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