Friday, September 28, 2007

The Dawn Of A New Age

A new age of Technological Blogging is upon us

Yes, I finally managed to come up with a kluge1 that got my Inline Footnotes-Plus-Some-Other-Taggy-Stuff Utility of Extreme Spiffiness which I call "Gerald"2, and so we can look forward to even more footnote-intensive text. The only thing keeping the number of footnotes per post down to mere double digits in the past was the absolute bastard task of keeping the anchor code4 straight. Often I would want to add a footnote to a post already marked up, necessitating a laborious session with Messers Cut and Paste, often leading to swearing and much hitting of inanimate objects as I renumbered the existing references to match up properly. Not any more, though.

By the aegis of "Gerald" I am able to put my footnotes inline. Not only that: because I am keeping the pre-Gerald meta-script as my working copy rather than the blog text itself, I can insert new footnotes as I deem them necessary6 without having to manually renumber all the ones around it 7. This really becomes useful when I make one of my signature run-on sentences that looks too long even to my eyes. I can now edit the text to shunt some of the line into a footnote without worrying about the fifteen footnotes it will displace by one number.

By Jove, it fair gets the old footnotey juices flowing. Just as Joe Weider felt that after taking his One Hour a Day "Terror Method" course8 one would find oneself walking the streets itching to try out one’s new powers of self-defense one passersby, I now find myself itching to create footnotes.

Just because I can.

  1. Kluge Tech.: A clumsy work-around put in place because the dimwit doing the job cannot understand the instructions well enough to get the thing working properly the right way
  2. owing to the singular fact that IFPSOTSUoES is virually unpronounceable by anyone not raised by vile Cthulhu cultists3
  3. Who alone possess the extra-terrene glottis modifications required to say stuff like Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn! without swallowing their own tonsils
  4. The magic that allows you, my readers5 to zip from reference to footnote and back again
  5. all three of you
  6. Such as this one
  7. This one, for example
  8. The actual name he picked for it, though the "hour a day" was actually an hour per lesson and his instructions urged the student to perform each previous lesson daily as one progressed. This meant that by the end of the first week one was practicing self-defense seven hours a day. I digress

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Plot Thickens

I got home late last night.

I had got to work late, but left even later on account of messing around with some stuff and losing track of time. On the commute home I tried to repair the Blog Script of Extreme Spiffiness, which over lunch I had enhanced to the point that it was now producing complete gibberish. This ate up the hour trip nicely, but provided no insight other than "improving stuff until it no longer works is not a good strategy, overall".

When I got home I found Eureka on the TV (one of my favourite shows) and the new agitator for the washing machine on the floor. I resolved to fit the part to the washing machine during the commercial break in the show. This plan would have worked splendidly (the part is a drop-in fit) if in fact the part supplied had been properly assembled. It had not.

When installed, the agitator was riding several inches too high on the spindle. I tried seating it more firmly, but all that did was cause the splined insert to grip the shaft so tightly that it was pulled out of the agitator when I tried to lift it off again.

The part proved to be a metal (not, as I had assumed yesterday, plastic) tube with splines machined on the inner face, mounted in a rubber moulding about an inch and a quarter in diameter and maybe two and a half inches in length. It was supposed to be tightly pressed into the end of the agitator, but wasn't.

So I was forced to improvise a press to refit the assembly into the agitator. The rubber had its own splining on the outer face, and the agitator some splines moulded into the inner end, presumably so the rubber would key to the agitator. It was out of finger-reach and a very tight fit of course, requiring the use of a piece of pipe, a dowel, a hardwood broomstick and a lump hammer to overcome. The whole thing was made more "fun" by the fact that all the available space was taken up by parts of Bil the Elder's fbleeping Mac computer, for which he still hasn't obtained the bloody power supply1 after over a month's dithering.

I finally had the fitting installed to within a fraction of an inch of where it should have been from the start and was able to fit the agitator, drop on the lint-filter basket that mounts on the agitator and set the machine for a test run just before Eureka ended.

I watched the water that was supposed to be recycled through the lint-filter splash off the side of it, and disassembled everything again for a second session with Mr Lump Hammer. This time everything worked like it should and I decamped for a cup of well-earned tea.

I had another look at the old agitator with the aid of a flashlight and discovered something interesting.

Once I had the new assembly in my hand I had revised my original diagnosis of stripped splines in favour of what I call my "worn-out rubber thingy" theory, but I could see by the light of Mr Maglite that the splines had indeed been stripped out of the original fitting.

I suspect the inner to be made of a softer metal than the steel shaft it mates to, probably some sort of bronze alloy. This mystery has really got the old investigative juices flowing and no mistake. Nothing will suffice but that I get a good look at all the bits involved close up. So stay tuned.

Agitator Autopsy immenent.

  1. Mr Stevie has nailed this one, I think. She says Bil the Elder is paralysed by the thought that he might make the wrong decision, and so cannot make any decision. Whatever the motive behind the lack of power supply procurement behaviour, it is a foolish policy when one contemplates my distain for this particular computer-shaped doorstop, my desperate need for the space it is taking up in my workshop and my easy access to Mr Lump Hammer, Destroyer of Fragile, Overpriced Yuppie Status Symbols

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Another Weekend, Another Appliance Breaks Down

Saturday heralded the start of another of the universe's onslaughts against me.

It all started rather promisingly, with me able to fill the day with small chores and avoid actually doing any real work. This is how I like to fritter away my time on this benighted planet, to no good or lasting effect.

I did have a moment of almost-fiasco when I flossed my teeth prior to yet another follow-up visit to the orthodontist and pulled off the temporary crown he has me wearing while waiting to see if the tooth will stop hurting before Christmas. However, the dentist just glued it back on again, so that was that.

Then, around tea-time, events took a distinct turn for the worst.

It started, as these things so often do, with a small disaster that snowballed into full-scale inconvenience-on-a-stick. We were dining on our signature Friday evening meal, pizza with a side order of hot wings (and yes, it was Saturday, Friday having been deemed "stew night" while I wasn't paying attention). I was finishing up this delicious repast when I dropped a bone on my T-shirt. The shirt in question was my favourite one, sent to me by the Steviesis all the way from Grande Prairie in north west Alberta, Canada. I was well steamed at this turn of events, since hot wing juice is a) bright orange and 2) damn-near impossible to get out of clothing. Action was called for.

I took myself to the kitchen, doffed the shirt and scrubbed it with cold, soapy water, but it was no use. The shirt was already stained, so I went to the next stage and took it to the laundry room for some Spray'n'Wash. While that stuff was penetrating the fibers, I dug out some other stuff to be laundered and loaded the washing machine, which I set going while I had the lid up.

The machine won't run with the lid up, but it fills just dandy, and I wanted to adjust the water temperature more finely than the settings on the front panel allow. Just for kicks, once the water was in I pressed the safety cutoff "deadman" that is normally activated by the lowering of the lid and noticed that although the machine was circulating the water as per normal (I've done this before) the agitator wasn't doing the clothes-cleaning twist. I theorised (somewhat feverishly) that the agitator had lifted off its spline and pressed it down. While this did provoke some oscillation, it wasn't the dervish-like back-and-forth that gets clothes sparkling white and country fresh.


I hurriedly moved the clothes into a bucket and lifted out the agitator, then restarted the machine.

Thank Azathoth! The shaft was being all twisty like it should, so there was no stupid gear/belt/veeblefetzer inside the works that had broken. It was just the plastic inner spline that had stripped.

At eight o'clock at night.

After the parts stores had closed for the weekend.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, a splined joint is a way of joining two parts, usually a shaft and a wheel or a shaft and another shaft, so they lock together torque-wise but can be separated or slip longitudinally while rotating to allow for changing shaft length, such as on the rear axles of a TR6 or a washing machine agitator that needs to come off for servicing. It consists of a sort of elongated gear-like arrangement on one half of the setup, and a matching socket on the other. The "teeth", which are called "splines", lock together and mean that the socketed part will rotate in sympathy with the gear-like bit, but the two can slip lengthwise if needed. What had happened on the washer was that the shaft's steel splines had gradually milled off the plastic socketed splines due to the motion and the incredible resistance offered to it by a drum full of garment soup. Frankly, I'm astounded the thing lasted as long as it did.

No sooner had I replaced the agitator (to safeguard the shaft end and prevent graphite-like lubricants from entering the drum or getting on clothing) than Mrs Stevie entered the theater of operations and demanded to know why I would even think of running the machine with the lid up. I looked her in the eye and pressed the deadman, causing the water to circulate and the agitator to just sit there, and said "so I could tell if this was happening. How long do you think we've been simply soaking our clothes in soapy water rather than actually, you know, cleaning them?". Mrs Stevie replied that if I was going to be difficult she wasn't going to talk to me at all. Thus was an unlooked-for bonus scored that evening.

Sunday, I made a quick sortie to Sid's Obscure Appliance Parts, Taxidermy and Ammo Shoppe but it was closed. I thought I saw Sid run into the back of the store as I got out of my car, but I must have been mistaken because a sign gave the hours as "Sunday - 10 am - 1 pm Clossed". I resolved to maybe take off Monday and come back then, at which time I could attempt to get the part I needed, probably some sort of insert; Sid would know. I thought I might also mention to him that I found his obviously hand-altered sign to be a bit unprofessional, and that he should just spring for having a new one made up. For one thing there was an obvious spelling error in it. For another, red gasket sealer is no substitute for ink.

I drove home and thought I might try to get informed on the job from the internet, so I signed on and got googling. In no time I had amassed a large portfolio of artwork depicting young ladies in various stages of undress and in poses ranging from the tasteful to the gynecological. I filed these away on a CD for more leisurely examination before Mrs Stevie got back from whatever she does on a Sunday morning (I've found her to be impatient with the scholarly process and quick to jump to conclusions) and continued with my search for erudition, washing-machine wise.

I found that most machines have a separate agitator/spline arrangement. I found that this was easy and inexpensive to replace. I found that our machine used a one-piece, hideously expensive, combination agitator and glued-in spline adaptor, so that was all right. I promptly ordered one, bumped the price by another 30% by getting it delivered next-day by courier, and had it sent to Mrs Stevie's workplace1. It actually arrived this morning (Tuesday), so I can look forward to a spot of washing machine repair when I finally get home tonight.

The women decided they couldn't stand to be in the house another minute (approximately three minutes after returning from Church) and left again for I don't know where. I decided that the pool water had cleared enough for me to get in it to clean it properly.

The pool robot of extreme uselessness had done an OK job on Saturday, with only the usual amount of turning upside down the minute I wasn't looking at it, cleaning the same small spot fifty times while mountains of algae littered the rest of the floor and coming to dead stops for minutes at a time, but the pool needs to be squeaky clean before it gets put up for winter. I donned my swimming gear, set up the vacuum, lowered the ladder and sprightly climbed down into the water.

Which proved to be just above freezing point.

Once my heart had restarted I was able to stop screaming in only four or five minutes and get to the business of cleaning the pool. How exhilarating it was to feel the water warm around my body, then cool abruptly again as I moved and the layer of insulating warm water caught in my body hair (now erect, making me look rather like a big, blue cactus) was replaced by new, cold water. Each time I sang of the joy I felt. I found I could avoid unnecessary exhilaration by moving by means of my toes, rather like Tom from Tom and Jerry does from time to time. Forward motion was then slow enough prevent "operatic" moments.

In a matter of hours I had the pool spic and span and was able to claw my way out of the pool into the tropical 65 degrees Fahrenheit of the open air, and go inside for a well-earned shower.

Mrs Stevie, it turned out, had been at the laundrette between lattes. She had washed all the clothes that had been almost cleaned in our machine. One of the things she had washed was my T-shirt. It was absolutely clean and stain free.

  1. The courier needs a signature and that would be the only way of providing one other than by having the thing delivered to the in-laws which would in turn require me to undergo lengthy interrogation and haranguing over my stupid choice of washing machine like I had any say in the matter at the time I digress

Friday, September 21, 2007

Technology Reigns Supreme (ish)

The previous posting was composed using a new markup language especially designed to make it easier for me to move the footnotes around and type other HTML things in shorthand1.

It's dead good and nearly working properly after a couple of disappointing days going head-to-head with Perl, the language I wroted it in. All that's left is to fix the thing that makes the links between the references and the footnotes fully automatic, with a clever disambiguator so that the fiasco of earlier this summer - in which all the footnotes in a month's posts linked back to the same reference (ninety four of which were actually supposed to point elsewhere) - and we'll probably be looking at a nomination for the Nobel Prize for Blog Cleverness and a fat cheque for monies to be spent in any way I deem appropriate.

Wait, I'm having a vision. I see...a small gathering of like-minded young women, all come to worship at the feet of the master and offer their services in practical scanty clothing. I see ...


  1. Though this one wasn't, curiously enough. I was going to, but then I realised I had put my foot through the computer that runs the script

Yesterday, My Train Seemed To Be So Far Away

Yesterday I actually managed to catch the 8:01 to Brooklyn for the first time this week.

I should have missed it, and was settling down to listen to some mindless thing on the radio1 when I became aware that the crowd on the platform (which I could just see) was too big and too far west to be the crowd for my train, and a wild hope surged in my breast.

Yes, once again the 7:55 to Penn Station was late and had held up things nicely so I could actually catch the train I wanted.

Of course, it wouldn't be the LIRR if they didn't take a mild inconvenience (admitedly to my advantage that day) and turn it into a debacle. The train was almost 25 minutes late by the time it wheezed into the station.

The kid on the tannoy kept morale at the requisite levels during the wait by giving us infuriating updates, in which he laboriously calculated the exact lateness of the trains2 but carefully avoided giving us any hint of how much longer the delays would last. This is for customer convenience.

Finally the 7:55 rolled in. Since it was disabled somewhere in the region of three inches from its starting point, it had already boarded one and a half times it's capacity of passengers due to the preponderance of commuters waiting at the stations east of Wyandanch. Many hardy souls decided to use it anyway, and it was with mixed concern3 and amusement that we who waited for the next one watched the friendly kicking, biting and swearing of the commuters once they clawed their way into a carriage.

The trains behind the 7:55 were, of course, late, but not intentionally. They were waiting so closely behind the Train of Delayment and Misery that they could have easily given it a much-needed push. Unfortunately, the commuters left on the platform didn't have much faith in the 8:17, the train behind my own beloved 8:01, so they pushed, clawed, kicked and bit their way on board the Brooklyn train, showing all the manners of a street riot in progress.

One ruthless, rowdy and foul-mouthed jackass even had the nerve to challenge me for my seat. I soon took charge of the situation though, repelled the cursing swine and claimed my seat. In this I was assisted by the people in the adjacent seats, who had absolutely no wish to share that person's space. No-one wants to run the risk of being thrown-up on, and if you ask me the LIRR should ban women in their third trimester from using peak trains.

What a wonderful start to the day

  1. Is there anything more mindless than morning shock-jock radio? Perhaps a rock...
  2. Which we could do for ourselves since the LIRR's way of doing this is to tell you the train is two minutes less late than you can clearly see it is by the time on your watch and the lack of anything remotely train-shaped in front of you
  3. That the damn thing would break down again before it got to the double-track section, thus crippling the system (again)

Way To Go, US Govt

The Canadians have a joke that goes like this:

Today there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that our national debt is now 600 billion dollars. The good news is that it is all in Canadian dollars!

There's something to be said for a national siff-upper-lippedness that can make fun of a currency widely regarded as worthless even by it's own users.

I only mention it because I read in the New York Daily News that yesterday the US dollar hit parity with the Canadian dollar (down from about a dollar sixty four a year or so ago). When I mentioned this to a colleague he pointed out that a US dollar only got you around 48 UK pence these days too.

Thirty years ago the same thing happened, a period characterised these days as the height of the worst recession in recent history.

Tell me again how strong our economy is, Mr President, then explain how you can draw that conclusion when nobody values our goods, our people or even our money.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New LIRR Timetables For My (In)Convenience

My friend Ralph the Teacher paid us a flying visit from his new home in Atlanta, Georgia1, so I decided to cut my working day short and take the earlier 5:01 from Brooklyn which is one of the two direct, no change at Jamaica (not the good one) trains offered.

Since a change at Jamaica usually involves transferring to a train from Manhattan, already filled to indecent assault levels before it leaves Penn Station, if I can't make either this or (more usually) the 6:04 I just travel into Manhattan and take a train out of Penn. So I would just like to take a minute to thank the fbleeping moron who decided to drop the 5:01 from the schedule and replace it with the all-but-useless 4:30-something. Had I known before I set out that I would be experiencing the creative talent of the LIRR traffic flow and passenger logistics staff I would have left earlier and gone to Penn2. Well done that wuckfit.

I finally got home and rendezvoused with Ralph, and a high time of manly goings on was had for a couple of hours. Ralph is not aclimating to life in Georgia well. For one thing, he is not enjoying The Joke.

You don't know it? They only have the one, it seems. It goes like this: What's the difference between a Yankee and a Damn Yankee? The Yankee eventually goes home. Ralph, possibly the least translocatable New Yorker I know, has tired of it after a mere 1100 tellings (estimated), and has begun to respond in "kind"3. Truth be told, Ralph probably took to replying before anyone broke out the joke. He is radically unsuited to life off Long Island. Oh well. I told him to head off the joke next time with a witty replacement punchline4 but he wasn't receptive.

In point of fact there are indeed an awful lot of people still fighting what is known south of the Mason-Dixon line as "The War Of Northern Agression" (or sometimes, in polite society, as "The Recent Unpleasantness") depite the fact that it was all over and done with more than four generations ago. Who won the civil war? Truth is, no-one did, really. All that happened was that the nation as a whole lost.

It is true that individuals prospered at the expense of their fellow citizens, just as they do today5 but niether side "won" that particular war as is obvious by the fact that The Joke is still being told (it dates back to before the Burning of Atlanta I should think).

I became profoundly aware of just how devastating the civil war was to the emerging nation of the USA when I first visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, an experience still as vivid today as it was on that afternoon in 1985 when the ramifications of the conflict in terms of world politics hit me like a physical blow as I stood at Lincoln's feet. It must have filled the country's leaders with despair at the time. Oh well.

This morning I was again out in good time to catch the Brooklyn train even if I couldn't get a parking space due to flocks of Rich Gits descending on Wyandanch again. If only that low-loader carrying some sort of gigantic machine hadn't decided to take the same route, albeit at a top speed of twenty miles an hour.

Having missed the Brooklyn train I was forced into a Jamaica change, whereupon I was fortunate enough to share my commute with one of the rudest people I've met in a long time.

He was sitting in one of the three abreast, facing, six-seater seats. When occupying these, etiquette is for two people to sit on the same side separated by one seat, with a third seated in the middle on the opposite side. This way everyone gets legroom, and there is plenty of manouveuring room should a fourth wish to join the group (in which case pairs sit facing each other). This individual had decided to spread his legs out so he occupied the space in front of him and that I wished to sit in (the lady in the other position was rather large and sitting opposite her was not optimal).

I asked him to move over and he just glared at me. I glared back and asked loudly how much room he needed. He ceded about three inches of space, but still tried to put the squeeze on with his legs, making for an uncomfortable trip.

As I got off the train at Brooklyn I found myself wishing for the hex-powers of The Scarlet Witch. I pictured myself handing the Ignoramus a card with a 'phone number on it and muttering "when you want it to stop, call this number", then leaving the fool to a string of increasingly annoying yet inexplicable petty strokes of bad luck as my hex-powers had their way with him, culminating in a tearful begging one night via a rapidly failing cell phone.

I swear that as I walked down the platform I heard a crash as the stiches mysteriously vanished from his leather briefcase and the contents spread themselves around his feet to be trodden on by people as polite as he was.

I totally should have these powers.

  1. Rainy nights optional, I'm told
  2. a train at 4:3x pm is too damned early to be of use to anyone who works normal office hours: I suspect the influence of recently arrived in-theater Rich Gits who never work regular office hours
  3. A curious construction I've always felt, since the way it is done is rarely perceived as "kind" by anyone involved
  4. "A Yankee always thanks the Georgia Peach after he has burned down her home and ravished her in retaliation for her ancestors' secession". Ralph frowned, but I don't think he spotted the fact I was insulting both sides of "the recent unpleasantness" in retaliation for their ancestors' foul and mutinous behaviour in the mid to late 1700s when they cast off Benevolent British Rule
  5. The myth that is the economy of hiring civilian contractors to fill traditionally military roles in Iraq is the biggest whopper waiting in the wings to bring down a government from where I am sitting. In almost all the cases I've seen examined, it seems to be costing several times as much to have these contractors in place. One might think the whole sorry business was contrived for a select few rich people to get even richer, if one was a cynic

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Road Less Travelled (Due To Traffic)

This morning I was up early, after a disturbed night due to Mr Brain "not feeling sleepy yet"1, in plenty of time to catch the 8:01 which goes directly to Brooklyn instead of taking a Penn Station train and changing a Jamaica (not the good one).

Or so I thought

The plan survived contact with the real world for about the time it took me to drive to the traffic lights at the end of Nicolls Road, at which time a complete ninny made sure that although there was plenty of time to negotiate the left hand turn, half the traffic queued up to do so would cool it's figurative heels at the lights for one more cycle (from 90 seconds to two minutes or more, depending on some arcane and as-yet unexplained formula known only to the Secret Order of the Traffic Light Timing Illuminati Of New York2). Well done that fbleeping schoolbus.

Of course, once we had the green light, a selfish wuckfit in an Osamamobile decided that although he could exit the gas station that lies next to the traffic light at the rear and get in line without any fuss, he would exit from the front entrance, pull across the traffic and stall the line so he could get across the light. I am a reasonable man, but this sort of behaviour has me hoping that the vehicle's driver has his cell phone battery explode the next time he makes a call (probably while exiting the car park or attempting to reverse: SUV drivers are people of very small brain in general). All this meant that no sooner had I made the left but I was stalled at another light.

Enough was enough. I pulled onto the shoulder and made the right into the supermarket carpark. Ignoring cries from inattentive shoppers, who really should pay more attention to their surroundings and not jibber-jabber on cell phones while pushing a cart full of groceries through the car park, I turned into the drive-thru for the pharmacy and thence onto the side street by the school. By this method I was able to rejoin my commute route sans jerks in armoured personnel carriers.

But the worst was yet to come

The road to the station was blocked by a slow-moving SUV, that was driving (it turned out) to one of the local, trackside businesses. I hate these people with a vengeance because they always drive at five miles per hour under the speed limit. They are in no hurry, since they are 15 minutes early for work. They can also be characterised by their turning technique, which is best described as "swing as fully left as you can, then make the right turn without the benefit of a turn signal of any sort". Often, after swinging out then turning, the vehicle will come to a dead stop while the driver assesses some almost-hazard in the driveway, such as parked cars or a landscaper's truck pulling out. Thus is the road blocked off completely. At times like this I fantasise about that rooftop turret-mounted disintegrator death-ray3.

Reaching the carpark at last I was dismayed to find that all the spaces were taken. The Rich Gits had returned.

When Wyandanch was served by diesel trains, the commute was cold and smelly but there were relatively few of us. On the day that electrification happened the ridership from Wyandanch trippled. Why? Rich Gits who normally commuted to their law forms and marketing companies out of Babylon or Huntington realised that they didn't need a parking permit (which costs money) to park in Wyandanch. The invasion was on.

During the summer, the Rich Gits mostly migrate to foreign countries or go east to The Hamptons, leaving space for the actual commuters who live in the area to park. Tuesdays through Thursdays the parking gets scarce even then, due to Lawyers travelling to court in Brooklyn or Manhattan. Lawyers, of course, are Rich Gits too gittish to contemplate taking time off, but even they baulk at working either side of a weekend.

I sighed and made to turn right onto Straight Path, heading directly towards the station and the Wyandanch grade crossing. It took me a good two minutes to get out of the car park, due to gits turning left across my path into it (a pointless exercise since they could see that their fellow gits had taken all the available spaces). Finally I managed to get onto Straight Path only to drive into a traffic jam. What I had been fearing had come to pass: the gits had dithered me into a direct confrontation with the 7:55 to Penn Station, which had arrived and caused the grade crossing gates to drop.

This was annoying on several fronts, but most irritating was the fact that I actually wanted to turn right before the grade crossing and so didn't actually need to be stuck on the traffic at all. Second most annoying was the sight of at least three schoolbusses ahead of me, which would ensure I would be delayed even further, possibly long enough to miss the 8:01 and force me onto the 8:16 and a change at Jamaica (still not the good one)4.

It turned out the schoolbusses were the least of my problems though.

For no readily discernable reason, the bloody train parked with its doors open and showed no signs of getting under way even when there were no more passengers on the platform. Clearly they were intent on making me wait in traffic until my own train had caught up, leaving me no time to get to the West car park and sprint to the station itself before it had left me cursing on the platform. This was not to be born

I had come to rest right next to a side street, so I turned right and drove quickly through the back streets, ignoring the playful screams of the children waiting for their schoolbus, who leapt athletically from my path as I made my way west towards what I hoped would be a parking space. As I drove I returned the friendly salutes of their parents, who waved and called out their greetings as I passed. I was cheered by their spontaneous demonstration of neighbourly regard, and when I finally reached the carpark, was doubly pleased to beat by a hair the enraged driver of an SUV who was too busy attempting to text message while he drove to see that I was going for the same parking space.

I steeled myself for a frank exchange of views with this individual, but saw the 7:55 had finally got itself rolling. There was no time to lose! The 8:01 ia always on time, as much as the 7:55 is almost always bloody late, and once the damn train was clear of the station section and the signals changed my own train would be in and out like a shot. I broke into a stiff walk and was rewarded by arriving on the platform to the sound of the gates coming down again.

The mission was still in jeopardy though. I wanted a newspaper and was damned if I was not going to have one, so I grabbed a dollar from my wallet and veered into the station to buy one.

And ran into that most insidious thing, a woman trying to pay with exact change for her bagel and coffee, while not actually having the basic smarts to have her money outside her voluminous handbag before she began the transaction.

I was in no mode to encourage such behaviour. I placed my dollar in the shoplady's hand, grabbed two quarters in change from the pile left there by commuters who understood how to speed buy stuff, politely elbowed the dithering woman out of my way and grabbed a Daily News from the newspaper stand5, then sprinted for the train.

Which I managed not to miss despite the best attempts of the entire western world to prevent me doing so.


  1. Mr Brain is not my friend
  2. An organisation as yet to reveal themselves to the general public, but that I have inferred to exist and to be the root cause of the various dubious and outright iniquitous traffic light configurations and timings on Long Island. I have contempt for them, and the public officials who have yet to acknowledge them or confess to the craven granting of absolute authority of all things traffic lighty to a hidden cabal of ultra-powerful old-money interests whose agenda has to be suspect, given their monomania for traffic flow control and anonymity
  3. The one I could have had if only scientists had spent some time doing science (instead of wasting time recalssifying planets and lakes as not-really-planets/lakes) and invented stuff people actually want and need. Let's face it: If my car flies this entire blog entry doesn't get written. What wastes of good breathing air today's so-called "brains" are. No doubt even as I type some "clever" young thing is busy on a breakthrough theory which will prove conclusively that the Atlantic isn't an ocean any more or that Asia really shouldn't be called a continent
  4. Due to a New York state law that decrees that schoolbusses stop at grade crossings while the driver checks that no trains are coming. This is for the safety of the children. Sometimes, when the bus stops, the doors fly open, granting the children easy access to the fast-moving traffic. I don't know what this is for
  5. Also used by such ditherers to hold their excess baggage while they look for thet ellusive nickle hiding amongst the dried-up chapsticks, bunches of obsolete keys that don't fit anything, collections of left-hand-only gloves and other handbag cruft, thus ensuring that fellow commuters with exact change cannot circumvent the ditherisation of their commute and actually catch a train

Monday, September 17, 2007

My Neighbours Killed My Grass (Or Watched While Someone Else Did)

Another week, followed by another weekend. What fun.

On Saturday I discovered that the people who had dumped a tire at the side of my house while we were in Philadelphia, on my little grass verge, had also dumped something, probably antifreeze to judge by the empty cannister they left with the tire, and saved me the trouble of trimming about ten square feet of grass by the relatively straightforward and simple method of killing it. Perfect. I'd ask the neighbours if they saw anything, such as a license plate or maybe a landscaper's business name on the side of a truck, but it wouldn't be worth it because a) they never see anything on principle and 2) they were probably involved in the dumping. I am partly to blame that people don't realise the area isn't some abandoned industrial lot rather than the side of my residence because I don't cut that grass every week and it can get pretty horrible looking, and also the kerb is weed-infested and I don't weed-whack very often.

I used to. I stopped because my neighbours used to invite their entire clan over on a Sunday (my usual grass-cutting day) and they would park over the bits I needed to weed-whack. Then, certain individuals would empty out their ash-trays onto my property line before departing. Some of them would leave other stuff, like beer bottles in the grass, or cigarette packets, or, well, anything their little hearts felt was not appropriate for their cars any more. I was once power washing the fence with detergent and asked them to move their cars (so their paint wouldn't get marked by the splashback) and you'd think that I'd personally threatened to kill each and every firstborn male child in their clan. I can appreciate that it was inconvenient, moving the cars from my side of the road to the other side, forcing an arduous ten-second drive and an almost impossible three-point-turn onto people already exhausted from their trips from Queens. Wbeepers.

I'm seriously planning on putting a sign on my fence that reads : "Neighbors: Because of the amount of illegal dumping and property damage we've experienced over the last few months, I've been forced to position hidden security cameras to cover this area. Please be advised that my entire property line is now under surveillance 24 hours a day, and modify any behavior you don't want on the record accordingly. On the plus side, all acts of vandalism will now be refered to the police and footage of such acts posted to my website for maximum humiliation of the animals involved, so you can sleep easy in your beds."

That'd pay the buggers back for their years of harrasment.

Sunday I used to actually cut my own lawns (as opposed to the grass where people can see it) which had been left for far too long and choked the mower as a result. The day was brightened by the Stevieling and Mrs Stevie opening hostilities upon their return from church, and by my running over a hose and cutting a hole in it. It was, of course, the hose to the sprinkler that reaches the new bald spot in the side verges. I had set the mower to cut closer than usual and hadn't thought about the consequences of that on the other infrastructure.

Oh well. It gave me the chance to get out of the theater of war and go to Home Despot for a repair kit.

I like to use the sort of repair kit (yes, this hose-mowing has happened once or six times before) that comes as a plastic insert and two outer plastic clamshell clamps. The insert is oversize and difficult to fit without Stevie's Magic Method™: a kettle of boiling water.

I cut the hose with my Sears razor shears (a great tool which looks like a pair of heavy-duty pliers. One jaw is a plastic-faced anvil, the other a three-inch razor-sharp blade. These things are perfect for cutting hose with (even better than a lawn mower). Once I had a pair of good straight-cut ends to work with I undid the clamps enough to slide them over the hose ends, then I pushed the insert into the hose ends as far as I could. Picking one end to start with I then slowly heated the pipe with the boiled water, which softens the hose enough that it will swell and allow me to push the insert in more fully. The process was repeated until the insert was fully seated, and then I did the same with the other side of the joint. The last task was to slide up the clamps to the joint and tighten them. Job done, nobody scalded and most importantly, no fingers severed.

Speaking of hoses, earlier in the week I'd noticed that none of the sprinklers were working. I'd turned them off at the faucets during a rainy spell, but was sure I'd turned them back on again four days later.

And I had. It turned out that all four of the little battery operated inline sprinklers I was using had dead batteries in them. I've never seen that happen before, and batteries usually last a season and more. These were changed only a couple of months ago.

I took the four timers into the house and removed the batteries. My first thought was that some water may have leaked into the battery compartments and shorted out the terminals (it's happened) but the batteries were all dry. Once I fitted new batteries, three of the four came back to life as expected, but the fourth just made a high-pitched electronic whistling noise. This was curious because as far as I know there are no audio components inside the timers.

Fortunately, I keep an extra timer on hand for things like this and was able to replace the whistling unit. These timers are fairly good for the money (about 25-30 bux, depending on where I buy them) and typically last for years although I've had one disintegrate after only a season and two broke down after only two seasons.

When I say "disintegrate" I mean that literally. The timers are small, drum-like affairs with a dial and a rotary switch on the top, an inlet and exhaust port on the sides, opposite to each other, and an unscrewable base-plate for getting at the battery. There are no other features. One loads a battery, presses the only button and is greeted by a green flashing LED. One then selects a time corresponding to the nearest hour and presses the button. More green flashing. One then selects the sprinkler start time and presses the button. The LED flashes red, or on newer units, blue, indicating one should select the frequency of watering desired in hours and press the button. Then one gets some more green flashing and sets the duration of the watering period, presses the button and one is off! Simple. Easy to remember.

But remember, these things also spend their time exposed to the elements. They get heated up in the sun, then abruptly cooled when they open their internal valves to do some watering (typically at the hottest time of the day). They get the full value of the sun's ultra-violet rays, always a bugbear for plastics of any kind, which weaken and become brittle as a result. It is because of this, and also because the spring terminals for the battery are under pressure which is transmitted from the (screwed on) baseplete to the (glued on) faceplate that one of my new timers suddenly and unexpectedly ejected its faceplate one day.

I know what you're thinking: But you are handy with tools and enjoy a challenge like this. Why didn't you just fix it and throw it back into use, Stevie?

Well, I would have done just that, but the two little wires that connect the battery to the electronics were pulled from their sockets and I don't know which way round they are supposed to be reconnected. I can just plug them in, but the sockets aren't polarised or called out with paint or anything, so I've been waiting for a unit to go belly-up so I can dissect it and find out what's what.

Which is why I'm not too unhappy this sprinkler timer went south after a mere ten years or so in service. A touch of the razor saw and the sprinkler will soon yield all its secrets to me.

Why did all the batteries go dead together? I don't know. Maybe running the timed valve mechanism without water in it caused the motors to overload.

While I was out getting the repair kit I thought I'd also check into replacing the swimming pool filter with a diatomaceous earth one. The pool has been out of use since the Stevieling poisoned it and I haven't been able to get rid of a slight milkiness that is the result of stuff too fine for the filter cartridge to screen out. This was tested by allowing the pool to settle for a week, at which time it became crystal clear but had a filthy floor, then running the Pool Robot of Extreme Uselessness, which soon had the pool water looking a bit cloudy.

It also jammed up the filter, since I had added to the pool about three doses (way too much) of the magic blue juice of dirt aggregation, a compound that causes microscopic dirt particles to clump together. They clumped enough to hgum up the filter, and a lot of the fine stuff was finally filtered out, but the last of is just won't screen.

I did some research and discovered that sand filters and diatomaceous earth filters, although a lot more involved piping-wise and a lot heavier (of course) can screen out crap ten times smaller than filter cartridges can. This looked promising, so I nipped over to the local pool'n'chemical place and talked it over with one of their managers. I thought that it being the end of the season there might be a considerable reduction in price on these "start of season" type items.

We talked about the various issues, and finally cut to the chase. The manager said that the diatomaceous earth version of the rig would cost about 550 bux all told, and the sand version would cost about 330. I have long schooled my face to remain impassive during opening negotiations so that I can maintain the upper hand in bargaining without looking cheap and blowing the deal. It took all my skill, but my facial muscles bore no trace, of that I am certain, of my inner reaction to this somewhat higher than expected infrastructure cost. I think I might have left the place with my dignity intact had I not involuntarily screamed "How much?" at the top of my lungs.

I sat on the sofa that evening and contemplated the weekend as I watched one of the Inspector Lindley mysteries on PBS. Not much achieved, it was true, but I consoled myself that it would soon be a new week and I could at least return to work.

Once the show was done Mrs Stevie told me to stop crying and go to bed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Garages: Never Go In Them

Once I'd had time to sit back on a rock-hard train seat and go over events, I realised that I had entirely forgotten to relate the sprinkler's contribution to the story. I'm adding it in today (9/12/07) so if you've read yesterday's version and need a bit more cheering up, you should re-read this entry.

The past weekend was one so packed with incompetence-induced danger and near death experiences that it has taken me 36 hours to calm down/heal up to the point I can speak of the events that took place during it.

Things began (as they so often do) with Mrs Stevie requesting on Friday evening that I get a bloody move on and clean out a space in the garage loft for the Stevieling's crap like I promised. I pondered a while and finally agreed I would start on Saturday if she released the half-nelson she had me in at once.


Saturday dawned and I began my day as I traditionally do by drinking a huge cup of tea while watching whatever Japanese Samurai movie is showing on the Obscure Movie Network. Then I ran some errands, and finally, around noon(ish) I was ready to start.

The Plan called for me to empty out the right side of the garage, sort out the crap from the good stuff, throw away the crap1, shovel up any crap left by Mr Rat2, disinfect the floor and replace all the good stuff. This would make space for me to get to the ladder to the loft and enable me to continue work in discarding the "valuables" stored there.

There wasn't room on the (four car) drive to accommodate all the stuff at one go so I decided to tackle it in two stages (not the best plan when it came time to disinfect the floor, but needs must when the Devil has it in for you).

I pulled out an amazing amount of cardboard in the form of flattened boxes that had held Christmas lights, bicycles, storm doors and landscape lights, and binned it. A good start to the operation. Then I removed the 24 foot extending ladder from it's slot on the floor, which entailed having to move all the crap that was on top of it first, which allowed me access to a plethora of old garden tools, lengths of timber, storm doors, sheets of plywood, sheets of masonite, two old doors kept to do duty as trestle tables, a trestle table and four ten-foot long by one foot wide planks of that white el-cheapo knockoff Formica clad chipboard that is used to make naff furniture from. This allowed me to clean off the floor with a shovel and broom and I made up a bucket of hi-test bleach and water and scrubbed the floor good and clean.

Once that was dry I was able to replace the wood, doors, planks etc3 and move on to the second stage. This involved removing a barrel we inherited with the house and had decided to turn into planters next year4. I rolled it out of the garage and stood it on end in the driveway. I know it seems a bit of a waste to cut up a perfectly good barrel, but in all honesty this one has seen better days and is only good for Pirate Ambience or planters now. It was used to store some foul-smelling purple liquid I disposed of in a manner likely to have won me a summons had I been spotted at the time. We later got a visit from one of the Genaro kids who claimed it was his dad's homemade wine5. Add to this that the outside of the barrel is coated with a fetching pattern of white paint spatters and blue paint overspray from something. Add to that the fact that wine barrels in a real winery only have a limited lifespan, which is many times less than this one held the dubious Vintage Genaro. It really doesn't have much going for it.

I removed all the stuff piled on top of the barrel, dislodging a bottle of Windex which dropped a few inches onto one of the bottles shoulders. The plastic spray bottle, which had been in the garage since about the time dolphins decided that life on land was a big fat nothing and opted to do all their future evolving in the sea, had become brittle and naturally shattered, spilling Windex all over the barrel and the floor. Clearly the anti-handyman demons were awake and alert.

Once the barrel was gone, I discovered two things: Firstly, that it had been wedged against the wall with two examples of the world's biggest turnbuckles. These things look like they might have been used to lift locomotives off the tracks. Secondly: That Mr Rat had used the space behind it for a latrine, and had attempted to nosh on the various delicacies in the vicinity despite the manifest unsuitability of said delicacies for the purposes of consumption. Mr Rat had attempted to dine on two rolls of 6 mm plastic sheet and a bag of potting soil fortifier (a sawdust like substance with no nutritious value I could discern), washing it all down with Fantastik, a household grease-shifting cleanser. Why a bottle of this was behind the barrel is beyond me, since I'm not impressed with the stuff in general, but it no doubt presented the rat with a refreshing beverage with which to wash down his sawdust aû sheet-plastique. I've seen nor heard no sign of the rat by the way, other than the fewmets and results of attempting to eat fundamentally non-edible things in my garage. I'm pretty sure that it eventually quit the place in disgust and was trapped by Crazy Joe6.

I cleaned up the floor and scrubbed it with bleach, then had to find something to do while the floor dried.

The barrel was filthy, and I thought I might power wash it, just for giggles. I dug out my "Husky" power washer, bought a couple of years ago when my trusty Karcher finally bit the dust7 and a big disappointment to me since. The adjustable nozzle jammed several times and now has adopted an orientation ninety degrees off the best use angle for a start, forcing a painfully unnatural posture when using it to clean a fence or deck. Today, it had been infested with anti-handyman spirits from stem to stern. First I couldn't attach the nozzle no matter how hard I pushed the damned thing into its socket, then the bloody motor wouldn't develop pressure consistently, cutting in and out making for a usable cleaning cycle that was about a second long before the pressure died away and the pump restarted. I tried everything I knew to fix this blasted thing, but it was determined to not be helpful. During one of the attempts to find something obviously not attached properly, the water feed nozzle snapped off and the hose sprayed water all over the place. Luckily I had decided earlier in the day to listen to the excellent "Car Talk" and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR, and had wound the driver-side window down so I could use the car radio for that purpose, so much of the spillage was soaked up by the car's upholstery, instrument cluster and carpeting.

I gave up on the pressure washing, and decided to help matters along vis-à-vis the floor drying (which it wasn't) by installing a fan. This worked quite well, but left me with nothing to do but ponder stuff idly. I know what you're thinking: these are perfect conditions for Mr Brain to pull one of his shenanigans. You are not wrong.

I noticed that the small ex-vegetable garden8 had become a forest of weeds and sumac saplings, with an average height of about five feet. This was a bit much, and I resolved to take Action at once. I retrieved my hand pruner from the kitchen and sallied forth, but the task was a daunting one. If only there were some way of speeding things up.

There was.

I had owned for some time a perfectly good electric hedge trimmer, bought to deal with some bushtrees in our back yard. I had never actually taken it out of the box in all the years I'd had it, for a very good reason: these tools come factory-infested with the most virulent stripe of anti-handyman demons, and fiasco is sure to eventuate when they are deployed for use. Consider: Do you not know at least one person who has cut through their own extension cord while attempting to use one of these things?

I was nine years old the first time I saw one of these deployed by a neighbour as I walked to school. The man finished off his hedge with a little well-deserved flourish and there was an almighty bang as the evil-spirit infested thing cut through his extension cord.

At the time I laughed because, callow youth that I was, I simply assigned the accident to the poor man's incompetence. What did I know of hedge-trimmers? As the years rolled on I began to realise it simply wasn't possible for all those cut cords to be due to the lack of owner-operator brain cells. Something eldritch and not explainable by science9 was clearly going on. Add the demon-infestation to The Mr Brain Issue and you have quite a potential for cock-ups. I know a no-win situation when I see one.

However, I thought about it for a bit and came to the conclusion that provided I kept my mind on the job and was actively trying not to cut my own extension cord in two, I should be able to press the hedge-trimmer into service for mass overgrown weed and triffid clearance with little danger.

A sad mistake.

I had to use the cord currently supplying power to the fan, but that was alright since the floor was mostly dry by now. I unpacked the tool and plugged it in. I switched it on and observed the snippy parts work. I checked the extension cord was not near the blade. I began to trim weeds.

It was, at first, a great triumph. The weeds fell like, well, weeds and the tool showed no tendency to generate a fiasco. I walked deeper into the overgrowth at which point the evil anti-handyman spirits caused the cord to pull out of the tool. And again. And again.

In order to thwart this petty behaviour I gathered a loop of cord and re-examined the arrangement with a view to avoiding a cord-cutting debacle. It all looked well and good, and the weeds retreated in disorder in the face on my superior technology.

I finally reached the sumac tree growing in the corner and decided I couldn't expect the hedge-trimmer to cut the main trunk. It was just too thick and there were specific warnings against cutting over-thick stuff with the tool in the instruction booklet. I decided to cut off all the thinner branches, which would be possible if I turned the blade so it was cutting vertically (not recommended in the instructions). It worked rather well, and as I cut off the penultimate branch I gave a little flourish. The tool ground to a halt.

I checked the swimming pool and the filter motor was dead too, indicating that the GFI had tripped. I asked Mrs Stevie to reset it, which she did, but the hedge-trimmer refused to start. I thought I might have somehow damaged the mechanism, though the blade didn't have any obvious damage showing. Then I saw the cord had been neatly cut about eighteen inches from the end, and was hanging by a shred of insulation.


Properly chastened, I returned to the garage and replaced all the stuff that I had on the driveway, then went indoors to lick my wounds. This served two purposes. It gave me some much needed salt, and told me to get a shower in no uncertain terms. The loft-clearance would have to wait until Sunday.


Sunday dawned and it was back to work. I pulled out the mower, the halogen work lights, the sack truck, the antique kid's peddle car, some boxes of crap and finally, Troll the Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness, and positioned them around the driveway, then got to work. I also fished out from the back of the garage a box of broken glass, which I tossed into the garage entrance for dumping into the recycling bin after breaking a couple of big pieces up with a block of wood. It also contained a shirtload of galvanised steel washers. What I had thought to be a mouse, and now believe to be the rat, had attempted to eat these washers and had succeeded only in destroying the box they came in. I had transferred them to a bucket, which had been knocked over into the box o'glass shards. This box was a handy place to dump broken glass as I came upon it some years ago, and I had just forgotten to throw it out at the time. Now I needed a way to get the washers back out without slicing my hands to ribbons.

The answer was one of the magnet stacks I used to create the bewildering super powers when in my Mighty Magnetotron10 persona. I wrapped the magnets in a brown paper bag, then used that to collect the washers from the glass shards. It was a great triumph, if I do say so myself.

While I was at it I moved a couple of short rolls (about twenty feet or so) of the plastic-wrapped fiberglass insulation I found that will do nicely to replace most of that lost (from the bathroom ceiling during Domestic Flood Xena) to the front of the garage. I cannot seem to find it in the stores and its plastic wrapper - which helps prevent fiberglasser's rash - and kraft paper backing is perfect for the job. I also moved some rare, out-of-print games that a friend had given me when he moved to Atlanta a few weeks ago to the same area temporarily.

No sooner had I done this than the sprinkler that waters the garden and the very end of the lawn fired up to remind me I hadn't turned off the valve. It is a heavy-duty "Rainbird" type that turns by means of a percussive swing arm powered by the stream of water. By sheer chance it was facing the garage, the very left-most end of its travel and the trigger point for the reversing mechanism. Also, for maximum fun, the mechanism decided to park for a bit without moving, no matter how many times the swing arm was hit with high-pressure water - a process that not only powers the turning action but also quite incidentaly causes the spray to be momentarily widened in effect11.

I was looking the other way when the Sprinkler of Inconvenient Wetness fired up, and at first Mr Brain could not, or would not believe what the Eyeball Twins were reporting12, so it took a few seconds for me to act. I leapt over to the inline valve and shut it off with a little twist and a big Word of Power. Then I inspected the damage. I dried off the games with a paper towel I had forgotten to leave inside the house, but the insulation had to be left in the sun in the hope the kraft paper would dry before the damp penetrated and got caught in the plastic wrapper (like happened with the original in Domestic Flood Xena). Many and terrible were the incantations at that time, and passing church-goers with small children did flee in horror before them.

I climed into the loft.

The first thing I did after that was make a note about the eight citronella torch inserts sitting in the loft. These are about the size of a tin of baked beans and have a conical cap with a wick in it. they are full of citronella oil, which is like scented kerosene, and fall over and leak really easily. The second thing I did was to knock them over and spill citronella oil all over the newly cleaned floor, forcing me to deploy the cat litter of oil absorbtion and also some swear words of anger channeling.

Then I junked out some boat seat cushions Mrs Stevie had decided she needed when her dad junked out his boat, some wood shelving I had put up there years ago and forgotten and some timber that used to be a swing I built for the Stevieling when she was four.

I was happy to see that one of the timbers was a cedar 2x4 left over from the deck project ten years ago (what you might call a deckade). The back yard cedar fence has a rotten top rail and I needed a replacement for it. I was less pleased to discover that while the fence required a straight piece of timber, this 2x4 was rifled.

In two directions

Well, the day wore on with me transferring art treasures from the loft into the garbage and working up a sweat of classic proportions. It was very hot and humid on Sunday and the environment seemed to trap the air so it could be superheated under the roof of the garage. Dehydration was a constant problem, and I put it down to that that I let down my guard and allowed Mr Brain to try and kill me again.

The ladder I used for accessing the loft was one I inherited with the house. It was all wood, and wracked badly when used. I cut it in half, put one half in storage and deployed the other as a loft ladder. Of course, I had to do something about the wracking. My solution to this vexing problem was to cut two pieces of plywood and nail them, one across the top of the ladder, one across the bottom. The plywood was the width of the ladder and about a foot tall, giving plenty of bracing. The only fly in the ointment was that I had to be careful to use the second rung when ascending or descending and not stand on the edge of the plywood by mistake as it could detach from the ladder with disastrous consequences, since I had used nails and not screws to fasten the plywood sheet to the ladder siderails. I think you can see where I'm going with this.

Without really concentrating I stepped up with my left foot, placed my hands (clad in nice slippery leather work gloves) on the ladder to steady myself and raised my right foot to continue my ascent. Just before my right foot reached the rung, the plywood's nails unlatched from the wood of the ladder and my left foot was carried through the ladder while my center of gravity shifted with no regard for my safety. This happened so fast I was denied the chance to reinforce my grasp on the ladder with my teeth and my leather gloves slipped off it, allowing me to fall in a graceful arc to the concrete floor some three feet below. I yelled out an inspiring cry, a challenge to the forces of evil at work in the universe if you will, then crashed to the ground in a cloud of dust. I might have been seriously injured, but I had the good fortune to land squarely upon the box of broken glass shards, which deformed under me rather like the steel of a car deforms in a crash, the glass inside absorbing the energy of my fall by breaking up into even smaller pieces. It was all very invigorating.

I lay on the ground and pondered the matter of the box of glass under my back. It would be of passing interest, I thought, if I were to stand and find myself resembling Godzilla with a twin row of glass "scales" projecting from my back. Always assuming that I still had command of my various bits. There is, I remembered, an awful lot of important wiring running down the average back, and nature hadn't arranged for resilience in the circuitry in the event of a break.

Well, lying around pondering the whichness of the why wasn't getting the job done, and Mrs Stevie was due home from her church picnic and would take a dim view of any horseplay while on the job. I leapt to my feet over the course of two or three minutes, checked my back for glass then lurched around the garage for a bit to reacquaint my body with the idea of upright ambulation. Then I did what anyone under those circumstances would do: I grabbed the ladder and Mr Tiger Saw and turned it into matchwood before it could do any more damage. During this process I stood on the traitorous plywood sheet and drove a nail through the sole of my shoe, narrowly missing driving it through the underlying sole of my foot. Another customer for Mr Tiger Saw then.

I decided that natural incompetence, Mr Brain's perfidy and the ever-present anti-handyman demons had taken the day and suspended operations in the garage, possibly forever. I informed Mrs Stevie when she returned home that she could finish moving the various bits of crap, mostly the Stevieling’s old rocking horse, around to make room for more crap, and spent the rest of the day cutting up deadfalls so the garden refuse guys would actually take them away. In this I was ably aided and abetted by Messrs Workmate and Tiger Saw, to whom I should like to give my thanks.

Then it was off to Home Despot to buy a DIY socket end to repair my extension cord with, which I did despite the dire predictions of failure, death and destruction from the resident eletrical department Doomsayer and returned home to fit it.

It was, for once, a fairly businesslike thing, as aftermarket plugs in the USA so often aren't. The socket opened up like a clamshell and revealed a straightforward screw terminal arrangement and a two-jaw, reversible cord-grip. It was the work of a few minutes to fit the cable to it, but I felt the cord-grip was too agressive in the best-fit configuration (the other one would let in water, a definite no-no), so I took the jaws down to my basement workshop to see if I could widen the profile a bit.

And lost one of the jaws when it pinged out of the vise and shot across the floor, never to be seen again.

Knowing that once again I had been driven from the field of endeavour by the cruel and sardonic anti-handyman spirits, I hoisted a white flag and retreated to the shower.

It was several hours later that I realised that although I had consumed about three pints of iced tea since my shower, I hadn’t peed once. I was so dehydrated the liquid was being absorbed by the manly Stevieframe before my kidneys could get at it.

Either that, or my kidneys went south in the Loft Ladder of Certain Death Fiasco.

  1. As opposed to the usual scheme of just putting it all back in the garage again when I was finished
  2. Who thankfully hasn't actually been found to be resident but who did grace us (apparently) with a visit in which he enjoyed Chateau Stevie's native French Cuisine Signature Dish: Escargot De La Jardin and used the place to deposit several dozen times his own weight in fecal matter
  3. But not the ladder, which even when collapsed down to 12 feet needs almost the full length of the garage to lay down in. 'tis a mighty thing, with a load-bearing capacity of 250 lbs and a rope loop you can pull to shoot the end up into the sky - which makes it almost impossible to control and on at least one occasion has precipitated a fiasco of the most publicly embarrassing kind as it fell on me. I've used it a couple of times to access dead tree branches and the chimney. Every time I've been absolutely terrified. It is a long drop to the ground for the top of the thing
  4. Mr Stevie doesn't know about the "next year" bit. Mum's the word
  5. Wine made "Genaro Fashion" (ibid). the mind boggles, the stomach churns
  6. Current theory is that the guy at the other end of the side street adjacent to the fabulaous Chateau Stevie who renovates old classic cars in his shop was the source of the rat in question. The guy had a number of wrecks in an overgrown area to the side of his garage. The land was cleared, possibly at the militant request of his new neighbours who put a gazillion bux into renovating their new home. Everyone thinks the rats came from there, moved up the street by way of the nitwit who left out open cans of catfood for the strays in the area, and on to Crazy Joe's other neighbour's land where they established an underground sanctum sanctorum beneath his shed. Joe eventually broke the news to me that he had been catching rats on his land (after things got so bad he called in the professionals) which was the first I had heard of it. I checked the property for burrows, warned everyone to be on the lookout, but no-one ever saw a rat. The rat in the garage was singular and remarkably dimwitted in that it tried to eat a variety of non food-like stuff in there and completely missed a box of microwave popcorn that I had stupidly left in there last year when my Dungeons and Dragons manly high-stakes poker game was disbanded.
  7. I wanted another Karcher, which had given me good service even if I had expected a longer service life from it than I got. I needed a replacement in a hurry and found that Home Despot had discontinued their relationship with Karcher and started one with Husky. This, by the way, is fairly typical with DIY centers. No sooner do you develop a liking for a product than they stop selling them
  8. More properly: vegetable ex-garden I suppose
  9. Or by the sorry excuse we have for scientists today, who are far more interested in reclassifying Pluto as a not-planet and Lake Huron as an unlake than actually getting their fingers out and doing science
  10. I would shove a stack of magnets up each sleeve and stand beside colleagues, declaring "I am The Mighty Magnetotron. Bow before my awesome powers, mortal!". Their unruly cries of "Fat Chance" would be silenced as I waved my arms and their computer monitors went all gooey, like a Dali watch or something from a sixties movie about LSD. It was great fun until the bastard bosses replaced the CRTs with non magnetic field sensitive LCD screens
  11. It is this very effect that makes adjusting the things so "refreshing" and that killed my cell-phone's internal charger at the start of the sprinkling season
  12. Vast incoming streams of life-sustaining but insulation- and game-wrecking water

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Well, I Should Hope So

I've spent the holiday weekend, along with large parts of the previous week, suffering from an ear infection, a sore throat and cough.

It quite put a damper on the visit to Philadelphia (of which more in a later post) and I finally sought the aid of Doc Rubberglove, who gave me some drops for the ear and some mild sleeping pills so I could get some damned sleep (a commodity in short supply of late).

Yesterday I was idly reading through the list of cautions on the pill bottle. Number one was a doozey

"May cause drowsiness"