Friday, August 24, 2007

The Long Island Rail Road/ Mineola Civil Engineers Take My Breath Away

This weekend, service on all lines passing through Mineola will be disrupted because they are taking all the tracks up.

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:
Why are they taking up all the tracks?

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:
Why, so they can put in a truss bridge where the old Roslyn Road grade crossing was.

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:
So they are going to bridge the tracks with a road bridge? Why do the tracks have to come up for that?

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:
They are not bridging the tracks with the road, they are bridging the road with the tracks.

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:
But...isn't the road at the same level as the track bed? How will that work?

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:
Yes. They plan to dig down under the iron bridge they will install this weekend and take the road down under the tracks and back up again on the other side. It'll be great not to have to wait at that darned crossing, won't it?

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:
Look! All the work is easy to see! They've already dug the holes either side of the tracks for heaven's sake! Just look next time you go through Mineola.

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:
But isn't Mineola notorious for its bad drainage?

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:
And Aren't these "holes" the ones that filled to brimming with rainwater three times this month, forcing the construction teams to flee before the coastguard had to be called out?

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:
I hardly see what...

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:
Won't all the water that normally pools all over Mineola during a mild drizzle now drain into the under-bridge roadway?

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:
What are you getting at?

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:
Don't we call a pit dug into a badly-drained area a sump?

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:
Would you mind coming to the point? I'm a busy person you know.

Fleet Scribbler, Reporter, Daily Stevie:
Are you completely, totally, barking mad?

Mr N. Bonaparte, Spokesdrone for the Faceless Goons In Charge:
I don't know. We need to comission a study on that question

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Good Magic You Can Do In The Office

Frank the Crickdancer1 has a can of hard candy that he allows everyone to nosebag from at need.

The candies are of various unconvincing "fruit" flavours, and come in a variety of colours. In any one can, about half the candies will be red and the rest made up of yellow, green and the ultra rare white ones that are everyone's favourite (naturally).

Frank pioneered this very welcome social benefit program some years ago, about the time I came back to work in this hellhole at this site, and I was fascinated at the lengths people would go to to secure the white candies, and the quality of their complaints once that colour was exhausted and they had to make do with yellow, green or red ones. At the time I was also turning my spare time to mastering some basic close-up magic skills such as the French Drop, the Gypsy Switch, the Glimpse and the Warm Frankfurter2. Mr Brain long ago throttled back all restraint when it comes to practical jokes and so the stage was thus set for merriment and amateur conjuring shenanigans, with the aim of blowing what passes for Frank's mind.

I bought three cans of the same candies, and separated out the white ones. Each day I would wait for a good moment when Frank was reading from his terminal, palm a white candy, walk over to his can and open it, fish inside and declare loudly "oooh! White one!". Frank would look over and see me pull one of the highly prized candies from the tin with seeming ease. Other people were rooting through the tin for several seconds to achieve the same result of course, but somehow I was able to open the tin and find a white candy just sitting there waiting for me.

Each night, once I had the office to myself, I would add a few of the other colours, mainly red, back into Frank's can from my collection. The effect (which he didn't seem to notice) was that the level of candy stayed about constant for over a week but that the can was gradually becoming all-red country as the other colours were eaten by our freeloading colleagues.

Frank also liked the other colours, and was himself begining to have to root in the tin for a considerable time to uncover a yellow or green candy. I however always opened the can, exclaimed "Oooh! White one!" and plucked the shangri-la candy off the top of the pile with no effort.

Frank began to take notice. Two weeks went by in which it seemed that no-one but me could get a white candy from the tin no matter how they searched it, yet all I did was open the lid to find the object of desire sitting right there. Frank began to puzzle aloud over it with the freeloaders who came to search for white but left sucking red.

Finally, Frank's can was down to eight red candies rattling loosely in the tin with plenty of empty space between them. Anyone who opened the tin could plainly see that no white candies were present. It was time for the Whammy.

I waited until Frank and I were the only two in the office, and asked him if I could have a candy. He, of course, said yes (I've never heard Frank deny anyone candy) and checked the can contents with a smile on his face. I opened the tin under his watchful stare, exclaimed "Oooh! White one!" and pulled a white candy from it. I held it long enough for him to see it really was white, and popped it into my mouth.

Frank's reaction was a thing of beauty. He jerked backwards in his chair so hard he almost fell out of it. His eyes actually bugged out of their sockets3. He spluttered. He grabbed the can from my hand and looked madly into it and then at me several times, all the time making "Wha wha wha?" noises.

Penn and Teller are absolutely right. Using cheesy magic tricks to explode your friends' frontal lobes is just about the most entertaining use of your time in the whole universe.

  1. Frank teaches people "Irish Folk Dancing". I asked him once if it was anything like "Riverdance". He said: "No, it is traditional stepdancing. Less flamboyant. Folk-dance." I said that a more rural, less flamboyant version of Riverdance would be "Crickdance". It stuck
  2. A saucy sleight of hand of my own devising that was tried once, and only once, in a darkened cinema upon an unsuspecting Mrs Stevie
  3. Although I'd read the phrase many times in books, I'd never actually seen anyone do that before. It quite turned my stomach and almost ruined the trick

Weather Considered As A Metaphor For the American Condition

Why is is raining?

Why is it so cold even I am begining to consider wearing a jacket?

When the son of Osama Bin Laden has already said that the murderous pigfbleeper only uses disposable one-use cell phones, how is tapping my land-line sans warrant helping to catch him?

How are we ever going to be able to explain Guantanamo Bay to our grandchildren?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Romance Chez Stevie

The Stevieling has been packed off to confirmation camp, a week of calisthenics, theme parks and brutal indoctrination at the hands of organised religion1.

No sooner was the little sod darling safely packed in the minibus than Mrs Stevie cast a look in my direction and said that now we were alone, we could "do stuff".

I was puzzled. Rain had soaked the ground for days, so mowing the lawn was precluded. All the dishes were in the dishwasher. I knew for a fact I wasn't allowed to fiddle with the laundry after an incident last Tuesday involving some highly coloured polo shirts and a bottle of chlorine bleach. What on earth could she be hinting at?

Mrs Stevie reached out towards my face. I parried her with the hook-shaped steel bar I lock across my car's steering wheel2 and yelled my signature war cry3 all the time watching for her next attack. Mrs Stevie used some harsh words on me, and I realised she was attempting to open negotiations of an intimate kind rather than trying to kill me again.

This was unexpected, but not unplanned for. I have many contingency plans for various eventualities laid by, and although I had given this one a low probability of arising I had allowed for the possibility and was prepared.

Once home, Mrs Stevie said "What's your pleasure?" and I promptly handed her a thick manilla folder with that very thing spelled out in terms that brooked no ambiguity. Mrs Stevie read the first three pages, which detailed the Elizabethan backstory her character should be familiar with and some of the pretend "Laws" my stern Witchfinder character would be holding her under, examined two of the diagrams and the list of accessories required, went bright red and yelled "never!" just as I entered the room with some of the wardrobe items.

I was disappointed, and not a little put out that she hadn't voiced her objection until after I had begun getting dressed, but my plans included this contingency and I promptly handed her a well-stuffed legal envelope containing "scenario 'b'".

I could tell Mrs Stevie was intrigued by the notion of taking the role of an ingénue wrongly imprisoned in the Bastille, but felt that I had perhaps overstepped her suspension of disbelief by placing her character in the same cell as the infamous Marquis De Sade (to be played by yours truly), two quarts of hot honey and some anachronistic technology when she shrilled "In your dreams!"

In rapid succession and increasing stridency she dismissed elaborate fantasies based on Flash Gordon, The Matrix, The Story of O, Battlestar Galaxative, Lord of the Rings and Night of the Living Dead.

I admit to being a little put out by her sustained negativity. After all, it was her idea to "do stuff".

Eventually I twigged, and suggested a nice restaurant meal, to which she readily acquiesced. Of course, she whined all afternoon about some of the material I had given her. It's her own fault.

She should have just said "Let's eat" at the start.

  1. For given values of organised. These are Lutherans we are talking about, after all
  2. In the ludicrous belief that the thieves will not figure out for themselves that a small slot can be cut in the steering wheel and the hook released prior to car theft
  3. "Help!"

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bad Magic

I was "fortunate" to catch a segment on the Sci-Fi channel a couple of days ago, featuring this Derren Brown chap, who "they" claim can do amazing things seemingly by mind control. Given all the hype this bloke has had over the last month, I was expecting a baffling but entertaining few minutes of conjuring distraction. Hah

The trick as advertised: Brown would pick Simon Pegg's1 ideal birthday gift without being told. The selection would aslo be written down, put in a sealed envelope and kept by Pegg for the week before the program was filmed, so we could check it wasn't a cheap trick. Sounds great, no? The stuff of great magic.

What really happened: Brown did a long spiel about how he gets his "marks" to change their mind about what they want and pick something he, Brown, has selected instead. Simon Pegg was asked what he wanted. He said a BMX bike. A red one. The box is opened and the red bike is produced. The signed, sealed envelope is produced, and proves to contain a letter, written in what Pegg describes as his own handwriting, that says "Leather Jacket". Brown insists that Pegg originally wanted a leather jacket but had his mind controlled to pick the bike.

As he explains this, the video of his spiel is re-run with selected subtitles pulled up to show that the message "Red BMX Bike" was hidden all over the place in it. Exit Pegg, wheeling the bike and saying "why I would choose a leather jacket is beyond me. I have loads of them."

I hope, for Brown's sake, that the rest of his act is better than this, 'cos this was a stinker. Even the Pegg wasn't convinced,as his comment shows2.

What I think the clever part was: Brown being able to duplicate Pegg's handwriting. Even cleverer would be to somehow get Pegg to write "Leather Jacket" himself, though that would be a bit dodgy unless Pegg is in on the trick from the get-go (then, why go to all the trouble of sealed notes?).

How I think the trick was done: Pegg wrote down "Red BMX Bike" and sealed the envelope. The envelope was gipsy-switched3 with one containing the "Leather Jacket" note. Pegg signs envelope (we didn't see this bit happening so I can't be more precise). Now all brown has to do is buy the bike, wrap it and book the studio time.

Look, getting together with the actor a week before is OK. The trick can still be a stunner at that point. Selecting the ideal gift: A great (if old) effect. Socks off all round. The trick was busted with the lame, totally obvious "changed mind" gimmick. The same device is used by psychics (I was going to write "fake psychics" but really, why waste the font on a redundant adjective?) and is called "one ahead". If memory serves you can find out how to do that trick in Penn and Teller's excellent "How to Play With Your Food".

I can't see that anyone would be fooled by this awful trick, but if you were, please drop me a line. If enough people are that conjuring-trick blind that this was entertaining for them, I may have a future in television.

  1. The actor from "Shawn of the Dead"
  2. It goes without saying that Pegg didn't select "Leather Jacket" as an ideal birthday gift, Brown did
  3. Or switched in some other fashion. The Gipsy Switch4 can be learned in all its glory by purchasing and studying The Klutz Book of Magic
  4. Along with a bunch of other stuff that will knock this stunt of Brown's flat on its backside

Status Report


Pool water: Opaque1.

Foot: Infected2.

Ear: Blocked, Whistling3.

Stevieling: Full of the Joys of Spring4.

Mrs Stevie: Militant5.

So that's all right then

  1. New filter ($54.38) obviously isn't working properly at all
  2. Prescription anti-Alberta Trench-Foot medicine supplies running low
  3. Again
  4. The attentive reader will note that it is actually late summer. I can't wait for the start of the school year to catch her by surprise (again)
  5. Mrs Stevie recently hit a milestone, age-wise. The Stevieling was, for once, paying attention and reminded her mother of the exact count involved as part of the appeasement gift-giving ceremonies. All gifts subsequently judged unsuitable for assuaging the wrath of the goddess. Well done that child

Thursday, August 09, 2007


During the early-late hours of Wednesday a storm of epic-ish proportions swept through New York, pausing on its way to dump a few inches of rain on or about the Steviemanse.

Awakening at around 6 am to bursts of lightning and crashings of thunder, I had the thought that I might have left the lid off the 5 gallon bucket I use to store various pool chemicals, and that once full of water a serious amount of unscheduled chemistry might get itself underway. Action was called for.

I leapt from the bed and fantically sought out a pair of swimming trunks1 and an old pair of sneakers, then de-alarmed the doors and ventured out into the vertical tsunami-in-progress. In a matter of seconds I was waterlogged and probably doing a passable impression of a Notre Dame style Gargoyle with water sluicing from my body any way it could2.

The concrete patio was awash as the pipe that moves the water way from the base of the downspout was overwhelmed. Probably blocked, but also it was never designed to convey the truly staggering volume of water that was being pointed at it. I took a look, and moved on.

Once in the vicinity of the pool I was temporarily out of the rain because of the young maple tree growing next to it. I muttered a few light-hearted swear words as I contemplated the benefits of being (relatively) dry at the expense of possible shredding due to shrapnel should the tree be struck by lightning, much of which was flying around the sky in a wanton fashion at that moment.

I found the bucket lid securely fastened, thanked whoever had had the foresight to put the lid back on and turned to go back into the house.

Which was when I noticed the waterfall sluicing down the siding from what was obviously a blocked gutter. Magic. I shouldn't have been surprised. Every bloody time the weather gets hyperpluvious this damned gutter ends up getting blocked.

The now almost continuous lightning precluded getting out a ladder and fixing things the right way, so I put a hastily formulated "plan B" into operation. Grabbing the downspout firmly in both hands and muttering a small number of swear words designed to ward off a lightning strike, I rapidly lifted and dropped the pipe so as to displodge the blockage.

A cascade of crap-laden water dropped on my head from above, but the flow from the downspout did increase a little. I tried again. More freezing water with a soupçon of rotten leaves aû roof-shingle grit fell upon me from on high, but this was no time to focus on the negative aspects of the process: more and more water was issuing from the downspout! One more shake would get the wretched thing working again and prevent the house from flooding (again). From some well of inner strength barely suspected, I summoned one more burst of resourcefulness and gave the pipe another shake.

Which was when the gutter, overloaded with freezing cold water, twigs, rotten leaves and about a hundredweight of grit washed off the roof shingles, overcame the relutance of the securing spikes to let go and tore from the soffit, releasing much of its bounty o'er the Steviebod.

"How refreshing!" I screamed to the heavens3, before grabbing the hosepipe and making my way back though the maelstrom to the flooded patio where I attempted to wash out the vegetation blocking the Pipe o' Drainage. In this I was almost entirely unsuccessful, so I threw down the hose in disgust and went back inside to get a shower.

I'd never noticed before, but roof-shingle grit is one of the stickiest substances I've ever come across. It took nearly 30 minutes to wash it out of the various places it had become lodged, by which time I was in no mood for nonsense. Fortunately, during this whole debacle, Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling had departed for places unknown, so the major sources of household nonsense were mercifully absent.

I dressed and made my way from the house to the car. The rain had stopped and the sun had come out in fine form, boiling the water from the swampy landscape and turning what should have been a less humid morining into a tropical hell-hole of humid horror. I took refuge in the fabulous Steviemobile, started the engine and dialed the A/C up to 11. The humidity was sucked from the vehicle as volumes of frigid, dry air flowed into the cockpit. I felt my skin dry. I felt my clothes dry. I felt my hair dry. I felt the temporary crown let go of the tooth it was mounted on.

So it was off to Doc Tugmolar to get it put back in again. While I was there I insisted on a sanding and grinding to make the damn thing less inimical to the soft tissues of my mouth. He grumbled and complained, but humoured me once I mentioned the small matter of the outstanding bill.

I thought about going into work afterward, it being only about noon by now, but the LIRR was in an advanced state of chaos again (Lake Mineola was just one of their problems that day) and the entire subway system had closed down in sympathy, so I decided to fix the gutters instead.

  1. It being light outside, and Mrs Stevie having made her views on adpoting a nil-attire approach to yardwork clear during the Domestic Flood Xena Fiasco
  2. And several ways I wished it wouldn't
  3. In case the neighbours were watching. Appearances must be maintained at all costs

Monday, August 06, 2007

Fun At The Dentist

The tooth that I recently had root canalled has been giving my gyp again.

For the last two months I've been able to crunch ice cubes with no problem, but the merest sideways pressure on the tooth has caused me some pain. I eventually went to the dentist a couple of weeks ago, and was fobbed off with some prescription strength mouthwash that gave me a sore throat and some story about "ligaments", but only after the dentist on duty (not my regular guy) had spent a few minutes trying to lift the crown off again with a slide hammer. She was unsuccessful in her bid to take off the crown, but completely successful in driving me mad with pain and in getting co-authorship rights on several new swear words.

I gave the mouthwash a week, and the tooth another, chewing mostly on the other side of my mouth, but to be honest, the pain only went away because nothing pressed on the side of the tooth. Once it did, it was another trip to ouch city. Action was called for.

I happened to be in the area of the dentist on Saturday and, although I was in my yardwork togs and hadn't cleaned my teeth since breakfast, I popped in to make an appointment. The dentist's staff instgated a different plan, and whisked me into a chair where I tried to escape pleading other appointments but was told I would be waiting "about two minutes" to see the dentist.

Ten minutes later the dentist came in and had a look. He said he wanted to lift the crown, and before I could gainsay him he had Mr Slide-Hammer in my mouth and had applied several hefty, agonising tugs to the crown, which eventually let go of the tooth stub and allowed my head to slam back into the chair pillow. He said he'd be back in a few minutes, and if I could hang around he'd put in a temporary crown. "You shouldn't be here more than 40 minutes" he said.

That was the last I saw of him for almost an hour.

When he finally did arrive, he said he wanted to rebuild the crown and that he felt that would fix my problem. Until that date, though, he would manufature a temporary crown from some sort of body-filler putty. Which he did, and a mere two hours after going into the dentist I was allowed back into the wild.

The new temporary crown is made of something that has odd properties. When wet with saliva it is mirror smooth, but when washed in water or any other beverage it takes on the texture of sandpaper, and has turned the side of my tongue to raw hamburger. On Sunday I was so pissed off that I took some 600 grit emery paper, wound it round a Q-Tip and attempted some D.I.Y. grinding of the surface. It had no effect, except to make my mouth taste of 3-in-1 oil owing to the fact the emery paper was torn from a sheet that had been used to remove some flood-induced rust on a tool. My method includes wetting the wet-and-dry abrasive with oil. This method is not suitable for filing teeth it would seem.

The temporary crown is otherwise a fab thing. I am able to eat with it just as I could with the permanent crown, and I can clean and floss it like a regular tooth too.

And it hurts when I press on the side, just like it did before the dentist "repaired" things.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Commute Cock-Up

This morning I actually managed to catch the 8:01 train that takes me directly to Brooklyn without the tedious need to change trains at Jamaica. I was, I thought, going to be early to work for once this week.

Well, that was the plan.

It survived contact with real life for about 45 minutes, just long enough for our engineer to spot the dead body lying at the side of the tracks and bring our train to a halt.

Apparently, maintenance crews had reported a guy stealing cable from the tunnels that morning, and had given chase but had lost contact with the theiving git and given up the search. As a precaution, our train's engineer was asked to reduce speed through that section of the tunnels and report any dangling or otherwise damaged cables he could see. We never found out if he saw any cable, because the shock of seeing the body caused him quite a bit of anguish.

The railroad, having finally been informed of the situation (there was initially some trouble getting radio contact with the higher echelons) promptly suspended service on both tracks, shut down the third rail on ours and thereby stranded us with no air conditioning while we waited for police to arrive, which took another twenty minutes. During this time the high command sent the driver and another crewman out to ascertain whether the idiot corpse has become unliving as a result of being hit by a train or by touching the third rail. From what I could overhear, which was just about everything since I was seated behind the cab and no-one was keeping their voices down, the dead man had suffered massive head trauma from what appeared to be contact with a fast moving train. That said, the body was wedged between the third rail and the wall and there was a definite stench of burned hair in the air. I'm told this was fortunate, as the ex-thief stank to high heaven and most of the way back. Whether the nitwit was struck by a train, then incinerated by a spot of third rail contact, was electrocuted and fell into the path of a train post mortem or was simply struck by a train while something else fell on the third rail and burned I don't know1.

Each time the crew opened the door to the cab, which at this time was configured to block the forward view, there would be a surge of gawkers trying to get a glimpse of the horror. Periodically, this not being a problem directly attributable to the LIRR and therefore something they could talk about, we got informed that we were waiting for the police. The guard spoke of "a fatality on the tracks". I pondered over the question of when we began using this term as a euphamism for "body". After all, what the guard was really saying was "There's a dead idiot on the tracks". Not much of an earth shattering revelation I agree, but Mr Brain was just enfatalitying time. More waiting in a steadily warming train. More promises of police.

Who eventually arrived in force, and who required another thirty minutes to properly assess the scene. While this was happening, the crew announced that we would soon be running backwards to East New York where we would be transferred to another train, which would run down the other track. The other track still had power, but no trains were yet allowed down it on account of there were now about fifteen people running around out there, a maintenance crew, some EMTs and a fire marshall having arrived in theater during the course of events.

Eventually we did move, west towards Brooklyn rather than back east to East New York. I smiled, which attracted a comment from a fellow passenger as to why. I explained that I had just remembered that the last three times I'd been held up on an LIRR train, a plan had been formulated, explained several times at great length, then the train had eventually simply gone where it was supposed to in the first place. From this we could infer that the LIRR's stated policy during emergencies is to formulate plans as camoflage for waiting until whatever problem is plaguing them to go away, then carry on as normal.

When we got to Brooklyn, I was amused to see how many people checked out the front of the train for blood. Those not in the first car would not know that the fatality was not caused by our own train, but had just been found by it. There seemed to be an air of disappointment about those who couldn't see any hard evidence of the grisly death.

So it was that although I took an earlier train than any I caught this week, I ended up getting to work two hours late thanks to an idiot with an eye for the main chance but none for the trains.

  1. I don't care either, since I think that it was just come-uppance for a thief who was endangering my life by compromising the electrical integrity of whatever it was. Block detection? Signaling? Communications? Whatever it was, it was needed for whatever job it was installed for and any light-fingered git endangering my life by nicking bits of it got what was coming

Pool Fun

I got a phone call last night as I was passing through Hicksville en route to the fabulous Steviemanse. 'Twas Mrs Stevie, who wanted to know if I was going to join her and the Stevieling for a "family swim" in the pool when I got home.

This transparent attempt to assuage my wrighteous wrath over the poisoning of the pool by the Stevieling was tempting, if only I could confirm one thing.

"Is the water clear yet?" I asked dubiously, knowing that it took three days and much effort on my part to clarify the bugger when I kick-started the pool this season.

"The Stevieling says so" answered Mrs Stevie, which reassured me not at all.

I eventualy arrived home and donned swimming gear in the hope that the pool had fixed itself in spite of the attempts to kill it, and found the womenfolk a-frolic in the water. The Stevieling was vacuuming again. This time she had assembled the equipment in such a way as to guarantee air would be drawn into the system. I attached the hoses properly with a growl and took a look at the water. The bottom of the pool was a misty blur, obscured for the most part by milky particulate matter worse if anything than yesterday.

"Did you not notice how cloudy the water is?" I sighed. "I'm not getting into that, and if you take my advice you'll leave it and get a shower ASAP".

Mrs Stevie ceased her youthfull frollicking, looked hard at the water, let out a squeak and exited pool right, followed by the perpetrater of the pool poisoning. I did some checking. The filter pump was running but the water pressure it was building was poor. I diagnosed a blocked filter and removed the cartridge for cleaning.

Mrs Stevie, sensing a need for hitherto absent middle management, came over to advise me on how to do the job. I pointed out to her the green-black folds of the filter, then spent about two minutes washing off one fold to expose the underlying white filter accordion pleat. I pointed out the existence of about two hundred similar folds around the circumference of the cartridge cylinder, and asked her to estimate how long she thought it would take me to get the filter clean enough to effectively remove the rubbish from the pool. I pointed out that the last time I had had a filter this badly clogged, I had ended up buying a new filter. As she opened her mouth to enquire as to the cost of doing that, I mentioned $54.38 or thereabouts as an estimate of doing so. I ended our little tete-a-tete by pointing out that there wasn't a word on the English language to describe exactly how much I loathed cleaning a badly crocked filter, and she suddenly remembered she hadn't had any coffee for an hour or so and left to remedy the situation.

With the filter installed again, I discovered that the pump was still not shifting any water to speak of. Blast that kid! She'd finally done it. She'd de-primed the filtration system and I would now have to get it going again the hard way.

Water pumps often won't draw unless their pump-chamber (whatever design it is) is full of water. The old hand-pumps you see in Western Movies won't draw if you don't keep the cylinder full of water, which is why you sometimes see a bucket of water standing next to such pumps. The draw pump is usually a simple piston and clack-valve affair that pulls water up into the cylinder as the piston rises (when you push down on the handle). A valve then drops closed to trap it and when the piston drops another opens to allow the water to be forced out of the spout. Sometimes the second valve is installed in the piston itself so the water gets pushed out of the spout by one side of the piston as the other is sucking up the next load.

The pool pump is a rotary type, using a high-speed spinning disc with vanes on it to propel the water through the pipes. The water enters at the middle of the disc and vanes then throw it to the outside where it drains off. Both these systems rely on one simple fact of physics: the water is relatively uncompressable and forms an excellent seal around the valves or vanes of the disc. Air, on the other hand, is easily compressed, and leaks past the primitive leather seals of a draw pump and just swirls around inside the rotor of the pool pump, preventing either pump from drawing water. To get it working again the pump must be filled with water. This process is called "priming the pump", a phrase you might have heard used metaphorically in other contexts, particularly at the start of a manly drinking binge. I digress.

Grabbing the hosepipe I turned off the filter pump and blew water backwards through the system. It took forever for this to dislodge the air from the pump rotor, long enough for me to reflect on what other vengeance methods I could bring to bear on my sabotage-obsessed daughter. I decided that encouraging Mrs Stevie to participate more in her life would fit the bill1 and powered up the pump. I was rewarded with a veritable torrent of water circulation.

Taking another look at the water, I decided to try a straight eight hour cycle and simply rotated the timer clock dial to achieve that, not being in the mood for lengthy reprogramming in twilight and mosquito conditions. Only time will tell if the water will come clean without recourse to a new filter altogether.

By now my feet were soaked with poluted pool pondwater, which interacted with the wounds on my toes2 to produce great pain with every step, so I decamped for a shower and a change to dry footwear.

Thus ended another day in paradise.

  1. And incidentally fix that vile harridan's chops too. They deserve each other
  2. Caused by a virulent and treatment-resistant strain of athlete's foot I picked up in Canada years ago (in a swimming pool, ironically). It flares up occasionally, stripping the skin off my toes in less than a day if I don't get prescription-strength stuff on it tootsweet. This week was made more lovely by a breakout of Alberta Footrot on Monday. I stop anyone else getting it by wearing thick socks at all times and scrubbing places I walk barefoot (such as the pool ladder) with bleach when I'm done. So far, I am, predictably, the only one to have fallen foul of this dastardly Cannuck germ warfare

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Darn That Kid To Heck!

When I opened the swimming pool this year, I asked for help from the family in maintaining it. Specifically, in doing the daily pH/Chlorine content assay and vacumming the leaves out of it. The Stevieling volunteered.

The Stevieling means well, but she is a teenager and has a teenager's attention span, so the "daily" routine is sometimes "once every two days" and the vacuuming happens when I ask, as I did on Saturday.

Now it has been very rainy of late, and the pool has overflowed several times. When I say that, you shouldn't picture a dramatic event involving water coming over the lip of the 15 foot wide, four foot tall Cylinder of Water Retention, since the skimmer sits at a height of about 3 foot six from the pool base. When the pool overflows, the water pours from the skimmer/filter assembly which is hidden at the back of the pool. This device is the place the water is drawn into before being sucked through a coarse-weave "leaf-basket" and then through the cartridge filter itself.

One of the side-effects of heavy rains, besides Overflowing Skimmer Syndrome, is that the water becomes acidic, requiring a small amount of sodium carbonate be dumped in the filter while the pump is running. The amount has decreased over the years because the pool water has achived a buffered state - it chemically resists a shift in pH. It used to require careful rebalancing after a group swim (sweat is acidic) or after any rain, but now a couple of ounces of sodium carbonate after a heavy downpour is about all that's needed1.

When the vacuum is required, the intrepid vacuumer has to assemble an involved but not complex series of components. First the filter pump has to be switched off and the leaf trap cleaned out. Then an adapter consisting of a circular plate with a pipe sticking up out of the middle of it must be placed over the leaf trap, so that when the pump is switched on (NOT YET WAIT UNTIL I TELL YOU!) water will be drawn through it rather than through the side of the pool. We attach a 90 degree bend adapter to the pipe so it pokes through the wall apature of the leaf trap, and it is this to which we will attach the vacuum hose. We fix the hose at one end to the vacuum head, a triangular assembly with a series of stiff bristle brushes on it, the whole being attached to a long pole. We submerge the vacuum head and make sure the pole handle is wedged in the fence (LOOK OUT GRABBIT GRABBIT GRABBIT GAH NOW IT HAS TO BE FISHED OUT WITH THE END OF THE DECK BRUSH DAMMIT!) and carefully feed the pipe under the water to exclude trapped air before we attach the end of the pipe to the adapter and switch the filter pump on again. Now the water is being sucked up from the vacuum head and not from the pool surface, and the floor can be cleaned. Extreme care must be taken not to allow air into the pump or it will lose its prime and cease to pump water at all. If the pump is allowed to run in this way for too long a time it can break down due to bearing failure or overheating, since it is a so-called regenerative system and relies on the water it pumps to cool it2. If there are stubborn stains on the pool floor, which is a tad wrinkled in places owing to incompetence when erecting the pool, the job can even involve the need to get in so the proper amount of elbow grease can be applied. Leverage being what it is, when the pole is at full extension the ability to apply force to the scrubbing brushes in the vacuum head is minimal. Needless to say, the water is always cool and by late summer can be very cold indeed. Not my favourite job, this.

I asked The Stevieling to vacuum the pool on Saturday, thinking we might use it on Sunday. Of course, Sunday afternoon was notable mostly for the spectacular thunder and lightning with a side order of deluge, so swimming was not an option. She did the vacuuming and did a nice job from what I could see too.

Yesterday rolled round and the thremometer in the downstairs thermostat took a trip off the scale. Not only that, the air filled with sweat making what was only unbearable, intolerable. Within seconds of leaving the car my "24-hour" protection threw in the towel3. Throughout the day I comforted myself in the sure knowledge of a soak in the unheated bliss of the pool that night. I promised myself an hour of up-to-the-neck-in-cold-water-ism at the very least, and even the commute home in which the A/C failed was made bearable by the thought of the swim to come.

It was not to be

When I got home I ran the mower over the grass verges so I wouldn't have to do it that weekend, and made my way to the pool. I thought I'd check the filter, make sure there was a chlorine tab in it as so on. The first thing that happened when I released the leaf skimmer lid was a tidal wave of water gushed over my "corporate casual" slacks. Spiffy. This water was suspiciously cloudy too. That was when I discovered the vacuum adapter plate was still in place. This was very bad because the filter was running. When these two things are true, a vortex forms at the pipe and air is sucked into the pump. Except that there was no vortex. I put my hand carefully near the pipe to find minimal suction. I walked around the pool to the water inlet and put my hand over that. Almost no pressure at all where there should be a torrent.

Letting out a curse I turned off the pump and pulled off the adapter plate, to discover a thick layer of dead leaves in the skimmer basket. I emptied these, but it was difficult because they had been well sucked into the basket weave for a few days and had become integrated into it. I pulled the filter and examined it. Filthy. I placed it on one side while I syphoned off some of the water in the skimmer in order to clean out the crap that had fallen out of the filter as I was removing it4. I washed out the filter with a hose for about five minutes, which didn't get all the muck off it but dislodged most of the macroscopic crap that had been vacuumed into it and reassembled the system. Then I started the pump and crossed my fingers that I wouldn't have to reprime the bloody thing. That would entail getting a hose and blowing water backwards through the system until all the air was flushed. It often takes three or four reprime/restart operations to get the darn pump running properly once it is aerated. Sometimes, though, the air in the system can be blown through it by the pump itself if the rotor hasn't gone completely dry. This proved to be the case this time and the system "rebooted" cleanly5.

Which was more than can be said for the water in the pool.

Left to fend for itself for three days with nil filtering6, zero chlorine7 and a pH dropping dangerously low8, the pool was now 5300 gallons of milk. There was nothing for it but to shock the pool, rendering it unusable9. Not only that; if last year's experience was anything to go by, I was in for days of increased maintenance and re-shocking before the water would clear.

I was so furious that I did something I've never done before. I went inside, logged onto our computer and changed the Stevielings password, locking her out. When she got home I told her that for doing something so monumentally stupid she was losing her computer privileges for a week for every time I had to shock the damned pool. If things went badly, I explained, she'd be in school again before she got to look at youtoob or The Order of the Stick. Maybe then, I said, she'd learn to pay attention to detail when she did a job.

Mrs Stevie waited until the Stevieling was out of the room, then castigated me for using the word "stupid". She felt "thoughtless" would be more appropriate, and so it would if I cared about being politically correct. I didn't, I felt hot and angry, and for once not sorry one little bit for any hurt feelings. That pump had operated for 24 hours of duty time with no water cooling it. It could easily have burned out, putting me in the frame for over a hundred dollars for a replacement and the hassle of plumbing the bloody thing in, priming it and Azathoth knows what else. It could have shorted and set fire to the wiring, given the absolutely tat state of nearly everything it has been my sad duty to pull out of its hiding place into the stark light of day. Check out the New Bog never-ending saga for a recent example. In this case "stupid" was the mildest damned word I could think of, and the word anyone in the outside world would use if they were to be subject to the Stevielings lack of attention to detail. Of course, that wasn't why I used the word.

I used it because it was hot and I couldn't have the swim in the lovely cold water I'd been thinking about all day.

  1. The pH is important because if it gets to low (meaning the water is acidic overall) green algae will start growing like there's no tomorrow. If it goes too high (meaning the water is alkaline overall) it causes scale to form on the various bits in the water, including the moving parts of the filter pump, which can fail as a result. The trick is to keep the pH at between around 7.2 or so. Water comes out of our taps at about pH 7, but has no dissolved chamicals in it. Buffering the pool involves having dissolved acid and dissolved alkali in the water so that an increase in acid (or alkali) causes a chemical reaction reducing it's impact. The usual acid is "Muriatic Acid", which turns out to be a formulation containing Hydrocloric Acid (no surprise there) and the favoured alkali is Sodium Carbonate.
  2. Exactly the same as the fuel pump in the early model TR6 as it happens. I digress
  3. Which was a shame because I could have done with that towel to mop the sweat off every inch of my body. As it was, I did what everyone else did and just let my perspiration roll down my legs to pool in my shoes (my underwear having become completely innundated within the first minute of outdoorsmanship)
  4. Otherwise it falls slowly into the pipe, then gets sucked through the pump when I restart the system and gets blown back into the pool to filthy-up the floor again
  5. Pathetic Dweebspeek for "The system started like it should have"
  6. Instead of the usual 4 hours, twice a day vigorous filtration program I faound to be mandatory by experimentation
  7. Instead of the usual 5 ppm or better I and others regard as mandatory
  8. See note 1 for the importance of pH in swimming pool chemistry
  9. Like it mattered at this stage. No-one in their right mind would swim in that lake of liquid botulism. It was like something Professor Quatermass might have cooked up after a night on tequilla jelly shots

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Natives Are Bewildering

Why has Crazy Joe1, my next-door neighbour from hell, taken to walking his dog in my driveway, creeping out Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling? I'd ask him, but every time I end up in the same space as him and the dog he retreats at a speed I'd never have believed possible for a 70-ish man with a hip problem.

The motive behind this bizarre behaviour has been a hot topic of conversation in Chateau; Stevie, and we think that maybe we've hit upon a possibility.

A while back, Crazy Joe confided in me that he had caught a rat in his yard and that the guy next door to him had found a rat's nest under his shed. I greeted this news with great joy, never having had the good fortune to have lived in a rat infested hell-hole before. I assured Crazy Joe that I hadn't seen any rats, and I checked the land for burrows or signs of furry freeloaders and didn't find any, but I have uncovered signs that our garage was used at some time by a rat to eat snails and evacuate it's bowels in. No sign of any actual rat though, but watch this space: I'm mining the garage this month. I've only managed to extract gangue crap like old tent poles, decking offcuts too short to use for anything, two old swimming pools and a truck jack that does not work so far, but I expect that I will strike gold any day now2.

We figured out that the guy at the other end of the street, who runs an antique car restoration business, had cleared some land and moved some old junkers that had been overgrown for about fifteen years and that the rats might've come from there. They migrated up the street, attracted by the nitwit halfway down the road who leaves open cans of cat food out for the cats in the area. Once assured of a regular food supply, they scouted out new digs under the aforementioned shed and it was rat heaven. This situation was addressed, or so I was assured by Crazy Joe, and we were now rat-free.

My current theory is that Crazy Joe disapproves of the jungle our old veggie garden3 has become and suspects a rat condo has been built therein. He may be using the dog as some sort of rat detector. Should that be the case, I would let him in the garden so he could either satisfy himself we are rat-free or find the buggers for me so I can begin the process of ridding the universe of them, were he to stick around long enough for me to make the offer.

We did see a young possum a few weeks ago, in one of our trees. This could be mistaken for a rat if you were in the position of never having seen one or out at night without your glasses on. What I assume was the same possum was spotted by me hiding under our kitchen4 sometime around the end of May, so maybe Crazy Joe is also labouring under a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps he is a Possophobe and is being driven out of what remains of his mind by the thought of a baby possum marauding about in the grounds of the Steviemanse and loitering sub kitchen with intent. Perhaps he has just found a new way of being an annoying git.

If only he would stand still long enough for me to ask him why he is in our driveway.

  1. aka Firework Joe
  2. If I don't strike rat first, of course
  3. Which he can probably see if he leans out of his upstairs bedroom window while a family member hangs on to him
  4. It overhangs the foundation, thereby creating a space in which weeds and sumac trees can grow unmolested by the weed-whacker

August is here!

Pinch, punch, first day of the month!

Elbow, shove, another rush-hour ride on the Subway.