some poor sod had a heart attack from the noise and died. A complete and utter fiasco of gigantic proportions.

I can't understand how it missed me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why I Make Up Stuff In This Blog

Once again I have been bombarded with an e-mail from one of my three readers demanding answers to burning issues. Apparently the birthday meal posting crossed some sort of line in the sand. I shall attempt to regain my honour in this reader's eyes and by doing so forestall johnny-come-lately copycat complaints from you other two by letting you into a couple of (until now) closely-guarded trade secrets.

"Why do you use such transparently made-up names for the businesses you revile? Are you afraid that their legal representatives will ask you to prove the vile slanders you level at them?

First let me point out that that was actually two questions, each requiring a lengthy answer. Don't blame me if you doze off before the end.

I do indeed shroud the guilty parties behind clever aliases, which I construct using a cunning cryptographic technique, ensuring that the actual business name cannot be discerned without recourse to advanced code-breaking skills. This is indeed to protect myself from the rabid attacks of the never-to-be-sufficiently-damned legal "profession", a bunch of slavering zomboids with too much time on their hands and very inventive minds when it comes to legal harrasment. One need only examine the public record in New York, and on Long Island particularly for examples of the nitwit lengths these people will go to to secure monetary damages for some imagined slight. The fact that I have no money or property worth any money would only dawn on them after they had instigated their baseless complaints and ruined my reputation. Swines.

"This seems monstrously unreasonable! You very occasionally offer otherwise worthless Brownie Points when they get things right. Isn't it unfair that we, the readers, will be unable to properly assign the credit to the real-world business you have so cravenly obscured behind a fictional façade, all to avoid some as-yet unspecified attempt by such a business to receive legal redress for one of your slanderous op-ed pieces?"


"So you have no problem that by this cowardly forced anonymity you deprive these fine businesses of possible increased revenues, a just reward for services rendered in exemplary fashion?"

Nope, none at all. I give these buggers so much Steviecash that they should shut the bleep up and count their blessings. If any one of them ever gives me service above and beyond the call of duty, I will assign clear credit. Don't hold yer breath.

"You are not a nice person".

That is not a question.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Family Celebration To Forget

It being the anniversary of the birth of the Mrs Steviemom, organised merriment in the form of casual dining was called for and Mrs Stevie informed me that an affirmation of the Mrs Steviemom's importance to our small but antagonistic band was required. Nothing would suffice but a visit to an Italian Restaurant.

I hate Italian food.

Pasta, to me, has an extremely unpleasant texture and can only be tolerated once or twice a year by entering a zen-like trance before and during the meal and limiting the pasta form to noodles. Sheet-pasta based dishes will have me heaving in no time flat. For me, consuming lasagna is like eating a wet book bound in human skin.

The sauces that generally accompany pasta are far too tomatoey for my palate, and end up raising small ulcers on the inside of my mouth if I eat more than a small amount due to some as-yet unspecified ingredient. I suspect the chefs use some sort of battery acid in the preparation of them.

Finally, to me, parmesan cheese smells like it has been eaten once before. The mere suggestion of it on the air causes me to begin the pre-antiperistalsic spasms that the smell suggests have already happened recently in the cheese dispenser. I'm told it is delicious. Since I can no more eat something with a vile smell than I could eat what the parmesan cheese smells like, I will never know. This is why I can no longer eat a cheeseburger at IHOP (parmesan cheese now baked into the buns) and why I couldn't eat the otherwise tempting chicken pot pie yesterday (which was infused with a "delicious" parmesan cheese based sauce).

The Mrs Steviemom, possibly in consideration of these factors, possibly not, elected to alter the venue to ShoobyDoos Day, a casual dining restaurant nearby which she and the Mrs Steviedad eat at all the time. The kindness of this gesture must be offset by the fact that the last two times we have dined there it has been a major fiasco. One time they mixed up the meals and took so long to remedy the situation that they ran out of the entrees we had actually ordered (about an hour and a half before). One time they poisoned me and the Stevieling (we suspect the ketchup) so bad we kept our meals down for a grand total of forty minutes before we were turned inside out.

We arrived in good time to find the restaurant almost empty, and lodged the cake Mrs Stevie had brought with the staff, who took it to the kitchen. A waitress took our drink orders, and that was the last we saw of her.

A new waitress finally brought the drinks about fifteen minutes later, and took our dinner order. Mrs Stevie and the Mrs Steviemom ordered steaks, the Mrs Steviedad and BIL the Elder ordered steakburgers, The Stevieling ordered mozzarella sticks and I chanced a rack of spare ribs. There followed a long wait, during which the only time we saw a waitress was when I got a replacement for my ginger ale (which I did three times).

Finally, the steaks arrived, but were cooked to the wrong specification and hed the wrong side dishes, so were sent back. The burgers then arrived, with the Stevieling's fried cheese and last of all, my spare ribs. We waited for a bit, but it was obvious that the steaks were not going to re-appear in short order so we began to eat.

Now I have had spare ribs in any number of restaurants and made to any number of different recipes, but this was a new one on me. The ribs themselves appeared to have been taken from an animal that had starved away most of its meat. The rack had then been slow cooked over a blowlamp for about three days until what little meat remained on the ribs was charred and turned to jerky. I contemplated sending them back to the kitchen, but the steaks had not arrived yet, we had been in the place over an hour since ordering and I had no confidence I would actually see an entree before closing time, so I decided to see if I could find any edible meat on any of the ribs. I found about a thumb's worth of meat on the entire rack. By now I was up for complaining, but there wasn't anyone to complain to. Although the staff clearly outnumbered the customers that night, they were nowhere in evidence.

The steaks finally arrived and were consumed, and I decided to live with the pork-jerky since I wasn't paying for it. I wasn't really that hungry anyway after drinking my own weight in ginger ale.

Our plates were cleared away and we began the wait for the (us supplied) cake to appear. We waited. We waited some more. The waitress reappeared and took orders for coffee. We waited. The coffee came, and once it had been diluted by about 40% with skim milk, was not completely undrinkable while retaining a hint of it's original nastiness. We waited some more. Just when we thought we couldn't wait any longer, we waited longer. The place began to empty out (i.e. the three other customers left).

Finally, the cake arrived. Would that it had had an accompaniment of plates, forks and a knife to cut it. These things were secured and I was finally able to have a slice of something edible (the secret to that being that it was the only thing not produced on the premises). The bill, of course, arrived in very good time.

On the way home, Mrs Stevie expressed contentment and asked how everything had gone for everyone else. I looked at the clock. From where I was sitting we had spent close to three hours sitting around, only to be served inedibly burned food.

"I think I'm done with that place" I said. "They've made thee attempts to kill me: Once by boredom, once by improperly kept food and once by a fiendish combination of each. Next time I'm not coming no matter what you threaten to do to me. Now, get us home so we are in easy reach of a bathroom."

Mrs Stevie "hmph"ed and opined that I wouldn't know a good time if I saw one. She's right.

It's been so long since I was in one I've quite forgotten what they look like.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Appliance Fun

Saturday was "Stop Lounging Around Doing Nothing and Fix the Sodding Dryer Already1" day.

As I said in my previous post, I had tentatively assigned the blame for the tendancy for the dryer to tumble cold, wet clothes to lint to the so-called "operating thermostat"2, so locating a store that sold these was job one.

For this sort of thing the internet is usually a dead loss, and it proved so in this case. It was back to the trusty yellow pages which we store in the hall closet, on a shelf some seven feet high, spines in3.

Of course, this novel storage technique poses certain unique challenges, the primary one being that since one can't read the spines of the books, one must pull them out one-by-one from the middle of the stack4 in the hopes of getting the one one wants. (Pauses to refit teeth). Mrs Stevie has arranged for a frission of excitement to be lent to the whole affair by the simple technique of stacking heavy and/or breakable crap on top of the topmost phone book.

Thus it was that I managed to retrieve the Nassau County Yellow Pages, The Suffolk County BTB Yellow Pages, The Suffolk County Yellowbook and finally The Suffolk County Yellow Pages to the accompaniment of a rain of gloves, small folding umberellas, light bulbs, a collapsable two-wheeled luggage cart, a rats-nest of bungee cords for the collapsable two-wheeled luggage cart, one 5lb bag of rock-salt (ice for the melting of), two left-foot ice-skates and a Victorian birdcage. Of course, since I wear progressive bifocals, in order to assess the relative danger of each item that fell on me I was obliged to tilt my head far back exposing Mr Face to the onslaught.

Staunching my wounds with pages torn from the BTB Yellow pages, which turned out to be from 1994 and had all the wrong area codes in as a result, I seached the Yellow pages for a parts stockist within reach, and finally found one. I made a quick phone call to Sid's Obscure Appliance Parts, Taxidermy and Ammo Shoppe and confirmed where they were located, then raced over in the fabulous Steviemobile to purchase a match for the thermostat.

Sid turned out to be very knowledgable on the subject of dryers. He ran a few tests on my thermostat and opined that it looked good. Then he made some enquiries as to what the dryer was doing wrong. Then he suggested that the part that might be at fault was a pair of coils in the burner assembly, and I should check those out by observing the burner. I asked how, since I couldn't figure out how to get to the burner for all the ducts, bulkheads and so on in the back of the machine. He suggested I go in through the front. I was dubious, explaining that Mrs Stevie would take a dim view if I cut a hole in the front of the machine. Sid did a little dance of frustration, jokingly called me a couple of vile names and said I should remove the top of the machine, then undo the front panel. It would, in his view, pose little challenge to a mentally retarded chimpanzee after drinking a bottle of scotch. I asked for a demonstration on one of his rebuilt machines in the showroom. He leapt over the counter, making one or two hurtful remarks on the quality of my genetic makeup, and showed me how to undo the lid of one of the machines by "simply" pulling it forward, then giving it a manly heave upwards. Then he allowed as how it might be a good idea to undo the two little screws hiding inside the lint filter before giving that manly heave, and went to find a hammer and a screwdriver.

I considered as Sid bent his machine's top back to an approximation of its original shape and made an adjustment of some thrity dollars to the price sticker on it with a felt-tip pen, then said that I thought these tests might be a tad on the long side and when did he close? Sid said he closed at three o'clock, then muttered "usually" under his breath. I surmised that although his store was empty at the moment he had had an unusually busy day and was contemplating closing early. I insisted that he sell me the thermostat, since it was only twenty bux and I would surely need one anyway. Sid begged me to buy the coils instead. They were "only" forty-two bux, after all. I told Sid I was sorry, but I wasn't going to shell out forty-two bux on unneeded coils when the problem certainly involved the thermostat, which I now had in my hand. Sid sold me the thermostat, jokingly called me various kinds of fool and with that parting kindness I left the store.

Although it was a complete waste of time, I thought I should run the tests that Sid suggested so that I could tell him how wrong he had been. Mysteriously though, the thermostat problem had cleared up and the tests, which involved me lying on the floor breathing carbon monoxide from the burner while I peeked through a tiny spy hole set at just the wrong height for either of my eyes, now revealed the very symptoms of Sid's Coil Rot. Cursing at the fates and anti-handyman demons that have infested my domicile for lo, several weeks I took off the dryer top and the dryer front, whereupon the drum fell out onto my feet.

"That's the ticket!" I cried, or words to that effect.

I whipped off the coils by the simple expedient of dismantling the burner assembly (remembering to turn off the gas supply first was a win vs Mr Brain here) and in about two hours had replaced the dryer with a pile of unidentifiable parts I had no idea how to reassemble. It goes without saying that this was when Mrs Stevie re-entered the theater of operations and gave me the benefit of one of her motivational speeches, visiting such topics as the marital state of my parents when I was born, my fitness for use in a medical testing laboratory, the position of my IQ with respect to the national median and so forth. I was in no position to debate the coffee-crazed woman; Sid's would be closing in half an hour, so I simply said "Watch out, there are spiders in here" and she remembered an urgent appointment at Starbux to have her stomach recoated with oil of caffein.

When I returned to Sid's the place was being run by his partner, Syd. "Where's Sid?" I asked, to which he said "I'm Syd". There then followed ten minutes or so of confused give-and-take along the lines of Gilbert and Sullivan which I will spare you, and we got down to the nitty gritty. Syd asked me to go over the symptoms. I told him I just wanted the two little coils. Syd was insistent, I told him what I'd seen. He asked about thermostat testing. I told him Sid had done it earlier. More confusion over the homonymic qualities of "Sid" and "Syd" followed. Finally, Syd said that in his opinion the little coils had developed a fault and needed replacing. I said that was fine, please could he sell me some. That was when he told me Sid had sold the last set just before I came in.

I goggled and said a few words of power, then said that I supposed they could order a set for me and I would come back for them next week. At that, there was a strangled curse from somewhere behind the counter and Sid's head popped up. He had been working under the counter and hadn't heard me come in it seems. He flew into the back of the store, from which there came the sounds of crashing and cursing, and a few minutes later he returned with a set of the coils in a baggie. We exchanged a few joking slurs at each other's expense as he rang me up, and I returned home to install the coils in my dryer, which now runs great.

It's good to be handy with tools.

  1. Project title kindly suggested by Mrs Stevie. All rights reserved. And the lefts, and the headbutts too for that matter
  2. There is another one. The operating thermostat sits in the exhaust and flips on and off to control the heat based on exhaust temperature and the temperature setting selected on the front panel. The second sits in the inlet and is designed to trigger just above the flashpoint of most common man-made textiles, guarding Whirlpool from ruinous lawsuits in the event of a catastrophic in-dryer heat excursion incident
  3. I don't know why we do this. I just live at Chateau; Stevie, I don't make the decisions there.
  4. The top book of the stack is way out of reach, even if you stand on the bottom tread of the staicase and lean over at 30 degrees5
  5. Which, by the way, opens you up to the threat of having the front door slammed open on your head

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Indepen Dance

July 4th, a celebration of the day my neighbours' American ancestors churlishly and mutinously rejected benevolent British rule, when they say "Bollocks!" to the police and set off broadsides of fireworks that rival Disneyworld's displays and occasionaly maim themselves in truly heroic bouts of drunken revelry.

What a bloody day

It began with some froofaraw to do with Mrs Stevie's Brother's family wanting to meet with ours for brunch at my in-law's place. I have two brothers-in-law. Bil the Younger is a successful bank officer, a trader of bonds and generally rich and getting richer by the second as he presides over some financial giant or other. Bil the Elder is unmarried has spent large parts of his time working for Home Despot and is notable mainly for presiding over three major floods at the Steviemanse while we were on vacation.

Things started badly when Mrs Stevie found out that the BIL the Younger clan had been in town for several days and hadn't announced it to our side of the family. Her attitude dipped somewhere south of skillet mode when she discovered that her mother knew but hadn't mentioned it to her.

I can't really be arsed about it all since the only reason for keeping in touch is the former close relationship that their middle kid had with The Stevieling, and The Stevieling confided that she wasn't at all enamoured of said kid after their last time together. Bil the Younger and I are cordial towards each other, but there is no strong bond. His kids probably view me as the Weird Uncle of the family and don't want to be near me, and Mrs Bil the Younger, well, has never really been eager to see any of her hubby's relations, especially those by marriage.

It should go without saying that I reciprocate all these feelings. I shake hands with Bil the Younger, stay four feet back from all but the youngest kid (who isn't a moody teen yet) and hug the wife when we meet and part, but what's to love? I haven't spent more than a few hours with any of these people and they make it plain they'd rather be elsewhere when we do. They've been invited to every function we've had and if they turn up at all it is a token visit, in and out as quickly as possible. For my part, I have feined serious illness to avoid going to functions at their place. It's not as though I actively dislike any of them, but there is no drive on my part to overcome their reluctance to bond with me and mine.

The morning began with a cuppa, then it was downstairs to see if the clothes dryer was still going wrong.

It had begun behaving mysteriously when set to "Dry the clothes until they are dry" setting, tumbing one load of towels for 25 hours and turning them into lint. When set to "Dry the clothes for X amount of time", the timer worked properly but the clothes were not as dry as they should be. I had removed various panels and vacuumed out the lint from all the electronic parts I could see, but getting to the burner and the other heat-making gubbins entails dismantling a bunch of ducts and bulkheads whose main purpose seems to be discouraging customer tampering. It was my hope that Mr Brain was being too pessimistic and the cleaning I gave the machine would make it start working again.

It didn't.

So instead of lazing about watching the traditional July 4th Twighlight Zone marathon on Sci-Fi channel (which that morning was showing several episodes I hadn't seen before according to the program guide), I pulled out the bloody machine and took off the back, then got busy with Mr Leatherman (deployed in pliers mode) and Mr DVOM, my electrical volt/amp/ohm meter.

It was my hope that with the aid of the circuit diagram that had been taped inside the control console I would be able to work out how the system was supposed to go about drying clothes, advancing timers and not setting everything alight, and although the circuit diagram had been drawn by someone with only a tenuous grasp on Euclidean geometry1 I did figure out that there were thermostats involved, and something called a "fusable link" that was apparently supposed to melt in the event of trouble or the warranty going out.

That looked like a distinct possibility to me, so I poked and prodded around in the innards of the dryer until I located the component in question. Mindful of the fact that I would have to disconnect the wretched thing from the wiring harness to get an accurate reading from the DVOM, I gave one of the purple connectors attached to the large, spade-shaped terminals a wiggle, whereupon I discovered that even though the machine was switched off, 120 volts were still available to discourage customer tampering. I picked myself up from the pile of crap collection of valuable antiques I landed on, extinguished the small fires that had started in my clothing and beard and unplugged the dryer before repeating the test. The fusable link proved to be unfused.

I immediately adopted the theory that one of the thermostats had broken. I disconnected one wire from each thermostat, deployed Mr DVOM as a continuity tester and tested each thermostat for the open circuit fault I knew was causing the problem.

There wasn't one.

It was now almost leaving time so I was forced to quit and get ready by an increasingly agitated Mrs Stevie. Apparently, the Mrs Steviemom gets overwrought if we are late to events that Bil the Younger is attending, yowling to Mrs Stevie that "If they can get there all the way from <wherever they are staying/living at this time>, why do we have so much trouble traveling twelve blocks?"

It's lucky that the Mrs Steviemom has never broached the subject with me, 'cos I have a very simple solution to her angst: I'll stay home.

I grabbed my Munchkin card game2, in order to have something that I could do with The Stevieling while we awaited The Arrival of Bil the Younger & Co3. Then we loaded the trunk of the car with edibles (notwithstanding the Mrs Steviedad theory that doing so would somehow ruin the food), coupled my mp3 player to the stereo via the little cassette dodad that lets me play my CDs through the radio, and off we drove to the sound of Roxy Music doing Street Life from their seminal album, Stranded.

We arrived to find the Bil the Younger clan absent, so the Mrs Steviemom was in a good mood. The Stevieling and I promptly took over the front room coffee table and began a marathon session of Munchkin, which we were just winding up when the clan arived. Couldn't have planned things better. We had brunch, chatted a bit and after about 3 hours the clan started shufling their feet and before I knew it they were gone. This created a conversational vacuum, into which Bil the Elder announced that he couldn't use his G3 Mac to access the internet any more.

This was only mildy interesting to me. He had been persuaded to buy the G3 by a "friend" who argued that it was "better" than a PC. It was no sooner installed than it developed a motherboard problem and had to be returned to CompUSA. Their Mac technician only worked on days with an "x" in them, so it took three months to resolve the problem and get Bil the Elder's "better" computer back to him. In the meantime, he was obliged to use my unreliable, nasty, inferior and downright awful PC to get his e-mail and so forth. The PC that cost one third of what he paid for the G3 doorstop I might add. Never mind.

Shortly after that he'd announced he couldn't do any form of e-commerce because of compatibility problems with Internet Explorer, AOL and whatever else (I wasn't really listening to be honest; I believe you should let Mac owners wallow in their superiority). Then we bought him a digital camera, noting that the software had a sheet of technical requirements for the PC but for the Mac said the equivalent of "it just works" (You hear this a lot from Mac users). The software didn't work. It wouldn't load on his computer. I finally got interested enough to start looking at the problem, but not enough to tell Bil the Elder I was doing so or actually visit the computer itself.

I did a bunch of research into replacing his OS with the latest and greatest, the all-singing, all-dancing, "just works" Jaguar OSX. After a couple of days on various forums I was left with the consensus opinion of informed Mac experts: "Don't do it". Apparently, not only would OSX not "just work", it might actually not work at all on the box without the constant attention of a knowledgeable technician. So I switched my focus to the latest version of OS9 and suggested to Bil the Elder that he download it and follow the instructions (I fugured that when he completely crippled the machine he still had his factory restore discs so where was the harm?).

It was an innocent query, made in the lull after the departure of Bil the Younger et al, as to whether he had done this yet that prompted him to announce that he now had no internet connection at all. I queried him further, and he said he got some "sort of error" which he hadn't ever written down and couldn't now remember. That was when the Mrs Steviemom volunteered me to go round to Bil the Elder's flat, there and then, and "fix things".

We went round to the flat and I got my first close look at a G3. It was very green, and had a neat-looking transparent CRT monitor casing. Spiffo. I eyed the thing with distrust. I have never ever used one of these things before and have no desire to, since I will never be able to afford to throw money away on an Apple computer just for the luxury of having a much reduced choice of software.


Bil the Elder proudly pressed the power switch. Nothing happened. We spent five minutes relocating the power cord and checking all the leads were present and correct, but the bloody doorstop refused to light. So much for "better" technology I thought and we opened the case.

Bil the Elder made a big deal about the case being a "suitcase design" as he opened the side and hinged it down. He was obviously parroting back something a salesman had told him, so I forebore telling him that Sony and Dell both used similar designs. I looked in. There were no obviously melted parts, signs of burning, lose cables and so on. Neither was there a visible fuse, meaning that they were all probably inside the power supply.

Which was bolted in behind a girder that ran from the case top to its bottom, meaning that I would probably have to dismantle the case to get the sodding thing out. I offered to take the ruddy thing home and have a go at my leisure, but I also acknowledged that that leisure was in short supply and already allocated to umptytump dozen other projects. Bil the Elder opted to keep it and take it to a repair shop.

As we drove back to the In-Law's place, I gently pointed out that such a shop would charge upwards of a hundred bux just to look at the thing, and that if the repair was going to cost 300+ bux (a very real possibility) then he might want to consider buying a $450 PC from Dell instead. He said he'd think about it. We got back and rendezvoused with the rest of the Stevieclan and returned to Chateaû Stevie, where I immediately tuned into the Twighlight Zone marathon and attempted to salvage something from the day.

A quick check of the program guide told me I'd seen every one of the remaining episodes before.

  1. For a short time I was working on an alternate theory that the diagram had something to do with Sunken R'lyeh and Dead Cthulhu. Iä! Iä Shub-Nigurrath, The Black Goat of the Woods with A Thousand Young!
  2. An amusing card game from Steve Jackson Games, billed as "All the fun of Dungeons and Dragons without the tedious roleplaying" and about as much fun as one can have with a like-minded group of friends and still have one's clothes on at the end
  3. Otherwise she would go upstairs and play video games once we got to her grandparent's house, provoking another tirade from Mrs Stevie who disapproves of having fun out of her field of vision in general and video games in particular. The Stevieling enjoys Munchkin as much if not more than I do and will always play it if I will

Now That's A Pretty Song

A Marriage Made In Hollywood, by Paul Brady, from the album Spirits Colliding. The vocals soar, the guitar-work is restrained and clean, the mix is damn-near perfect for the Stevie-ears, the song is melodic and the lyrics are clever. Why this guy hasn't taken the popular music world by storm is beyond me, since this singer-songwriter has what it takes in spades.

I bought the Spirits Colliding album after a fairly long search process. I was fascinated by the theme music and incidental music snippets (which turned out to be extracts from the theme) of a British comedy show called "Faith in the Future" if memory serves, but could never read who wrote it as the credits raced over my field of vision. I eventually managed to catch the credit for the music as it zoomed across the screen of my TV by videotaping the show on a top-of-the-line Sony machine with superb freeze frame and jog-shuttle capability, then playing the credits back one frame at a time. Then I made Mr Brain remember the name Paul Brady by visualising my friend Paul the Globetrotting Wargamer and the splash screen for the Brady Bunch (which is all I've ever seen of that show) and went a-huntin'1.

The album that the theme music (The World Is What You Make It) is on was quite hard to find, but I turfed it up eventually in Splurgin Records.

And had my socks blown off when I ran it through my CD player.

It was one of those extremely rare finds, an album that was bought for one track and that track turns out to be the least interesting on the disc. In my opinion I don't think there's a clunker on this album. Every track stands out as a wonderful addition to my collection of over 500 CDs and I have no hesitation in recommending that either of my readers run straight to their nearest browser and buy it for themselves online.

I was employed to build and maintain several small websites at the time, and I did 90% of the design work for the most challenging one while listening to this album. I still use it to help me concentrate when the going gets tough, and when Paul the Globetrotting Wargamer gave me the Steve Harley recording that was the subject of the very first "Pretty Song" posting in this blog, I pissed him off royally by shelving his gift2 and insisting he listen, no really listen to Spirits Colliding.

It turned out that I had been a fan of Paul Brady for some time before I got this recording too. Years ago I bought a cassette version of an album I wish to heck I had had the foresight to get on decent media, a sampler called "The Transatlantic Years" which had a couple of keepers on it, including a variant of Ralph McTell's Spiral Staircase and my favourite track, Continental Trailways Bus by The Johnsons. When I read the sleeve notes to Spirits Colliding I found out that the lead singer and the guitarist who did the stuff I really liked on Continental Trailways Bus was Paul Brady.

And you really should listen, no really listen to his album, Spirits Colliding3.

  1. If I don't resort to rebus-like techniques for stuff like this, Mr Brain carefully files the data in the Mental Wastebasket of Forgetting Stuff
  2. And what a scorcher of an album that was too. When I realised what he had given me I felt like a git for not listening, no really listening, to his kind and now much-prized gift when he gave it to me
  3. So why don't you link to these so-called "Pretty Songs"? I hear you ask. Surely if you want me to go out and spend my hard-earned cashmoney on some pile of drool, he least you can do is give me a link to it.

    To which I reply: If you can't figure out how to use Google for yourself to locate the fine examples of musical talent that I painstakingly locate and point out to you, you certainly don't possess the wherewithal to properly appreciate the sheer superbness of the works themselves

    And don't call me Shirley ( oblig.)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Grass Is Riz (Again)

I hate cutting the grass

It takes ages, makes me have to breathe carbon-monoxide from the damn infernal combustion engines of the mower and the weed-whacker, takes huge chunks of valuable time, fires up my hay-fever something rotten and takes forever. However, for the fourth of July I try and get the property looking halfway decent so my worthless next door neighbour, Don Calzone, can invite his friends to dump beer cans, bottles, the contents of their car ash trays, bags of urine and so forth all over it, then he can season it with the razor-sharp plastic liners that his illegal fireworks seem to have packed inside them. It makes it all so worth while.

The mower has been getting louder and louder. I suspect two possible causes: 1) the shear-collar assembly on the rotary cutter is wearing out causing it to rattle and B) the muffler packing is burning through. Last Saturday it sounded almost as bad as Troll, the Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness, which I think I've mentioned is earsplittingly loud. Something Must Be Done. But it must be done later, 'cos I'm not in the mood for screwing around with mower parts.

My weed-whacker is also due for some replacement parts. The knob on the bottom of the cord reel is almost worn completely down. This is because it is not only the securing bolt for the cord reel, it is the wearing surface when the reel is "bumped" to extend the nylon whacking cord.

You look puzzled. Obviously, you have never used a weed-whacker. The thing has a reel on which nylon cord is wrapped. The reel is then mounted on the drive shaft and each end of the cord fed through a hole in the outer rotor casing, and secured by a plastic knob. As the reel spins, the cord is drawn into two stiff radial lines. These form the cutting tool, and they wear down during the process. To counteract this, the reel has a ratchet built into it such that by bumping the knob on the ground while it is running it will feed more cord from the reel through the holes and extend the cutting radius once more. In order to prevent the line getting overly long, resulting in the strong possibility of a shin-whacking1, a razor-sharp blade is fastened to the crap-guard, a rather ineffective shield that is supposed to prevent debris being hurled back at the weilder's legs. If the cord gets too long it will hit the blade and be cut off.

So anyway, I set off with the mower, watched as usual by a half-dozen neighbours who have nothing better to do than cheer every time the mower hits a hidden beer bottle in the grass verge and showers me with broken glass or laugh when I run over my sprinklers and chop the spray head off. In quite a long time, all things considered, I had run over a bottle and a Taco Bell disposable cup (left for me by some thoughtful kid) and been showered with broken glass and sticky, root-beer flavoured wax-backed paper. I managed to not use the muffler for a handrest when I reset the wheel height2 and I didn't destroy the sprinklers so the neighbours were a little disappointed, but I did fall over a huge chunk of punked tree trunk that had fallen from my Job Tree3. Mr Brain had switched off the "notice bloody great bit of tree in your path" routines while I wasn't paying attention, obviously.

Then it was on to the weed whacking.

First off, the chain that fastens the gas cap to the tank so it doesn't get lost when filling the tank had become detached and was now lost in the one-third full tank. I reasoned that the gas was a year old and should be dumped anyway so I broke state laws on gas disposal by pouring the remaining cupful of gas over some weeds I'm trying to kill and the end of the chain popped out of the tank ready for the gas cap to be clipped back on.

If I could find it.

There followed a ten minute search with increasing levels of profanity for the gas cap I had removed not one minute before pouring out the gas. Another triumph for Mr Brain. Once the cap had been located and clipped back onto the retaining chain, I gassed up the weed whacker and got gas all over my hands as usual. Once that had been achieved I attempted to start the bloody thing.

Mr Weed Whacker has a two-stroke engine, requiring a fiddly bit of decanting oil into the gas. Not only that, two stroke engines are sometimes infested with anti-handiman demons who prevent the damn things from starting at all. One day they won't start no matter what you do. The next they fire up with only three or four minutes of cursing and swearing.

I have a technique with the weed whacker: I set the choke to "winter", pump the carburretor primer until it fills with gas, then give it three more pumps to get lots of gas in the carb throat, then I wedge the whirly bit in a convenient crevice, switch the engine electrical system on, squeeze the throttle to "maximum wellie" and pull the string with as much force as I can muster without dislocating my shoulder4. This will, if the anti-handyman spirits are not paying attention, cause the thing to burst into about one second of life then die. I then switch the choke to "nippy" and pull the string again. This usually starts engine, albeit running rather roughly, and it is a matter of about thirty seconds before I can dechoke the carburretor and get on with the business at hand.

As usual, I got about three minutes into the wacking of weeds when I ran out of cord. Then came the obligatory ten minute infuriating search for one of the two reels of cord I keep in the garage but never can find when I need some. Then the faffing about cutting and spooling the cord and putting the whole spool/cord assembly back onto the flexible drive shaft. Which refused to advance the cord when bumped two minutes later, necessitating redismantling the spool to find out what was wrong (weed bits in the spool) and attempting a restart.

It was all very tiresome.

During the whacking of the vines that were attempting to rule my chainlink fence at the front of my property, I spotted a vine wrapped around the drive shaft. By this point I was tired, fed-up and bored stupid. Perfect conditions for Mr Brain to perpetrate perfidious perfidy. I inverted the weed whacker and inspected the problem. Yes, a vine was wound around the shaft, but it wasn't wrapped tightly, like on other occasions. I could just reach in and pull it free. So I did.

The backs of my fingers were whacked by stout nylon cord, stiffened by centrifugal effects into steel like rods of destruction, about three thousand eight hundred and forty two times.

Cognisant of the fact some of the more determined neighbours were gleefully watching (the others having left in disgust after I didn't destroy the sprinklers or run myself over with the mower) I didn't follow my first instinct, which was to hurl the weed whacker into the road, clutch my right-hand fingers under my left armpit, double over and hop about screaming the most efficacious words of power in my vocabulary. No, I contented myself with casually resting the weed whacker against the fence5 and biting down upon my left hand until the overwhelming agony had subsided to a manageable level.

Another triumph for Mr Brain, who had decisively taken the field this day.

  1. Something to be avoided at all costs as it can produce the most neighbour-attracting shrieks from the whackee
  2. I cut the grass along the sidewalk much shorter than I cut my front lawn. The mower has several height settings for the wheels, but I just use two different settings for the back wheels now since it is far too easy to unthinkingly rest the left hand on the hot muffler while trying to get the leverage needed to reset the height of the left-side front wheel. I got a second-degree burn on my hand the last time I did that, and everyone in a three-mile radius knew I did
  3. California has Joshua Trees. I have a Job Tree. It has been cursed with an untreatable fungus desease (not that I didn't try. It cost me a grand and a half in root injections to lose that tree), boring insects (they have absolutely no good annecdotes), woodpeckers and I don't know what else. Bits fall off it every now and again. Paradoxically, it usually survives un(further)damaged in the very windy storms we've had of late, but there was a lightning strike very nearby last night and bits of the tree look burned. The bit that fell off was light as foamcore insulation owing to massive loss of actual wood to freeloading fauna and flora, but big enough to trip over - about four feet long and the thickness of your thigh
  4. The reason for this is to get as much angular velocity into the driveshaft of the engine as possible and thence to that of the magneto. A magneto produces electricity for the ignition, rather like the coil on a car does, but the voltage is proportional to the rpm you turn it at. To get the engine to start you need a good hot spark, which comes with a high voltage. Shoulder damage ensues
  5. It promptly fell over and went for my shins