Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday Is Fix-It Day

Sunday dawned with the promise of advanced tool usage opportunities.

The Electric Magic Staff of Thundering was in pieces on the workbench, and I needed to formulate a plan to deal with it since it turned out that when the upper part had split open it had torn out some very small but very important wires. The thing had been assembled out of a set of half-staff parts that were glued together after the electronics were connected up. I had to decide whether to split the staff down its joint to do the repairs or do it some other clever way. I looked at the split, which crossed the glued seam at right(ish) angles and decided that I would be lucky if I could glue the split successfully, let alone split the staff again and glue it.

Cleverness was called for.

I glued up the split part using an industrial strength plastic solvent/welding glue containing a bunch of strongly controlled chemicals of known carcinogenic effect in the State of California. I was outside California though, so that was OK. Once I had the joint nice and molten and the two halves mated properly, I set them aside to dry and drank tea until the violent headache and hallucinations brought on by the glue fumes subsided. Perhaps more attention should be paid to the exhortation on the label to work only in well ventilated areas next time I used this product. I pondered the chances that the fumes would explode if I made more tea, and decided to do so anyway. If nothing else, valuable science would be done.

Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling had vacated the premises so I used the time to view the seminal work in the brutal rape followed by justified brutal axe-murder vengeance field: I Spit On Your Grave. The Stevieling remained by her own reports "totally freaked" after my having insisted she watch The Haunting with us on Thursday and in any event was far too young to be exposed to this sort of movie, and Mrs Stevie disapproves of brutal axe murder, even when totally justified and the axe-murderess is totally hot, so this was the perfect time. What can I say? The woman has no taste for the real meaning of Hallowe’en (naked hot women seeking brutal axe-murder vengeance in a World Gone Mad).

The movie ended just as the womenfolk returned and re-established their tyrannical rule, so I went outside to put the finishing touches to our Hallowe’en tableau - the black cat "flats" I put out on our lawn that are hard to see themselves but throw elongated, fast-moving shadows when cars pass. The effect is one of my greater successes in the Hallowe'en set-dressing field. Then it was downstairs to commence Staff Repair.

A short but very irritating interlude had to be taken when, having cleared my workbench of all the crap on it and moving the wretched OYFOHE1 to the back so I had some room to work, I paused to reflect that at least I would soon be rid of one piece of useless junk. I completed the thought and glanced down at the monitor for it sitting on the floor, at which point it let out a sharp "CRACK" and sagged drunkenly on its stupid, artsy-farsty moulded Plexiglas stand. I picked it up and confirmed what I suspected: The Plexiglas had broken.

That's right. I broke this sorry-ass piece of junk by looking at it wrong.

The base for the OYFOHE's monitor follows the design ethic of the rest of the damn thing: form over function. It is balanced on a tripod formed from a ribbon of Plexiglas that swirls in an elegant, endless, three-lobed loop forming feet for the stand, with the usual tilt and rotate bearing at the top of it. It had always seemed to me to be overly flimsy for the not inconsiderable weight of the 17" monitor, and on examination it proved to be designed with a stupid weak spot in exactly the place it needed strength: the point just to one side of the bearing mount. The Plexiglas is about a quarter inch thick on the bits that form the feet, where it could have been thinner with little compromise in strength to my eyes. But where the three legs join to form the support for the monitor, the plexi thins to about 3/16ths of an inch. Gussets have been moulded in to strengthen the thing at this point, but a quick examination showed that over the years chez Bil the Elder, these gussets had suffered a series of minor nicks and bumps as they caught on whatever was under the stand. One of these nicks must have formed the weak spot that allowed the whole thing to fail.

I looked at this triumph of modern art and compared it to the utilitarian stands that each of my monitors has, none of which have broken and one of which is over ten years old, then I sighed and began to see if it could be fixed. I ended up using the same glue I used on the staff to melt the plexi and weld it together, but because it was a stupid shape, no clamp in the world would hold the joint while it set up and the base appears to have had internal stresses in it from the get-go because it preferentially adopted a join with a 1/32nd of an inch "sideslip" in it. I'm sorry to say I didn't do battle with this and hold it by hand until it set hard (which would have taken half an hour with the thicknesses involved) but let it do what it wanted. I harboured severe doubts that the glue would hold given the stresses the joint would be put under. No doubt a new support can be found for a few hundred dollars somewhere, but I'm done putting money into this waste of perfectly good sand.

What a total piece of crap this machine is. The next person who has the nerve to tell me how great a Mac is will find themselves being challenged to defend their agitprop with verifiable facts or eat their words. Windows computer owners buy new machines because the O/S becomes obsolete every 5 years or so. Mac owners crow about this, but they also talk about buying new Macs on about the same schedule and now I know why: the damned things break down and it is too fbleeping expensive to repair them.

The repair of the staff turned out to be very challenging indeed. The first challenge was to finally discover where the hell I had put my miniature screwdrivers that had been lost to me for Lo! these many weeks. I found them in a toolbox2, grabbed a hemostat from my modelling toolbox and Mr Drill and began The Plan.

The actuating pushbutton seemed to work by contacting some sort of small circuit board which was held in place by screws. I would drill two holes a close as I could judge to being opposite the heads of those screws, then use the holes to gain access with a miniature Phillips-head screwdriver and undo the screws. The board would be recovered using the hemostat. I would solder in two new wires to replace the broken ones, feed them through the staff and solder them to the wires inside it and resolder the negative battery wire to the terminal. I would place the button assembly in its hole and position the board above it, use the hemostat to hold the screws in position and drive them in with the miniature screwdriver. It was elegantly simple.

And against all odds, it pretty much went as planned. The holes got drilled in the right places, the screws came out as planned and were not dropped on the floor and lost, the board was removed and the button assembly examined to figure out what it was doing when it was pressed4, the board repaired, resoldered and replaced with relative ease. The only hard parts were figuring out that the button had a keyway for some unknown reason and would only fit properly one way (but would fit improperly umpteen other ways) and trying to hold the board in place with one screwdriver while holding a screw with the hemostat and using another screwdriver to drive the screw despite only having two hands. It turns out the human hand is quite flexible and capable of a small amount of multitasking, and it all happened pretty much as planned without problems.

I had just finished when Mrs Stevie sounded the dinner gong and we all trooped upstairs for dinner over an early evening showing of The Innocents.

The Stevieling pronounced herself freaked all over again, and became abusive when I suggested, while trolling the DVD extras after the movie finished, that we purchase and view The Legend of Hell House, another psychological horror movie from the early 70s.

My work was done

  1. Overpriced Yuppie Fadmachine Of Hideous Expense
  2. Before you start snickering you should understand that I have several toolboxes3 and that this one was otherwise empty, fooling me into thinking it had nothing in it
  3. Off the top of my head there is the yellow one with my electrical gear in it and the yellow one I thought was empty but actually had the screwdrivers in it and the grey one that has my modeling tools in it and the red one with my paints in it and the grey flat one that has my socket set in it and the red one that has my plumbing stuff in it and the red one that has doorknob replacement tools in it and the miniature workmate one that has the self-adjusting tools, some screwdrivers, an eggbeater drill and various other things in it and the blue one that has lead soldiers in it and the big rolling red one that has three drawers of tools and a top tray of tools and the base is full of screws
  4. It turned out to be a little metal disk in a rubber cone that acted to stand it off from the circuit board that formed the switch. The button depressed the cone, the metal disc bridged a series of interleaved but isolated electrical tracks and current flowed through the switch thus formed

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