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 ChateaĆ» 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

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