Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ph'glui mglw'nafh Cthulhu Chateau Stevie wgah'nagl fhtagn

Post Santa

Christmas came and went in depressingly quick order, but the loot haul wasn't half bad.

Mrs Stevie got the entire run of Upstairs Downstairs on DVD. I estimate it will take her four years at her current viewing rate to finish it. She also got something called The Elizabeth Gaskell Collection which is set in Victorian England. Truly, she will be costume drama'd out by the summer.

The Stevieling got an iPod Nano, and as a result I got to spend Xmas morning configuring bloody iTunes. I wouldn't mind but the damned thing installed a stealth "helper" executable that launches in every logon, despite iTunes being required only in the Stevieling's account. No doubt this is another case of my not seeing how the Apple Way is better than, say, the Norton Way which pulls exactly the same sort of shenanigan for which Symantec are roundly criticized by the world and its dog. She got a bunch of other stuff, but the iPod was the great hit of the day, so kudos to Mrs Stevie who made it happen1.

I got a bunch of DVDs including Hogfather, Universe season 1, the UK version of Eleventh Hour, the entire run of Red Dwarf and The History of Britain which is spiffy with a capital spiff. I also got this year's Hess Truck2, which is ultraspiffy and features a self-propelling component for the first time. Hess Trucks are truly wonderful toys and worth every penny. No-one is allowed to play with mine.

I also got the Horrorclix figure of Great Cthulhu, which is so far beyond spiffy that radio messages take four minutes to reach it from there. A truly magnificent realization of the ultimate in antediluvian cosmic horrors, and dead good to fondle while making appropriate noises3.

However, the Stevieling’s eyeballs, only just unbugged-out after getting used to the idea of being an iPod owner4 sprang from their sockets when she unwrapped the family's Wii console5.

All in all, Mrs Stevie engineered a Christmas to remember.

Mrs Stevie felt we should all go to church this year, and since I was exhausted from iPod installation, Wii wiring, Hess-Truck figuring out and making Appropriate Noises, I couldn't marshal enough cogent arguments to gainsay her so we decamped for Lutheran indoctrination.

Now everyone here knows that as god is my witness I am an atheist. Not the sort that makes a religion of it, but I just don't think there's anything there. I don't say you have to agree with me, and if you do Believe and you are right, you'll have the last laugh if I have understood the set-up, but I've had a long think and it doesn't make sense to me (not that much ever does these days).

However, I don't believe in making other people unhappy for what would be at worst an hour of standing and sitting in a cold church watching everyone else get closer to redemption, and Mrs Stevie badly needed the morale boost so I said "okay", which was enough to get her to release me from the Full Nelson she had me in too. In any case, I love a good sing-song and have fond memories of compulsory choir membership while at school being actually enjoyable at Christmas. Even Lutherans can't ruin Christmas with the duff hymns they so often trot out on other occasions to spoil the mood.

Or so I thought.

We got changed (my "iCephalopod" T-Shirt depicting Cthulhu "rocking out" to an iPod was deemed unsuitable for church attendance) and soon were ensconced in a pew before the altar, whereupon the pastor gave a service that seemed to miss the point a bit.

I'm no expert, but I thought that Christmas was all about the baby Jesus having been born. The service that day seemed to dwell on the horrific death the man was put through, which should have been thirty three years down the road, sometime around Easter if my maths is right. This wasn't the pastors fault, since I understand that the service is pretty much put together by a committee and all the pastor does is put a friendly face on it all. This seems wrong to me, but I'm not a fully paid up member of the club so I don't really get a say.

Each reading was bracketed by a carol to illustrate the text and emphasise the narrative. Each carol was truncated to only two verses generally, which was just enough for me to get the tune down before the song ended. Lutheran carols are sung to tunes subtly different to the versions I learned at school, so I occasionally end up soaring away from the pack or taking a left turn a bar too soon. It is all very trying, but I was doing okay until we came to The Appalachian Carol.

Set to a funereal dirge not unlike in feel to the tune of Poor Judd Is Dead from the musical Oklahoma, it features a folksy lyric supposedly written by a simple mountain man, and I suppose the idea was to throw into relief the idea that Jesus was as much for the simple common man as anyone. I think that was the idea. What I know for certain was that it was almost tailor made to cause an Incident In Church and get me into trouble with Mrs Stevie.

First of all it had a plodding tune that I was unfamiliar with, which gave me time to get bored and actually read ahead in the lyric.

Now anyone who has read this far should be secure in their knowledge of my grasp of grammar. Some may be under the illusion that I cunningly break the rules of grammar to achieve poignant literary effects, but the truth is I am somewhat blind to it and any grammatical cleverness in The Occasional Stevie is actually a result of the signal to noise ratio occasionally producing a random artifact, or unintended fallout from rare post-composition editing. In short, if I spot a grammatical problem, it is by definition a scorcher. Such was the case in The Appalachian Carol.

I've also confessed to being totally poem-blind. This is a curse. I'd love to read a poem and luxuriate in its rhyme, meter and imagery, but unless it's so obvious a cow could see it I can't spot the rhythm in any poem, and the effort of trying hurts so much I'm in no mood for cunning imagery and just want the poet to say what's bothering him or her and be done with it. That just leaves the rhymes, which I believe a cow could spot.

All I've just said should make it obvious I have insurmountable problems telling a good poem from a bad one6 (or indeed, spotting any poem from a bunch of instructions on how to apply carpet glue), but I was utterly convinced that with The Appalachian Carol I had in my hands a glowing example of Bad Poetry. It went like this:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus, 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on a wing
Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing
He surely could have it, 'cause He was the King.

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

It really needs the dirge-like music to fully convey the effect of course, but notice how in each verse each line rhymes with the previous one despite where the normal use of language might like to take the text. Masterful, I suspect.

Mr Brain, feeling quite jolly and no-doubt mad at me for this enforced religious indoctrination, decided it was show time and piped in the thought "Where's the verse about Judd Fry being dead?" and threw up a visual of Hugh Jackman singing at the top of his voice, in a burnoose and flowing robes, somewhere in the desert-like countryside, heading toward Bethlehem with his thumbs stuck in his rope belt, striding in an exaggerated western rolling swagger with his spurs jangling softly in time to the beat.

I began, quietly, to lose it.

I removed my glasses and held a hand over my eyes in the hope that from the rear and sides my shaking shoulders and the tears flowing freely down my cheeks might be interpreted as some sort of holy rapture brought on by contemplation of the birth of Christ, rather than a bout of barely restrained hysterical laughter brought on by this daft carol.

I almost got myself under control, but another small Georgian voice, dragged from an expository piece in The Stuffed Owl - An Anthology Of Bad Verse, whispered "Why, 'tis the most ridiculous thing that was ever wrote" and I was off again into the place where I flirt with death by asphyxiation due to a surfeit of humour.

I began biting the web between my thumb and the palm of my right hand in an effort to quell the spasms of laughter demanding egress from my head. Given Mrs Stevie's stance on Appropriate Noises earlier that morning, I had a good idea of the reaction a volley of Inappropriate Noises in church would trigger. I was dicing with death.

It was at that moment, with impeccable timing that speaks well for her future in the World At Large that the Stevieling leaned over to me and whispered in my unprotected left ear: "Dad? Is it my imagination, or does this song belong in an episode of The Black Adder".

Non-fans of that show will not know what the hell that meant, but she and I have often watched and loved the episode from Black Adder III in which Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Connor star as two Georgian actors, Mossop and Keenrick. They perform the most ghastly pseudo Shakespearean dialogue at the drop of a hat - "Oh to torture him I lust, Let us singe his hairs and up his nostrils hot bananas thrust" is a small sample of what has to be seen and heard to be appreciated and both the Stevieling and I urge you to do so as soon as you stop reading this dribble. Mr Brain, not to be outdone, connected her comment and the referenced memories in a trice.

That was it. The Stevieling and I sat leaning against each other, rendered speachless by increasingly less silent laughter while Mrs Stevie hissed threats and punched me. All this did was to make things worse, as the mental picture of what this family tableau must have looked like from anywhere back of row three sent me into overdrive. By the time the carol was over I was a ghastly purple as the red from the effort of not laughing out loud mixed with the blue of acute anoxia. I haven't been in such a position since the fiasco at the altar during our wedding vows.

But that's a story for another time.

  1. With her seemingly endless supply of frequent spender reward points
  2. You can see it here if you don't wig out about Flash-driven sites. The link opens in a new window
  3. Which Mrs Stevie will tell you to stop making after only a few minutes. Mrs Stevie doesn't hold with appropriate noises
  4. Oh Jobs, you have so much to answer for
  5. Again, courtesy of Mrs Stevie and her frequent spending reward points
  6. Which is tragic when you consider that I would dearly love to be able to write Bad Poetry, but lacking the ability to do halfway Good Poetry I could only ever manage Terrible Poetry which, in the topsy-turvy world of poetry is actually not as desirable or meritorious as Bad Poetry

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Deer Park Carol

'Tis The

Oooohhhhh Christmas comes but once a year,
foddle-diddle foddle-diddle foddle-diddle dee,
And when it does we all drink beer,
foddle-diddle foddle-diddle foddle-diddle dee,
And come home drunk and curse our wives,
foddle-diddle foddle-diddle foddle-diddle dee,
And end up sleeping on the lawn,
foddle-diddle foddle-diddle foddle-diddle dee.

Simply Having A Wonderful Xmas Time

Ho! Ho! Ho!
Take That, Brain!

By last Friday I had just about had it with Mr Brain's shenanigans.

So far the score was Mr Brain: Several, Stevie: Nil.

There was the car key fiasco, in which I turned the house and all my clothing inside out in an ultimately futile search for the spare keys to the Fabulous Steviemobile over the course of two weeks because when I had reached for them they weren't on the hook I always put them on, forcing me to pay an absolutely usurous 140 bux for a new key and a "clicker", only to have the bloody thing turn up on a hook on the opposite side of the basement stairs! That's right: when I was frantically searching the collection of hooks on the right hand wall, the keys I was looking for were behind my bleeping head! I only found them because I hang packs of batteries on that left-hand wall hook, and had occasion to add another pack to the collection hanging there. Even then I didn't recognise the bloody key fob until I picked it up to move it! This represents an epic level of perfidy by the sardonic Mr Brain: complete visual discombobulation in the pursuit of sticking it to yours truly1. Thank you Mr Brain.

There was the Medical Spending Account debacle, in which I managed to forget about re-upping for this rather round-about way of making medical expenses tax free2. I only had three bleeping months to fill in the form! Merci bien, monsieur Braine!

There were a couple of "forget the train ticket and have to go home, making yourself late for work and losing the nice parking spot to a tardy git in an Osamamobile" episodes, far too tedious to detail here. A couple of near death experiences while attempting to chlorinate the pool while listening to Mrs Stevie rant about something irrelevant when I pulled the lid off the chlorine tablet bucket while inhaling, triggering a World War One Trench Warfare Hazard moment. There was the moment of discovery when I fed my hand into my miniature router while it was spinning down from 30 000 rpm.

You get the picture.

So on Friday, I was asked out to lunch with a pack of former colleagues. A hard-drinking, hard-playing, hard-swearing bunch, I had discontinued their company for some years on account of not being able to withstand the lifestyle they kept up. And the men were almost as bad as the women. However, what with one thing and another I had just about had it up to somewhere quite high and was ready for a bit of down-time, so I accepted and we decamped to a local boozer.

Now the others decided to have lunch, but I had already been suffering the onslaught of the day's slings and arrows, so I elected to forgo food and lunch on Southern Comfort instead. I had a large lunch, and an even larger dessert over the course of the afternoon (I was in no mood to return to work that day). Mr Brain kept trying to insert a voice of 'reason" but as I've said before, nothing good ever came of folowing the instructions of the voices in my head so I ignored it and went about killing some of the mutinous brain cells that had been working so assiduously against my best interests all year. I think I did rather well, and I staggered out of the pub at about 5 pm to begin my homeward commute, during which I would sober up.

Now Southern Comfort is almost pure alcohol, and it3 has a peculiar property that it will scavenge water from the drinker's body like nobody's business. Dehydration, as anyone knows, is the primary cause of hangovers, so it is imperative to add as much water to one's system before, during and after consuming the beverage as one can to avoid the after-effects. Unfortunately, Mr Brain had been at work and prevented me acting proactively in this regard. I seem to remember drinking a pint of water during the afternoon, between pub trivia sessions, but I needed to rehydrate tootsweet if I was to avoid toxic fallout. I boarded my train and straightway knocked back one of the two pint bottles of water I had with me.

A sad mistake.

Southern Comfort4 has a second property, in that if you have some in your stomach and you pour water on it you immediately get a massive alcohol hit, and go from being soberish to demonstrably unsober in an eyeblink. The journey from Flatbush Avenue to Jamaica was almost psychadelic, and just outside the station itself the rocking of the train and the random seesawing of my vision finally achieved criticallity and I became aware that I needed to visit the bathroom at once. I lurched up the car, maintaining my upright stance in a World Gone Mad by grabbing seat-backs, luggage rails and passengers, until I was at the door to the lavatory.

Which was locked owing to some idiot being inside.

I retired to the vestibule, heaving softly in time to the rocking of the train, with a view to being able to stick my head out of the open door should the bathroom not become available in time (I calculated I had about 15-20 seconds before matters were taken from my control). The train, obeying some law of comedic timing ground to a halt.

Just when I thought I would be decorating the rather informative posters set on either side of the vestibule with my lunch, the door to the lavatory opened and I was able to rush inside. No sooner had I applied the lock5 than some fool began hammering on the door demanding entry. I made to reply, but couldn't owing to the miracle of anti-peristalsis. Eyes watering as my diaphragm attempted to climb up my throat, I reflected how lucky it was for the person outside, now howling in distress, that I had had nothing but water to eat that day. In a matter of a couple of minutes I was done and had cleaned up the area. What a different scene would have greeted the gibbering loon on the other side of the door had I gone with my original urge to try the Shepherd's Pie.

Not only did I feel much better, apart from the distinct feeling I had just gargled with battery acid, but I was again able to see straight and walk straight. Probably still legally drunk, but not visibly so any more. Bonus!

I opened the lavatory door and was face to face with a demon from hell. Face white, eyes bulging and haunted, fists bruised blue, I took it all in and leapt to an intuitive conclusion: he was upset about something. I drew a deep breath of the cool air coming from the open train doors and blew it out as I stepped past him, whereupon he went green, cried "Arrrrggggleugh" and dashed for the commode. From this I deduced two things: a) he had been unwisely over-indulging in the Christmas Spirit and 2) I probably should suck half a dozen Altoids before I spoke with Mrs Stevie.

I love Christmas.

  1. Interestingly, since I got the new clicker, the original spare one doesn't seem to be working. No doubt there is an unpublished rule at Hyundai about not having three remote door lock devices active at any one time for my driving convenience
  2. You set up an account in which you place money deducted from your salary. The money comes off before taxes. Sounds great? Don't forget that this is America where nothing fiscal can be simple. I believe it's in the Constitution somwhere. You have to guess how much money you will need. That much gets deducted by year's end. You claim it back by (of course) filling in forms which have to be approved by someone. If you don't use it all, you lose the balance. No carry-overs. I forget why this is better than simply making medical expenses tax free at source
  3. Along with Pernod
  4. Along with Pernod
  5. I find I prefer the contemplative atmosphere of total aloneness at these times

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Marginalia From a Spiral Bound Notebook, Found in a Park in the City of Bellona

Mr Stevie's treatments have come close to putting her in hospital.

Two weeks ago she got her first dose of chemotherapy drugs. That day, Tuesday, she was upbeat. Wednesday she began vomiting, and didn't stop until Saturday morning. Nothing she drank would stay down. Eating was right out. Each day she went for radiation therapy. By Friday I almost had to carry her from the car to the facility doors.

The original idea had been for two doses of chemotherapy over the course of the six week regimen, with weekly intravenous hydration in between. By Saturday morning she had undergone four hydration treatments just to keep her out of the emergency room. The chemotherapist was astounded that the reaction - which she had expected to be strong in a not-good way - was so strong so early in the treatment. On the Friday, once she was hydrated, they gave her an intravenous anti-nausea drug. Ten minutes after getting it she was violently ill. She stabilized over the weekend (when she got no treatments) but was back to throwing up on Monday.

Last week the radiological oncologist came to the conclusion that she was having a bad reaction to the drugs they give her to protect her salivary glands during the radiation treatments. Without it she may loose her salivary glands to the curative regimen1 but she may not survive the course of treatment if they continue giving it to her.

This week began with her having a small rash over her chemotherapy port. This is the device they embeded in her chest, in front of her shoulder, so she could get needle-stuck for a month and a half without her veins collapsing. By Wednesday the doctors had her on a course of anti-biotics and anti-fungals2 and the rash was three times larger. By Thursday the radological oncologist was warning that the chemotherapist wouldn't use the port unless the rash cleared up, and on Friday the vascular surgeon who put the damned thing in decided to take it out and put one in on the other side. They will put this off until the last minute to avoid a second infection taking hold on the site of the new port before she gets her second round of chemotherapy on the 29th of December, so Mrs Stevie has another operation to look forward to on Boxing Day.

Yesterday she remarked that her throat is closing up. This was expected, and signals the onset of a time in which she will have to take all her nourishment through a tube directly into her stomach. To say that she isn't looking forward to that time would be a collossal understatement, and I am left wondering how she is supposed to take the painkillers she has been prescribed if she cannot swallow the capsules. I'm pretty sure we're not supposed to grind them up a-la Doctor House.

The next time you say to yourself "I just can't catch a break here", think of Mrs Stevie, who is working on arriving at a scientifically rigid definition of the term by experiement.

  1. Yes, I know oncologists don't talk about "cures", only percentages of populations free of cancer after 5 years, but you know what I mean
  2. Fungal infections are quite common during chemotherapy I'm now told

Friday, December 19, 2008

Xmas Atmos, 2008

Xmas Atmos

It's snowing properly, finally, so despite everything it is beginning to look a bit like Christmas.

Mr Brain has perpetrated another perfidious ambush, thwarted by my need to replace a chequebook in the very nick of time. A tax rebate that was issued by cheque to us for a princely 600 bux1 and that had required countersigning by each of us before it could be deposited, had been stuck in the back of the chequebook after gaining the oh-so valuable signature of Mrs Stevie. Mr Brain then took advantage of certain distractions in my life to clear the registers and thereby erase all knowledge of it from my head. This is why sometimes I feel like taking an electric drill to him.

Fortunately the villainy was discovered before 90 days had elapsed and place us iun the position of having to go cap in hand to the government for a new cheque.

Walking back from the bank I was caught up in the beauty of the large, white flakes of fluffy snow falling silently from the sky. Such was my joy at this sight that I gasped aloud, thereby inhaling one of the large, fluffy, white flakes which hit my tonsils with great force2 and brought on a violent coughing fit. As I reeled around the street, empty a moment before but now full of speeding vehicles, my tastebuds informed me that the snowflake had formed in the lower regions of the atmosphere above Brooklyn, dictating a composition of 5 parts water, 1 part volatile exhaust byproducts from the petroleum industries of nearby Hoboken, 1 part powdered aerosol of bird dung, 1 part asbestos fiber, 1 part Jet-A vapour and 1 part soot. I decided on the spot to forego lunch and have another look at breakfast.

Returning to my building I met the half-dozen people who still smoke. William was enjoying a small panatella of the sort Leo McKern made famous in his iconic portrayal of Rumpole of the Bailey. The fragrant smoke wafted over to me and I realised something. Two things actually. Firstly that Christmas and the smell of small cigars are inextricably linked in my mind as much as the tree and presents are.

Secondly, I gave up smoking more than 15 years ago, but right then I would have committed murder for a long Dutch panatella and a match.

  1. Near as dammit
  2. For a snowflake

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Saga of the Dryer Continues Continuing

And so we come to the latest1 chapter in the sorry Saga de Dryer.

As reported here, the dryer was once more hors de domestic usefulness due to some unspecified annoyance. To recap: It was tumbling and blowing air out of the vent, but said air was cold and has little going for it in the speedy drying of the clothing department. Action was called for2. The burner appeared to be non-working after the usual lying-on-the-floor-with-my-eye-to-the-spyhole session.

I took stock of the situation. I had replaced the coils that turn the gas on and off. I had replaced the most complicated thermostat and I had tested them all during the last session with the damned machine. A failure in one of them was unlikely. Part of the decision-making process involved in these diagnostics was my admitted reluctance to remove the back of the machine again. Or to put it another way: I wasn't taking the back of the machine again unless hell itself froze over. Research showed that the next likely culprits would be the igniter (sort of like a small kettle element, it glows red hot on command to set the gas on fire) or the thermal sensor (which makes sure that the gas doesn't get turned on if there is no chance of it being lit).

Getting at these items, both components of the burner assembly, would involve essentially the same process as that used when I replaced the burner solenoid coils last July. The two screws securing the fan/lint filter housing to the top of the casing would have to be removed, the front levered up and hinged back and the front of the casing removed. This would involve uncoupling the door sensor, the one that turns off the machine when you open the door so all the clothes don't get thrown on the floor. This in turn would necessitate separating one of those multi-wire bayonet-style nylon couplings that have an integral snap-lock built in.

Everything went about as expected, which is to say I slashed myself to ribbons on the razor-sharp panels and found that no matter how I squeezed, pulled or swore the nylon electrical coupling would not separate. I ended up using my trusty Leatherman tool, which had a sort of screwdriver-cum-paint-can-opener on it that I could use to pry the nylon catches apart. It worked like a charm, and in some time at all I was able to hurl the front panel, door and all, away from me and the machine with a triumphant howl of manly triumph. I took it as a good omen that the drum did not fall out of the machine like last time, scattering bits everywhere, but remained properly mounted on its rear bearing.

I mentally made a note of the position of everything and reluctantly concluded that I would have to dismount the drum anyway in order to get at the burner, when fate intervened to save me much valuable time and the drum fell off its rear bearing, striking me smartly on the right kneecap with a resonant bong!

I took the opportunity to gather certain tools as I hopped around the basement clutching my knee to my chest with my mouth. Once the agony had subsided to manageable levels, it was time to start.

I whipped off the igniter, but it stupidly showed no signs of having burned out. No black marks, no gaps melted in the element and, most damning of all, the correct no-load resistance when measured with my new multimeter3. So the burner was nominally all right. This was disappointing in that I hadn't fixed the problem at the most likely fail point, but I was buoyed up by the fact that there was another component still to be tested, and that at least I hadn't had to remove the back of the machine.

Next up was the sensor. I disconnected it by gripping the little brass "spade" connectors with my pliers and heaving with all my strength. In only ten or twenty minutes of cursing I had both wires off and was able to measure the resistance of the sensor, which is essentially a switch with a resistor in it. The reason the wires have to be pulled off is that if you don't you measure the resistance of the component in parallel with all the other circuit components, which can throw off the reading, sometimes by a lot. It also acts as a guard against destruction of cheap meters and the possible loss of life caused by poking the test leads onto live circuits mistakenly left plugged in due to the murderous perfidy of Mr Brain. No stranger to electrocution, me.

The sensor checked out as okay. There was only one thing for it: I would have to run the machine and test the various voltages floating around it when it was in operation.

This raised several important concerns. Firstly, there was the concern that when testing for volts they are always one distraction away from applying themselves to one's body with potentially lethal results. Not optimal. Next there was the concern that the machine was in parts, but there should be no problem running the motor for a short time with no working load (sometimes they are designed to work under load and can be burned out by running them freely). Finally there was the issue of the bloody door sensor, which would have to be reconnected for the test since the disconnected wire was pretending to be an open door which prevents the machine from running.

This was a bit of a poser, since the wires in the socket were not straightforward enough to short out with bits of wire4 and the wire in the front panel of the cabinet wasn't long enough to reach with the panel dismounted unless I wedged my foot under it.

In the end, the need to be far from the volts along with the fact that my foot did not articulate in such a way as to allow me to be prone on the floor in optimal test-lead poking position while at the same time supporting the front of the dryer - together with the annoying realisation that my arms were four feet short of being able to reach the controls of the dryer from that prone position - provided the answer: I would attach the test-leads to the bit that needed testing and do all the other stuff while standing. First up: testing that the igniter was getting volts when it should.

For a wonder it worked like a charm and in no time I had the rather puzzling datum that when the motor was started there were 18 volts RMS5 on the burner all the time. Now I don't know why 18 volts when there should be none, but there should have been a swing to 110 at some point and there wasn't. I triumphantly concluded that this meant there was an undiagnosed fault in the electrical switching circuitry, which in turn meant I would have to remove the back of the machine after all.

Naturally, this epiphany brought with it strong feelings and I was so o'ertaken with emotion that I spoke in tongues for about ten minutes straight while walking around hitting things with other things.

I pulled the eviscerated machine from it's niche and began the tedious business of removing the back of the damn thing. Once again the removal of the last screw caused the liberated panel to undergo some impromptu topological explorations of the planar form and I was struck smartly in the head as it reshaped itself unpredictably with a musical bong! Once again I sustained ten or twenty small slashes on my hands from the edges of the bloody thing. Many and wondrous were the words of power uttered on that day I can tell you.

Once the panel was off I hobbled to my feet, squeezed out of the niche behind the dryer and pushed the dryer back into its hole so I could retrieve the multimeter I had forgotten to bring with me in my rage. Then I was able to pull the dryer back out of its little space and squat back down to begin the business of electrical circuit diagnostics to the tune of my knee joints popping.

Which was when I saw the dangling wire.

Investigation showed that one of the wires connecting the thermostat I had replaced three weeks before to the circuit had disconnected itself because when it was removed a tiny locking tab in the "spade" connector had folded back and collapsed. The result was a connection that would slowly shake loose when the machine was running. Since this thermostat was the one that determined whether or not the burner would turn on initially, it was obviously the problem.

It was the work of a few minutes with my needle-nose pliers to re-form the connector so it would work properly, and to reconnect the thermostat. It was the work of a bit more than a few minutes to get myself out of the tiny confines of the dryer's space, move the dryer back into it, dummy-up the door sensor and run another test.

Bingo! The burner lit and once more my lungs drew in volumes of air tainted with the combustion byproducts of natural gas (mainly carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, all good for many things but sustaining life isn't on the list of either). I had triumphed over adversity in a World Gone Mad and fixed the dryer and like that.

It took forever to get the bloody machine re-assembled. First there was the back panel, which was somehow now two screws short of the required ten but I no longer cared. I refuse to waste any more brain cells on the whereabouts of two machine screws that are verifiably not in any of the moving parts of the machine (I checked). Then there was the remounting of the drum, which involves mounting the drum on its rear bearing (a sort of huge felt hoop) while lying on the floor, then holding it in place with my feet and knees while simultaneously attempting to attach the belt tensioning idler to its mounting lug in the base of the machine while hooking it up to the belt itself using the hands, forehead and teeth. There was the reassembly of the casing which only takes two screws but uses up dozens of swear words. It was all very tedious, but the machine was finally working and still is as I type this some two and a half weeks later.

All in all a Great Triumph.

  1. One hesitates to say "final" since that word could only summon a swarm of anti-handyman demons to further confuse things
  2. Again
  3. The burner igniter works by passing electricity through a metal ribbon. If you use enough force, defined in this case by volts, 110 to be precise, the electric current passing through the material causes it to get hot. Red hot in this case. This is pretty much how any pilot-light-less gas system works
  4. i.e. Why were there three cables when two were all that was needed for switch duties? No man could say without access to the wiring diagram which was in the back of the machine which I did not want to have to remove again
  5. Root Mean Square, the only way that measuring a voltage that goes backwards and forwards sixty times a second makes any sense whatsoever. If you don't measure it like that you can end up deciding there are no volts on any live wires and experience shows that is a path to burned hands, flashing lights in the eyeballs, singed hair, unintended levitation and possible death

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Saga Of The Dryer Continues

The Saga of the Dryer: Part II.

A little history: People may recall the previously documented fiasco de dryer, in which he bloody thing tumbled our towels until they were paper-thin and all the fluffy stuff was in the lint filter, and I ended up having to take it completely to pieces to replace the burner solenoid coils. Well about three weeks ago, it began malfunctioning again.

It all started one week night, when I had just returned from work in a state best described as tired, fed up and looking forward to watching a couple of hours TV before bed time. Mrs Stevie greeted me with the news that she had had a little accident with the dryer, thus making the veriest papier-maché of that plan and substituting an altogether more tedious one of her design.

It seems that she had pulled out the lint filter for some reason, then dropped a small sponge into the hole. The sponge in question was one of those that starts life as a flexible oblong of porous material about four inches by two and a half, and about a half inch thick. One adds a small amount of water to it, one wrings it out and leaves it to dry at which point it hardens into something resembling cinderblock. It was, it turned out, just the right size to drop completely down the lint filter vent into the blower fan.

Realising that the job might require the complete dismantling of the venting manifold system in the ruddy machine, I decided to verify the seriousness of the problem by running the machine briefly. No sooner was the "go" button presses than the usual sounds of healthy tumble drying mechanical goodness were drowned out by a grating rattle reminiscent of a bicycle with pieces of card held in the spokes of the wheels by pegs, a common method used by children to emulate motorcycle engine sounds and one I'm sure everyone is familiar with.

In a trice I had leaped to the machine, turned it off and deployed some class two swear words1. There was nothing for it, I would have to remove the back of the machine.

I heaved the machine from the wall, eyeing the four-foot long flexible gas line with distrust and noting the rather eclectic collection of stuff that had made it past the lint filter into the vent pipe. Coins, ballpoint pens, small rocks2 and some lint, but no bits of sponge, dammit. It would have to be spongectomied the hard way.

It took only a matter of 15 minutes to locate my socket set and figure out which socket fitted the self-tapping screws without chance of slipping and damaging the hex-heads. In order to comply with the secret American Design Aesthetic that calls for maximum tool deployage for any seemingly simple job, the screws do not feature a slot of any kind. I undid the ten screws securing the back of the machine to the body, a thin steel affair that had to be distorted to make it fit, which promptly reshaped itself with a resonant bong! and flew off its mountings dealing me a sound blow to the head. This was a perfect opportunity to deploy a few well-chosen class threes, so I did, exploring themes having to do with the machine's ancestry and that of the people who designed it. Fortunately, the razor-sharp steel plate hadn't hit anything delicate or valuable so I picked it up and carefully hurled it somewhere I deemed not likely to contain anything I cared about or my own body in the predictable future and assessed the next step.

The dryer is a fairly simple thing in essence. The drum rotates and gets the clothing airborne so the hot air can do its job. Air, heated by the burner, is pulled into the drum by a fan located in the exhaust (presumably so the air can have time to cool before it gets to the plastic fan), through the lint filter to the fan itself and then forced out through the vent, which in our case is a flexible pipe that ascends about seven feet to a horizontal run to the wall of the house. I needed to disconnect the cover for the vent connecting the drum exhaust with the squirrel-cage fan used to pull air through the system.

The first annoyance was that the screws that held this piece of razor-sharp bent steel plate in place were a different size than those holding the back on the machine, requiring me to climb out of the confined space I was working in to select a new socket. The next was that the top of the vent had to be detached from the top plate of the dryer casing, which you might remember involves two Phillips head screws requiring yet another tool, one which was still on the other side of the basement. Eventually I had all the screws out and in a matter of only ten minutes of rattling, prizing and swearing I had the cowl removed from the fan assembly.

It was then a simple matter to remove the sponge from the fan rotor, along with about a metric ton of lint 3, twenty-three cents in assorted loose change, the cap off the ball-point pen and some more rocks 4. I noted in passing that the rubber seal that bungs up the gaps between this cowling and the outer drum housing so that all the air sucked by the fan comes from the drum rather than from the machine's works had gotten a bit ratty and was, judging by the lint scattered throughout the machine's wiring (the other major feature exposed when the back is off the damned thing) leaking rather a lot. Such was my tiredness and my total lack of empathy for this benighted dryer that I didn't pause to ponder the strangeness of lint coming out of the negative-pressure, i.e. suck, part of the air-flow circuit. This would prove to be a most unfortunate oversight as it turned out.

Reassembling the cowling turned out to be one of those tasks that would try a saint. The steel panel would not go back into the gap I had pulled it out of only two hours before. I pushed, pulled, twisted and swore. Nothing worked. Finally, a passing dimensional warp altered the space-time continuum just enough for the panel to go into place, possibly helped by my inserting levers into the various panels and heaving, most likely not, and the panel was back in place, ready to be screwed to the outer drum. By dint of using my feet, forehead and one hand to distort the springy steel panel, I managed to get the screw holes properly aligned which left me one hand to insert a screw, hold it in place and use the socket wrench to screw it down.

Not surprisingly, the first few times I tried this, as soon as I let go of the screw to grab the socket wrench, held ready in my mouth, the panel would change shape with a soft bong!, the screw would be torn out of the hole and would fall into the base of the dryer casing, where it would be redirected into a special area just out of reach so that it couldn't be recovered without removing the fan cover again, thus requiring more heaving, cursing and space warpage to get it back together again. It seemed like I went through this two or three hundred times before I got the first screw in, but it was probably only a dozen or so in reality. Then I dropped the second screw while trying to get it into its hole, a task that required hands able to rotate 180 degrees on their wrist joints and fingers able to bend in both directions at will. Realising immediately that this would necessitate the removal of the first screw so I could pull off the fan cover again, I deployed some heroic class four words of power and used Mr Head to pound on the fan cover in sheer rage.

Sometime around midnight I had everything reassembled, the machine back in it's place and the vent attached. I marched upstairs, instructed Mrs Stevie that from now on she was under no circumstances to remove the lint filter when anything smaller than a billiard table was on the shelf above it and retired to my bed, blotting the two dozen or so wounds I had received from the edges of the various steel plates with the tail of my shirt.

A week or so later, on a Friday, The Stevieling reported that the clothes were not being dried by the infernal machine once more.

I performed the usual diagnostic, which involves pulling a plug out of the lower front panel to reveal a spy-hole set at exactly the wrong height for comfortable viewing no matter what pose is adopted by the unfortunate would-be dryer-fixerator. The machine is set into operation and the observer leaps into the best position for attempting observation of the burner under operational conditions. This involves me lying on my side on the concrete floor (now at a comfortable 34 degrees Fahrenheit) for ten or fifteen minutes. This time I was in luck, and was able to observe the burner operating properly. Good News in that I didn't have to figure out why the bloody burner wasn't igniting, but Bad News in that now I had no bloody idea what was wrong.

I once again searched my "favourite" web-based suggestion boxes, and was convinced that the thermostats were not operating properly. That would cause the burner to light normally as I observed, but then it would cut out prematurely allowing wet clothes to tumble uselessly for hours on end. Perfect! All I needed was to find the evidence of buggeréd thermostats with my trusty multimeter.

First things first though. To expose the wiring harness and the thermostats I would have to remove the back panel.

Once again I had to schlep all over the basement looking for my socket set. Once again I had to pull out the machine, risking fracture of the flexible coupling and death by gassing. Once again I flirted with slipped discs as I bent into various shapes to get to the screws in the confining space revealed by moving the dryer. Once again my head was struck a sound blow as the back panel adopted the shape-o-the-day with a soft bong!. The vent, being a push fit, disconnects itself if I forget to do it, which I did this time.

Now it was time for the electrical mensuration phase of Operation Fix The Bleeding Dryer Again5.

Many years ago, during a flirtation with electronic kits in the 1980s, I bought a nice, if boxy, multimeter from a store in Canal Street, that has done sterling service ever since. I have used it for all sorts of jobs including home wiring projects, christmas lighting issues and the occasional electronic circuit build. It has been one of my most useful and dependable tools and I therefore keep it on a special shelf in the basement.

Or not, as it happens.

I spent about an hour turning the place upside down for that wretched meter but could not locate it. Fearing that this would be the stupid "tool search" thing that causes the loss of the entire day, I elected instead to dash down to Radio Shack and buy another one. Twenty minutes and twenty dollars later I returned with a bright yellow thing about the size of a pack of cigarettes that would do the job.

It took me about ten minutes to prove that the thermostats looked okay-ish, and that the various resistances were within tolerances. However, one of the thermostats has a heater built into it and there was no guarantee that the thing was working once it heated up so since I already had a replacement stashed inside the upper casing (more screws to be removed of course) I decided to replace the thermostat anyway. It took all of ten minutes, then I was ready to test run the dryer.

It worked! Volumes of hot, wet, carbon-monoxide laden air were discharged into the basement upon starting the dryer, so I declared one in the "win" column. There was a considerable amount of air leakage around that old seal though, so I reluctantly came to the conclusion I should replace it.

This meant taking the fan cover off again, which was tedious, but it also meant putting it back on again which I think I've shown was tedioustedious. Still, it had to be done sometime and it might as well be now. The seal proved to be nothing more than a strip of sticky-backed rubber of the same sort used to seal window-mounted air conditioners in place. This would be easy to get, I predicted.

Four hours later I managed to track down a source for the bloody stuff.

It was then an anything-but-simple matter to remove the old rubber strip from the outer drum housing, put a new one in its place and refit the fan cover. The difficulties of the previous occasion were as nothing to those engendered by adding a half-inch thick rubber strip into the mix. Any attempt to slide the fan cover around to locate that oh-so-necessary space warp resulted in the strip being pulled away from the outer drum housing. It was all very tiresome and required my using up a considerable stock of class three and class four swear words before I had the whole thing back together again.

Surveying the machine, now ensconced once more in its nook in the laundry, I triumphantly wiped the sweat from my brow with the backs of my hands, then screamed like a girl as the salty sweat got a good grip on the network of slashes I had sustained on the razor-sharp metal panels. I hopped around crashing into things for a bit with my hands clenched under my armpits and a small rubber ball I keep handy for these occasions clenched between my teeth until the unbearable agony had subsided, then I reconnected the vent hose and sought the sweet embrace of a warm shower, before retiring to my bed, safe in the sure knowledge of a job well done.

Two days later Mrs Stevie informed me that the damn thing was not drying again.

Gone, just like that, a carefully hoarded cache of special edition class five swear words.

I once more lay on the almost-freezing floor and watched for the burner to light, which it did. What on earth could be wrong now? Back to the website for some much-needed advice.

Once I was connected to the site I use most for appliance diagnostics and replacement parts, I noticed a forum posting entitled "So your dryer isn't working - things to check first" and a familiar feeling o'ertook me. This sort of post would be so massively useful it was unthinkable I wouldn't have read it, but I didn't recall seeing it before. The date belied the idea that it had just been added and I was forced to conclude that once again I had been ambushed by Mr Brain (who is not my friend). No doubt he had blanked out my visual cortex as my eyes parsed the forum postings, or simply not transfered the sighting to long-term memory, effectively erasing it from my knowledge without my permission.

Item one was "Check the vent isn't blocked", which was a great place to start because it didn't involve socket sets, multimeters or getting slit up a treat on metal panels. Accordingly I decamped for the basement, retrieved Mr Shop-Vacuum, which I deployed in "blow" configuration and made my way to the laundry.

I removed the pipe from the machine, which I pulled forward in anticipation of needing to get stuck into the damn dryer's vitals once this idea proved a bust, switched on the vacuum cleaner which threw up a dust storm of epic proportions from every surface of the basement and, choking and coughing, used my hands to form a vacuum-hose to vent-pipe manifold. There was an immediate and rapid build-up of pressure resulting in the vent hose "popping" out of my grasp and spraying me with compressed air laden with small rocks, ballpoint pens, coins and a surprising amount of water.

Aha! The vent was blocked! Also, now I came to think on it, that business with the seal blowing out lint when it should have been under negative pressure made more sense.

I dashed upstairs, ran outside and reached into the vent exhaust, where I discovered a plug of lint about the size of a Marks and Spencer pillow. I feverishly pulled it all out and tossed it decoratively all over the South Lawn, not pausing until after the job was done to consider whether or not some animal, possibly rabid, had built a nest from the soft, comfy lint (TOG # 40) and might yet be inside the vent to be rudely awakened when the Steviefingers jabbed it in the ribs.

I raced back inside, ran down to the laundry, reconnected my improvised blower and blew out the remains of the lint, then manhandled the dryer back into place and reconnected it to the vent-pipe. Muttering a few protective charms to ward off any anti-handyman demons lurking nearby, I dialed up a nice hot cycle and pressed "go", then ran back upstairs and out of the house to observe the vent at the business end.

Success! Volumes of hot, damp, monoxide-laden air were once more being pumped into the neighbour's airspace for their enjoyment, and, far below my feet6 the clothes were once again being tumbled in warm, dry air.

All of which goes to show that sometimes my life is so busy happening at me that I have little or no time to write about it, and that sometimes it does so relentlessly. The feelings of inadequacy this produced in me were offset by my triumph over all things dryer in a World Gone Mad.

Little did I know then that the dryer had one more trick up its drum.
(To be continued)

  1. Keen readers and amateur handypersons will recognise that class twos were inadequate for the situation and that I should have deployed my more usual class threes, but I was tired and couldn't summon the effort required for professional cussing
  2. !
  3. So much for the filter
  4. !!
  5. Project title copyright Mrs Stevie 2008 all rights reserved
  6. And a bit to the left if we're being accurate

Thursday, November 27, 2008


The bloody dryer has packed up again.

This time it is blowing air out of the house (unlike last month when the vent blocked due to a titanic buildup of fluff), but only cold air. No sign of ignition attempts by the automated wotsit that sets the gas on fire no matter how long I lie on the cold concrete floor with my eye pressed to the spy-hole.

So Tomorrow, instead of doing what I wanted to do, I shall be stripping off the casing, dismantling the bunsen burner and attempting to identify and replace whatever broke between yesterday and today.


Friday, November 21, 2008


Just when you think life can't possibly get more shbleepy, it proves you wrong

Last Tuesday, Veterans Day, Mrs Stevie came home with the news that a biopsy she'd had done was not, as we had first been told, clear of all nastiness and that she had in fact been diagnosed with the disease for which the cure is almost worse than the condition it addresses.

Fortunately, she had had a dental appointment a week and a half before, and the dentist had expressed some concerns. From there it was a dash to Doc rubberglove who didn't see anything to worry about but felt she should see Doc Teaspoon, my ENT specialist who not only does E's but has a passing acquaintance with N and, more relevantly in this even, T. He ordered a CAT scan and an MRI, and took a biopsy of the cheek material. He also sent her for a needle biopsy of her lymph node, swollen for some time during another illness but still big after two months and more. His initial examination of the material was optimistic and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

That Tuesday, however, the detailed lab reports came back with a very different interpretation of the facts.

Mrs Stevie has Oral Cancer.

We were scheduled in double-quick time for a visit with an Oncologist at Long Island Jewish, a hospital with a good reputation for oncological science. This is where the merely nerve-shredding business was taken to new lengths in human mental torture.

First, the appointment was moved from the afternoon to 9:30 am. Then the hospital turned out to be under renovation and the place looked like a bomb had hit it. We abandoned our car to a valet and went into the oncological building to ask for the doctor. We were, of course, in the wrong part of the bloody place, which everyone was able to tell us straight away, but no-one seemed to know where the right place was, exactly. We got directions, eventually, which led us in a great circle.

Mrs Stevie, ever the practical one, called the doctor's receptionist, who proved to have a grasp of the hospital's geography easily the equal of ours, which is to say that she knew where she was but couldn't recognize where we were. We finally got that sorted out and arrived in good time for the appointment.

Which is when we met Chauncy, who was to prove himself a complete waste of about three bux worth of chemicals and completely devoid of an I.Q.

His first act of anti-patient peace-of-mind terrorism was to produce a pad of forms containing no less than eight sheets of drivel that the doctor needed filling out, then explaining how to do that in an almost perfect imitation of Dustin Hoffman's brilliant portrayal of "Mumbles" in the movie Dick Tracy1. He must have spent ten seconds on the entire exposition. Mrs Stevie, naturally, became quite hostile that she was asked to fill in her name and nothing else on four sheets of paper, something the otherwise idle receptionist could have done while we were trying to find the bloody place. To add insult to more insult, Chauncy the Waste of Air couldn't get our surname right. A name with four letters, only three of them different, and with an obvious single syllable pronunciation I might add. Still, it would soon be over and we would know the worst.

Or not.

We were shown into an examination room at 10:30, fully one hour later than "the only time the doctor could fit us in", where we waited another half hour before the great man put in an appearance.

Understand that we sympathized with the problems that an emergency operation that afternoon had caused the staff. We just can't understand why we were completely ignored and kept in the dark as to what the fbleepck was going on and when we might actually see someone with a medical qualification.

Eventually the doctor showed up and did a couple of exploratory examinations. He then told Mrs Stevie that she was young to be getting this form of cancer, that she was extremely healthy, had none of the usual risk factors for the disease2 and that we had caught the disease early. The prognosis was therefore extremely good and the standard of care would be six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, with surgery probably not needed unless a PET scan showed otherwise. He was quite definite that he wanted the PET scan to be done "today or tomorrow"3.

We left the office and went back to reception, where we asked the receptionist to organize getting permission from the insurance company to do the test. She refused. Mrs Stevie pointed out that the doctor had been quite specific. She said that we had to get our GP to sort it out. A few minutes on the phone resolved the issue - we had spoken of setting up a "referral" when what was needed was an "approval". The receptionist got quite snippy over the fact that we had a less-than-perfect grasp of the jargon of her field of expertise - medical paper pushing. She summoned Chauncy, the Complete Waste of Skin.

Chauncy listened to about two words of the request before going through all the same strategies to avoid doing what was needed that the receptionist had used. Each one was fielded and returned by Mrs Stevie, a far more fiendish disputant than this Chauncy moron had ever met. He finally asked us to have a seat and disappeared upstairs, ostensibly to do what was required. He mispronounced our name again, just for laughs.

By now it was nearly lunchtime, and that brought on two concerns. Firstly, Mrs Stevie hadn't eaten since the day before and was getting severely squirrelly due to blood sugar levels dipping south of healthy. Then there was the certain knowledge that Chauncy Fbleepckwit was almost certainly near his own lunch-break, which would be an ideal way to bust our balls again.

I waited 40 minutes more before I called my insurance company and began asking them if the forms required had been received (they hadn't4) and how I could get the process moving from my end. I did this at the top of my voice in the (vain) hope that one of the stupid cows sitting behind the reception desk would get a clue and intervene. I should add that for the last hour we had been the only other people in the place. Naturally, neither one did intervene, but between me and Mrs Stevie we did get the insurance company to fax the forms required to Chauncy Lackabrain's office. They also said that the whole process should have taken no more than 15 minutes, which we kinda knew since Mrs Stevie had had a number of tests organized that week by someone getting on a computer and spending time being helpful instead of being a complete twbleept. Within five minutes, Chauncy Fbleepace had reappeared waving the form in question, mispronouncing our surname yet again, claiming it was all sorted out, and so we left that benighted hole.

Mrs Stevie was fit to spit nails, and said that she had little faith that an operation that couldn't organize a trivial paperwork exchange or muster staff who could pronounce her name would be competent to cure the condition she had. I had to agreee with her. Since she was feeling down I decided to take her to the California Pizza Kitchen for lunch.

On the way there, she called the insurance company and discovered that despite us having done everything but fill in the forms ourselves, and despite the doctor ordering the PET scan be performed "today or tomorrow5" Chauncy Fbleepckhead hadn't actually faxed through the paperwork. Mrs Stevie called him, and in a conversation that escalated until she was literally screaming down the phone at this waste of skin she argued that yes, since it was her life they were discussing in fact he did have time to walk across the bloody office, write one six digit number on the paper he swore blind he had faxed and resend it.

Chauncy Lackabraincell opined that he didn't have to be spoken to in that fashion and threatened to get Deirdre, his supervisor, involved. I was astounded this poor excuse for a human being would be so stupid as to provide such a useful opening in a day in which he had so far done a grand total of nothing to help us out, and Mrs Stevie, of course, yelled that she would love to speak to his supervisor and that she not only welcomed the opportunity to speak to her, she demanded it. Chauncy Fbleepckbrain madly backpedaled and announced she wasn't there, but that on reflection he did have time to deal with this issue himself and would do so, now.

We ate a splendid meal6 and returned home. On the way, I suggested Mrs Stevie re-check the situation vis-à-vis the paperwork since I had no faith in the Idiot Chauncy.

As you might predict, the now fed and therefore calmer Mrs Stevie discovered that the paperwork had not arrived, at least, not as it had been specified and was either never received or sent with inadequate identification. Mrs Stevie went white with rage and began dialing. I spoke up:

"Don't bother calling Chauncy. He is just getting some sort of odd twisted pleasure from making you twist in the wind. Ask for Deer-dree" I said.

And that's what she did. She explained what had happened, pontificated on the smarts of a staff that claimed to be able to marshal the state of the art in medical help yet couldn't get one four letter, single syllable name right, and said outright that she had never been so shabbily treated in her life and had no confidence in the Doctor or his support team as a result.

For the first time that day, people from that hospital began reacting to her with some shred of human decency, and she was apologized to and assured that the problems were not typical and would be dealt with.

Mrs Stevie hung up and announced that the woman's name was, in fact, Deer-druh, not Deer-dree. I replied that since they hadn't got our name right I wasn't too bothered about a regional pronunciation difference in one of theirs.

The doctor's personal assistant then rang us back and said that he would now be dealing with Mrs Stevie personally. He had sorted out the paperwork and faxed it to the insurance company in the way that they asked him to, and as a result, no sooner was he off the line than the insurance company called with the news that the test was approved.

I was glad that someone had finally decided that just because it was Friday it was no reason to make the life of a patient any more miserable than the discovery of the potentially lethal condition that made them come to the hospital had. I do however have one remaining puzzle arising from this horseshirt that I cannot for the life of me reason out:

What in Azathoth's name did Chauncy the Fbleepckwit think he could possibly gain by his behavior?

Try as I might I cannot fathom a way in which he could come out of a day like that thinking he was somehow ahead, so why did he do it?

  1. Bear in mind we were in an ear, nose and throat specialty clinic, and people might reasonably be expected to have problems hearing anyone trying to be understood and you'll begin to appreciate the brilliance of this dirkhead's behavior
  2. Smoking, he meant. Neither of us has in over a decade and a half
  3. It remains a source of puzzlement to me that so many doctors have no idea how the world they work in actually works - no insurance company will pay for an expensive medical scan on a patient's say-so
  4. Big surprise
  5. Impractical. It took three days to get her body ready for the scans
  6. Although I nearly blew it by ordering some sort of spring roll as an appetizer that appeared to be vegetables packaged in a condom

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Double Blast!

"Mike" from Huntington Hyundai just called with the news that the Fabulous Steviemobile, in for a service, is slightly self-steering on abrupt road-camber changes due to the new tyres I had fitted and not because the bushings in the front suspension have broken up, like they did on that horrible Dodge Junkpile Mrs Stevie was driving when I met her.

Oh good

Then he told me the service would cost me damn near $600 plus tax.

 Vile word redacted 


I was looking out over the South weed field Lawn this morning in an effort to shake myself out of my usual early a.m. thoughts of suicide and get myself in the mood for a nice restful commute on the LIRR, when I noticed that after all that buggering about at the end of October the pool cover was on upside down.

Grievance Notice

The things people say in an effort to appear cool and hip sometimes drive me into a rage.

"Ramp up".

"Let's ramp up sales in the next quarter". "Ramping up the warp conatinment field, captain". "We expect to ramp up production on the new Chrysler LeBehemoth despite the complete collapse of any demand whatsoever for any model of Chrysler vehicle".

The phrase "ramp up" comes originally from the electronics industry, where the term "increase" was probably deemed by someone - no doubt hypnotized by the seductive squiggles on his oscilloscope - not to be doing an adequate job in the description department, and one might excuse electronics dweebs for doing that because, let's face it, they probably don't get out much. Once released into the wild, though, this phrase was substituted for the oh-so eighties "increase" in every bloody place it could be.

"We need to ramp-up the blueberry count in our wholewheat muffin products". "Ramping up the voter turnout should be our primary concern".

I feel sick.


Never in the history of English language neologisms has there been a coined word that has been so over- and mis-used as "grok". I grind my teeth every time some twerp uses it in their blog or newsfeed in a misguided attempt to become one with the gestalt blogosphereing public.

I doubt even half of the idiots who use this have actually read "Stranger in a Strange Land", an attempt by an already aging Robert Heinlein to prove he was hip and still relevant in the crazy world of 1960s SF. You'll have to read the thing in order to see why "grok" doesn't mean "understand" and why in every single case that it is used in everyday English it could be replaced by the words "understand" or "get".

Any time I read something with this word in it that isn't "Stranger in a Strange Land" I just stop reading and label the writer as a twonk of the first order.


Azathoth, is there anything more pathetic than a nickname given to someone by themself? Yes there is: the word "blogosphere", as though a bunch of disparate ranting gits formed some sort of consensus of meaning that the world should notice and thereby require a special collective noun with which to identify them. Shub-Niggurath on a bike.

Of course, this could just be me being old and grumpy. Maybe I should just try seeing it from the other person's point-of-view.

I just can't see myself ramping up my groking of the blogosphere any time soon, is all.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Weekend O' Fun

My weekend sucked on the half-shell.

Of primary annoyance was the need to cover the swimming pool, followed closely by the fact that everyone was sick with some sort of cold-type inconvenience illness that precluded us joining our friends for their annual Halloween bash. Of secondary annoyance was the need to finish the set-dressing for our own Halloween display. Tertiary annoyances cropped up to fill any interstices of peace that inadvertently happened.

Saturday dawned and I leaped from my bed at the crack of noon to purchase a few more air pillows1. I had evolved a theory in which more air pillows would result in fewer pools of rancid sumac-leaf/rainwater infusion. Inflating these is a challenge since, for reasons only known to the manufacturers, the air fitting on them is not the kind found on airbeds, rafts and rings, but a huge thing intended to "enable" one to fill them using a vacuum cleaner.

It takes forever.

No sooner had I floated these three Sausages of Pool Cover Elevation on the cloudy, green-grey surface of the miasma our pool has become than hurricane Zelda sprang up and blew them all over the garden, eliciting some class three Words of Power from your humble scribe. I lashed them down by means of hairy string and departed for our local Home Despot to obtain some rope. I don't usually bother with our local Home Despot these days on account of they never have all the parts I need to do a job, but I thought they could be trusted to have thin nylon rope on their shelves.

The reason I was going to use rope and not the brand-new wire hawser I had bought to thread through the eyelets of the cover and tension with my pool wire tensioning thing is that I think I'll be lifting the cover for the next few days while I attempt to clarify the water. I can't see the bottom of the pool yet and I'm not supposed to mothball it with nasties in it even if I do plan on throwing out the soup and starting fresh (again) next year.

At least I know why the water has been so cloudy of late. The Pool Robot Of Extreme Uselessness has fished up a truly astounding amount of half-rotted sumac seed pods from the abyssal pool bed. I guess there must have been a storm one day that swept this crap onto the solar cover and then washed it into the pool. Nature (and the fact that my family cannot lift a finger to help when it comes to the pool unless the help involves lying about in it) had done the rest. The filter was getting jammed after only an hour or so of the PROEU being activated. If only I had access to one of those nifty electric pool robots that continually sweep the floor of debris while the filter deals with the floating crap. Oh well.

The hurricane put in another appearance when I attempted to pull the cover into place too.

As the wind attempted to tear the 15-foot diameter circular tarpaulin of pool leaf denial from my grasp I held on a screamed some manful things2. It looked for a while as though I might take to the air, but fortunately after several hours of struggle, man against the forces of nature, I managed to gain the upper hand and lash the cover down to the various scenic features in the immediate area. Then I started the pool robot.

Which ran for about five minutes before jamming.

When this happens there is nothing for it but to feed the hose that connects the robot to the filter pump through one's hands until the robot surfaces, at which point whatever is jamming it can be excised.

I should explain that the way the robot perambulates is that a heavy weight, hinged at one end, is wagged back and forth by the action of the water being sucked past it. It slams back and forth with a hearty CLACK-CLACK and on alternate clacks it inches forward, the water being sucked in under a circular rubber skirt that scrubs the floor, in theory. The problem is that leaves can be too large to pass the weight and then the whole thing jams and stops in its tracks.

The water, now almost at freezing point, was physically painful to touch, and within a few seconds I had lost all feeling in my fingers, which was to turn out to be a good thing. I inverted the robot, being careful to keep it submerged lest air get into the pump, and pried out the leafy stuff jamming up the clackety-gubbins.

A sad mistake.

As I reached in to remove yet another stalk, the weight suddenly took the initiative and began oscillating, CLACK-CLACK-CLACK-CLACK, each clack crushing the tips of my fingers quite nicely. Fortunately, as I said there was by now no feeling in them, so when I finally managed to extricate them they were mercifully numb. A good job too. The last time I had had fingertips that flat I had almost ruptured myself explaining it to the world.

Then I went and got my small compressor/vacuum and sucked all the fun out of the inflatable rings, tubes beds and whatnot. I have to use this device because the inflatables today have a safety valve that prevents air escaping of its own accord from the toys. It works surprisingly well, but forces some innovative solutions to the problem of getting the air out again. I've no room to store everything over the winter in its inflated state.

Over the course of the next few hours I managed to extract yet more pods and leaves from the pool, and the water seemed to be a tiny bit less cloudy. I went in for my dinner.

A short while after my meal, the heavens opened. I waited and waited, and finally announced my intention to go outside in the rain to check the pool and disconnect the robot (there are problems that can occur if it stops and restarts, caused by air collecting under the filter connector). Mrs Stevie suggested an umbrella, but I pointed out I only had two hands and would need them both.

As I opened the door the first flash of lightning sped across the sky. I dashed over to the pool as the heavens opened with a vengeance. As luck would have it, the rain had triggered the GFCI and thrown the breaker, disconnecting the pool motor. I returned to the safety and comfort of Chateau Stevie and resolved to turn it back on - on Sunday.

Sunday dawned and I got the pool robot started again, then went to finish up the Halloween display in the front garden, which is where I found the scat left for me by whatever it is that marks our lawn every bloody fall in this way. Whatever it is it has the world's worst diet, and it's leavings stink worse than anything else I've ever trodden in, including the half-rotted badger. I think it must be a possum. Some sort of scavenger, at any rate. Why it only comes around in the fall is a mystery. If I ever catch the bastard, it will regret the day its DNA zipped up I can tell you.

In due course I had hosed off every square inch of my shoes and the lawn (but still couldn't get rid of the stench) and installed the Eyes in the Alberta Spruces and the marching ghostly feet in the lawn. I'll try and get pictures, but honestly, I can never get them to do the scene justice. When it gets really dark, the effect is pretty spooky for your average six-year old (our target audience3). All that's left to do is lay out the gibbering heads on the porch and to set up the fog machine. Those we do on the day itself.

Then it was off to the Stevieling's confirmation ceremony, in which she was so busy reading the tract that the pastor actually had to knock on the altar rail several times to get her attention. Gotta love that kid. When did she grow up4? It seems like only yesterday I was holding her in the crook of my left arm, where she took up the space between my wrist and my elbow.

If I close my eyes I can still feel the weight of her resting there.

  1. The 8x4 inflatable pillows used to keep the pool cover afloat
  2. Indeed, so manful were the things I screamed that the neighbours sent round a deputation to complain, which made me scream some more manful things
  3. One time I put fake spider webs all over the place in such a way that the kids would have to tear their way in, then they would find themselves ambushed by four of us in costume on their way out. It was so spooky none of the kids would go in and all we had for our trouble was a damn good freezing as we crouched in our hiding place for three hours
  4. Lutheran indoctrination takes several years, and the average age of the young aspirants was 15

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

As A Matter Of Fact, Living Forever Is Pretty High On My Want List

The pacing in my life often resembles an old Donald Duck movie I once saw that was made to promote safety in the home.

Specifically, it resembles the scene where Donald Duck is taking a bath. He is very happy indeed, quacking a song at the top of his voice and scrubbing the sole of a webbed foot with a loofah, when the mains-connected valve1 radio he has balanced on the rim of the bath falls into the water and he suffers several amusing seconds of graphic electrocution resulting in an abrupt change in mood. This sudden shift from warm and fuzzy to mind-bendingly hazardous danger is one I am well acquainted with.

Case in point.

A few weeks ago I was driving along the Long Island Expressway at some speed2. I had had an argument with the members of the Stevie Millstone Party and was coming down from an impressive rage by listening to some public radio while cooling both my temper and my body by means of the superb air conditioning that forms such an essential part of the Fabulous Steviemobile's ambience. I leaned back and engaged the cruise control. I had just got into a relaxed groove and was for the first time that day getting my blood pressure down to safe levels when the air was rent by a loud CRACK!

I let out a manly falsetto scream while the car attempted some involuntary evasive action by crossing two or three lanes a few times.

In a matter of seconds I had used up my entire stock of class five Words of Power, regained control of the vehicle and ascertained that I had not, as I feared, been shot by some sniper and that some vital component of the car had not failed in order that I might experience severe injury first-hand.

Before anyone sneers at this assessment, I should point out that during my youth I had each front wheel shear away from the chassis of my TR6 on consecutive trips, and once the roof ripped off at 110 mph and gave everyone inside a damn good thrashing about the head which wasn't at all conducive to safe driving. On another occasion I was pulling out of a factory carpark at rush hour and the throttle linkage broke and the engine went, of its own accord, to maximum revs in works traffic. Cars have tried to assassinate me more times than I can remember. Not only that, idiot snipers are a real, if rare, fact of American life.

Once my heart rate had stabilised to around 400 beats per minute and I had the car going in a straight line again I looked around the Steviemobile and discovered the cause of all the fuss. A plastic waterbottle lay in the footwell with a small dent in it. It had clearly been drained by its owner on some boiling hot day, then abandoned after securing the airtight top in the natural place to dump garbage: the footwell of my car. Once the A/C was turned on, the car cooled down to bearable temperarture (I like to be able to keep luncheon meat fresh in my pockets when I select the temperature on my A/C) the air in the bottle had contracted according to the laws of thermodynamics until the plastic bottle had reached some crisis point and deformed suddenly.

If only the bottle's former owner had been present to appreciate this demonstration of Boyles Law.

  1. US Vacuum tube
  2. Or other. I wasn't watching the speedometer officer

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Pipes, The Pipes Are Calling

This weekend we took delivery of a brand new, cost me deep in't purse, all-singing, all dancing, microprocessor-controlled, blue LED-equipped1 dishwasher.

The old one had worked fine for about 15 years, but had recently developed the habit of giving everything a good soaking then switching on the heater and baking the sodden food remnants onto the plates, forks and casserole dishes. This meant that we had to take recourse to washing dishes by hand and by golly that was Not To Be Tolerated by official edict2.

Not being in the position of having a spare 900 bux for a new dishwasher (the 400 bux versions having been given the royal sniffing-at and having been declared not optimal replacement strategies by the higher-ups3) I decided to attempt repairs. After all, a dishwasher isn't a very complex machine really. You've got a plastic tub with a watertight door. Check. A pump motor that squirts water in and sucks it out. Check. There's a rotating spraybar or two, powered by the water jets. Check. A valve that opens to let water in, and another that opens to let it out again. Check and check. An electric heating element. Ow! Check. And a timer that tells everything when to work and when to stop working.


It didn't take a genius4 to work out that since all the other bits were doing what they were supposed to be doing, just not doing it as many times as they should, that the timer was the prime suspect for whatever was going wrong, and accordingly I went online to ascertain how much it would cost to buy a replacement. I wouldn't enjoy doing the job, but I could sustain myself as I tried to undo rusted-in screws and took the occasional juicing from un-disconnected wires with thoughts of not having been skinned for a new dishwasher.

It transpired that I could get almost every part for the dishwasher except for the timer, which was no longer made5. Two courses of action were open to me.

  1. I could attempt to buy what might be a working second hand unit from a scrap dealer or online auction site
  2. I could buy a new dishwasher

The advantage of the first would be a possible saving of cash at he expense of some emptoring of the caveat. I say "possible saving" because scrap dealers now operate on the assumption that whatever they are selling is made of unalloyed 99.99% pure gold6 and online auction houses suffer from price exaggeration hardly less extreme due to shill bidding7 and witless snipers9. This can send prices soaring way beyond the actual market value of whatever it is that is causing such activity.

The advantage of the second plan would be that Mrs Stevie would release the agonizingly painful back-hammer armlock she had me in.

So, a couple of weeks ago, we went out on a Friday night to look at dishwashers, and after only four hours or so I managed to narrow Mrs Stevie down to the choice of either the on-sale Whirlpool Dishrattler DeLuxe or me going to Sears' cutlery department and stabbing myself in the throat. Since I would be required to remove the old dishwasher and put in the new one, we reached an accord, and it would only cost me 650 bux.

I drove home with mixed feelings. On the one hand the seemingly endless dishwasher selection process was over. On the other I was soon to be down the cost of not one but two middle tier drill presses. Put another way: there went all thoughts of that metal-turning lathe I'd had my eye on. I was able to put it all in perspective too, though Mrs Stevie displayed no empathy and just told me to stop crying.

The next day, Saturday, we went to Sears, before breakfast I might add, to seal the deal. We met with a very helpful chap who bore a strong resemblance to Paul Giamatti, who played the chief of police in The Illusionist with such verve, made John Adams come alive in the eponymous HBO film of the same name, and totally stole Big Fat Liar from the kid from Malcolm in the Middle. I was so convinced that he was the actor, perhaps researching his next role as a Sears' sales person, perhaps simply forced, as so many are, into a second job simply in order to pay the electricity bill, that I began ad-libbing lines from the various movies I had seen him in, trying to provoke a response.

Unfortunately, I was mistaken in my identification and all this served to do was to puzzle the salesman first thing on a Saturday morning and annoy the hell out of Mrs Stevie. Win-win from where I was standing (on one foot by then, the other ankle having been roundly kicked during my impassioned and inspired rendition of the "blue man" scene from Big Fat Liar).

The salesman disappeared for a bit, then returned and announced that the dishwasher we had laboriously selected was, in fact, no longer available. Mrs Stevie asked about the floor model and it was my turn to get annoyed, since said dishwasher was quite badly dinged up. Fortunately, Chief Inspector Uhl (as I had taken to mentally calling him), only offered to remove 10% of the purchase price, and even Mrs Stevie wasn't so demented by the laying-low of her dishwashing plans to go for that.

Of course, this was entirely according to the wily Uhl's plan, and he quickly sprang the second part of the trap when he offered to show Mrs Stevie the current models on a computer. In no time at all the dastardly Viennese Chief of Police had persuaded Mrs Stevie that her only hope lay in a top-o-the-line model, the Whirlpool Bone China Coddlermatic With Power Rinse and Ultra-Galactic-Noise-Suppression, 900 bux in change with a year's service contract.

Once again Sears' carpark rang with the anguished howls and hopeless sobs of a man whose credit is deemed three times more worthy than the Federal Government's.

The dishwasher was due in town Last Saturday, and after the mandatory four day sulk I did a dishwasherectomy and uncovered the pipes and the wiring. Not a pretty sight. The pipes were tickety-boo, because when I had removed the original dishwasher after we moved in, I had catered for the change in standard in which the water feed for the machines went from being on the left side of the machine when viewed from the rear to the right side (when viewed from the rear).

Soldering pipe in that 27" square cubby-hole was no picnic, let me tell you, and I had no wish to engage in doing it again. Luckily the stoptap seemed to be working just fine, with no drips once I had shut it off. For once it seemed that the anti-handyman demons were caught napping. The wiring, however was another story.

When I had installed the now-broken dishwasher 15 years ago, I knew very little of wiring or plumbing. I had, in fact, paid for installation to be done for me. The Mrs Steviedad had ridiculed me and announced that installing a dishwasher was easy. He had done his with a friend and it took no time at all. I took him at his word and cancelled the 100 dollar installation fee10.

The dishwasher arrived and I discovered three facts of life:

  • firstly that the piping would have to be re-done
  • secondly that dishwashers are supplied sans plug or even external wires, the assumption being that the installer can choose to wire them directly to a junction box or connect them using the cable supplied as part of a fitting kit
  • thirdly that the wisdom of the Mrs Steviedad must be filtered through a fine mesh before taking it at face value
The fitting kit had been cancelled along with the installation of course, and I was forced to do a day's plumbing in sub-optimal conditions, acquaint myself with US electrical practice and code and improvise an electric cable with a plug on it11.

When the thing was finally in place I thought to wonder aloud on why the Mrs Steviedad had thought this was so easy. Mrs Stevie then told me that his friend worked for the organization responsible for supplying gas and electricity to the entire length and breadth of Long Island, and it was in fact he who had done the work while her father had held the beers.

The socket I chose to plug it into turned out to be a circuit that also was called upon to supply the fridge, microwave and toaster oven in addition to the dishwasher. There had been many times in the intervening years between my installing the old dishwasher and being faced with installing a new one in which to regret that decision, but I could do little about it other than go and reset the breaker when the fridge compressor kicked in during a marathon cook'n'dishwash session. Lesson learned though. I would use the opportunity to run a new 20 amp circuit to run the fridge and dishwasher and do the job right this time. After all, I was saving time on not having to sweat pipe this time around.

I was sorry to lose the spare breaker slot, as I was hoping to use it for a dedicated TV/VCR/Cable box/Hi-Fi circuit and had already bought the parts, but needs must when the domestic wiring is on fire.

On the plus side I had a reel of 12-gauge Romex-type cable that would be just enough (as it turned out) to do the job. On the negative side I had to buy the breaker and a GFCI12 wall socket capable of taking the load, and figure out how I was going to install the GFCI. I wanted to put it in a place already occupied by a wall socket, but there was the question of there being enough room in the junction box the socket was in to accommodate the old wires and wire-nut connectors and the deeper-than-normal footprint of the GFCI itself.

Here I hit on a spot of good fortune. It turned out that by dint of lying on my back and shuffling caterpillar-style headfirst into the dishwasher space, then banging my head on the pipes and impaling the back of my neck on the stoptap, I could peer up into the wall cavity with the aid of my trusty three-cell13 Maglite™.

When I did so, using iron control to restrict myself to only second class Words of Power, I could see that it would be possible to pull the original wires back from the junction box, and re-connect them in a new junction box I could locate behind the dishwasher. This would allow me to run the new circuit up to the junction box in the wall and fit the GFCI where I wanted it.

It would also allow me to make provision for fitting a proper ground since the original electrician had forsworn the modern concept of grounding all metal junction boxes with copper wire (now handily part of the Romex cable itself) in favor of an alternate scheme involving using two-conductor Romex and grounding through the next poor bastard to touch whatever was live, which would be me usually.

This I did, pulling the old cable out of the wall and reconnecting the various ends. It was a bit unpleasant, the old Romex being insulated with what looked like tanned lizard hide which had become sticky over the years, but not altogether unbearable since I had everything I needed to do the job and it was straightforward work. I would have liked to run new Romex and replace the old wiring completely back to the breaker, but that wasn't practical. It took from about ten am Saturday to about 3 pm to get all the work done and tested, and about half an hour after that the Machine arrived in theater.

The first out of job specification excursion event was the discovery that even though I had salvaged just about everything from the old machine in the way of hoses, I hadn't salvaged the one hose I needed which was the hose/90 degree manifold affair that is used to hook up the water supply, so it was off to Arse Hardware to get the parts required.

The next one was when I had everything connected, power cabled properly, water supply and drain hoses tight and so forth, then we tried to move the unit into the hole the old one had come out of.

It didn't fit.

No matter how I tried I couldn't get the machine to go back the final inch into the hole, which was important because the machine had to drop into a recess in the tile floor or it wouldn't accommodate the counter top. I pulled the machine out and removed the noise-reduction blanket and tried again. No joy. I pulled it out and carefully gathered the hoses and wire, each about six feet long and needing to coil themselves up gracefully as the machine was backed into position, and tried again, but it was no good.

"There's nothing for it" I said to Mrs Stevie, who was at the Thin-Lipped and Foot Tapping stage. "I'll have to remove the side from the counter top so I can crawl through the dishwasher hole and into the space behind the fridge. Then I can watch as you push the machine back and see what's causing the problem".

She snarled her assent to my plan and in no time at all I was crouched like some sort of African fetish doll behind the fridge watching the dishwasher bang up against the stop tap and the pipes leading from it. Mrs Stevie took the situation report and pulled the dishwasher back so I could attempt egress from my confinement, which I did after about five minutes of agonizing contortion. Mrs Stevie gave me time enough to get onto my hands and knees so I could crawl over the various knee-crippling hoses and cables and bang my head on the nail-encrusted wood of the counter before she began questioning me as to our course of action.

"What do we do now?" she snarled.

"Argh!" I answered.

Once I had extracted myself from the kitchen fixtures I surveyed the problem - which now included a stop tap that dripped on account of one of the thumps it had taken probably doing for the seat seal - with a jaundiced eye and came to a reluctant conclusion.

"I'll have to do some plumbing" I gloomily announced. "It'll have to be tomorrow though. I'm too tired to start soldering pipe in that little cubbyhole tonight. I'll burn the house down or something."

So we went to have something to eat at a diner, there being no room to eat in the house owing to all the kitchen furniture being moved out of the way to make room for the dishwasher installation, and on the way I stopped at Home Despot to pick up the needed parts.

The way I saw it the stop tap had to go and the piping needed re-routing into the wall cavity. I would cut off the whole assembly at the tee joint connecting it to the hot water supply, cap off the tee, split the pipe in a new location and solder in a new tee, ball-type lever valve and enough pipe to bring it up to the level of the wall, and install the original coupling. Unfortunately I had an appointment on Sunday which would involve me being away from home from 12 until 7 pm. This left two or three hours maximum on Sunday morning to do the work. I wasn't kidding about being too tired to do it that night; I've tried to crash through the tiredness barrier before and I always regret it the next day when I'm redoing whatever I screwed up last thing the night before.

Once we returned to Chateau Stevie I decided to try and get ahead of the game by constructing the bit of pipework encompassing the new stop tap, the tee piece and the curvy piping needed to accept the coupling in my secret experimental pipe manifold construction laboratory, or as Mrs Stevie calls it, the basement. That way I could reduce the need for pointing a long roaring blue flame at the woodwork and wiring in the house wall and I could make all the joints right-way-up instead of upside down.

It took about an hour, all told, but because I was tired the joints looked a right mess, and when I got a look at them the next day I was anxious as to their watertightedness. Only time and water under pressure would tell, though. I had been as careful as I could with the soldering, and everything should be OK despite the cosmetics.

I hoped. Picture here and here.

Matters were complicated by the need to shield the wooden studs and wiring from the heat. I keep a plate of steel around to use as an improvised heat shield for stuff like this, but I couldn't find it no matter where I looked, so I was forced to use an old, blunt circular saw blade as an improvised improvised shield. It turns out that the blade retains heat for quite some time and I received some of the nicest burns on my fingers I've ever had discovering that snippet. The studs I protected by dampening them with water.

I drained the water from the pipes and cut off the coupling, which I then attached to my new pipe manifold. So far so good. Then I cut the pipe at the tee, cleaned it up, applied the flux, slid the cap on and began heating the pipe. Picture here.

It became obvious after a while that it was taking much too long to heat the pipe to the proper temperature, and an ugly suspicion formed that there was water in the pipe. This turned out to be the case, and I immediately went to class three Words of Power with no compunction whatsoever. You simply cannot solder a pipe with water in it since the water turns to steam which carries off the heat. I cut the pipe again in the place I was going to place the new tee and tried again after allowing the pipe to drain. Once again it mysteriously began to fill with water and steam. I went downstairs and opened all the basement faucets. Still no dice.

I stopped and wondered where the water was coming from. Possibly the water shut-off valve was leaking, allowing water to dribble into the system. I shut off the water main at the stopcock. No joy. I finally surmised that the water was from a column trapped in a vertical run of pipe, which was expanding just enough to dribble into my pipe when I applied the heat. The only answer was to use the compressor to blow out the lines. Once that was done I got the pipe capped in no time (and set fire to one of the studs despite having dampened it beforehand, but I managed to quench the blaze before it got completely out of hand), but because the bits had all been heated and allowed to cool three times the joint was another ugly one and I was not a happy camper. Plumber. Whatever.

I attached the new manifold to the water supply and turned on the water. I was rewarded with no leaks from my new pipe, but a steady drip form one of the 50 year old joints which must've let go during the soldering of the new parts to the old.

This was a blow.

It is generally a bad idea to try and resweat old components because the original joint becomes brittle, oxidation in the pipe-pipe connection restricts the flow of solder and it is hard to get flux to flow down the tiny cracks in question, and the newer lead-free solder may not be fully miscible with the older super-leaded stuff. Normally I would cut the pipe and run a new joint in these circumstances. Today, however, I was running out of time so I wire brushed the joint as clean as I could using my Dremel tool14, brushed on some flux and ran some solder into the joint (after blowing out the pipe with the compressor again, of course). Picture here.

Wonder of wonders it worked. No drips. I put the dishwasher through a quick fill/drain cycle to check everything was tight and pushed it into place.

It wouldn't fit.

I did a little dance of pure rage, used my entire stock of class four Words of Power and once again crawled into the space behind the fridge. Mrs Stevie wasn't there to push the dishwasher today, but my rage gave me the strength of ten men. Would that it had given me their brains too.

I pulled the dishwasher into place and determined that one of the counter-top supports was fouling it now, just before I heard the "click!" of one of the front legs dropping into the well, locking the dishwasher into place and imprisoning me quite effectively.

"Well, that worked" I said to myself, banging my head hard against the wall to punish Mr Brain for yet another inappropriate ambush ploy. I don't know how I eventually dislodged the bloody dishwasher and gained my freedom. It is possible the class five Words of Power I used caused a momentary increase in air pressure enough to lift it clear of the floor and thrust it out of the cavity. I know some of the wallpaper caught fire.

I was out of time and so ran for a shower and left the house for my Dungeons and Dragons manly high-stakes poker game.

I got home around 7 pm and got to work with the wrecking bar and clawhammer, and in no time I had removed the offending support timber. Then I fabricated a new one from a piece of maple I had in the Basement of Deferred Project Storage. I had intended that piece of wood for a far more worthy project, but I was getting fed-up with this one. I slid the dishwasher into place just as Mrs Stevie returned home.

"Took you long enough" she sniffed.

  1. The sovereign sign of state of the art sophistication
  2. Drafted and broadcast by Mrs Stevie
  3. Mrs Stevie
  4. Fortunately
  5. Of course
  6. One might make a case for the various governments of the world nationalizing their scrap dealers and backing their currencies with The 1995 Ford Taurus Hubcap Standard
  7. The process whereby one uses either one's friends or sock puppets8 to "bid up" an item as though it were desirable
  8. Multiple online identities that belong to the same individual, adopted to convey a false impression of democracy in action to serve whatever ends the nitwit owner of said identities has in mind, in this case, driving up the auctioned item's "value"
  9. Who wait until the last few minutes of an online auction and then start bidding small increments in order to secure an item
  10. It is a mark of how badly this event scarred me mentally that I clearly remember the amount involved despite Mr Brain
  11. I used an air conditioner extension cord with the end cut off, if you're interested
  12. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt. It detects an imbalance in current flowing between the live wire and ground and the neutral wire and ground and breaks the circuitry if it exceeds a certain value. This value tends to be enough for you to get a mild belt on a rainy night if you grab a string of lit indoor-outdoor fairy lights for example, but good enough to blow and take out your elaborately constructed Xmas Light Display O Seasonal Merriment every Christmas Eve there is a hint of moisture or a snowflake lands within three hundred feet of the socket
  13. "D" cells U.K. U2
  14. A wildly underrated tool by many but God-like in my eyes