Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ho Ho Argh!

Ho Ho Argh!

So tonight we had the traditional meet'n'gift exchange with the in-laws.

It was all very pleasant and a good time was had by most. Everyone gave people stuff they didn't need in the established western way, we ate food and regaled each other with tales of our exciting lives. It's true that my tales tended to induce either snores or sobs, sometimes both at the same time as the fact is my real-life stories induced snores in the listeners and sobs in me. Happy times.

On the way home the festive mood was ruined and we were almost killed when I was cut off by some idiot driving an overloaded vehicle with no regard for anyone else on the road. That the driver was drunk I have no doubt whatsoever. He was laughing like an idiot the whole time for all to hear. The poorly secured load was threatening to fall to the road at every jink and swerve, and I doubt the vehicle itself was legal for highway use in New York State.

Snow or no snow, an overloaded sleigh drawn by reindeer should not be on the public highway on Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Teeth: A Bad Idea

Time to tell the tedious tooth tale.

The eager reader of TOS1 will remember that I was having trouble with an upper right-side molar3. I had been driving past Doc Tugmolar's surgery when a nugget of mercury amalgam weighing about a pound and a half fell out of my head, uncovering the delicate hurtybit inside the tooth.

"What a stroke of luck!" I remember crying out4 and had dashed in and made out a very good case for a temporary filling being fabricated for it immediately. I'd had the damn thing root-canalled, but the endodontist had pulled a face at the time and said the tooth was cracked and probably could not be saved.

During the next few weeks I went back and forth with one of Tugmolar's young associates as to whether it was worth even trying to cap the tooth. Leaving it as a stub like the other one was one option, but the dentist didn't think she could fill the tooth effectively without putting a crown on it, specifically a post-and-crown cap, which would involve putting a peg down the center of the tooth.

I thought that this plan would result in me spending a lot of money (for my insurance plan has an age-related exclusion clause on crowns5 which would make me liable for most of the 1600 bux this one would cost) and then, if things went the same way they did for the other cracked tooth I root-canalled, I would have to have it pulled anyway due to the agonising pain every time something brushed the tooth. If it was only going to have to come out anyway I'd just as soon be not 1600 dollars in the hole. There was also the matter of the endless stream of ear and sinus infections I was having, and the fact that my face felt like it was on fire much of the time. A cracked, infected tooth root snugged up against my sinus cavity was looking more and more like the route6 for the germs into Mr Head.

The dentist was most persuasive that the post would stabilize the tooth and called me in for the appointment to make the impression. I was in the chair about ten minutes while she X-rayed my jaw, then she came back and said that not only could the tooth not be capped owing to the severity of the crack, not only would it indeed have to come out, but that they couldn't pull it because the root was snugged up against the sinus cavity and I would therefore have to visit a oral surgeon.

They did recommend a surgeon, so I called and made an appointment. I discussed the details with the surgeon's PA, confirming that my insurance was good and so forth when the lady asked "Do you want to be awake for this procedure?".

"You offer general anaesthesia?" I asked.

"Of course" she answered.

"Will my insurance cover general anaesthetic?" I asked dubiously.

"Oh yes" she answered.

"Then I would most certainly not want to be awake" I said with feeling.

I mean, who would? There's the hundred and fifty jabs in the jaw, the horrible, bone-jarring cracking as the tooth is ripped out of your head, fragment by fragment (cracked, remember), the gallons of blood gushing from the gaping wound. Not to mention the bruising from the places the oral surgeon will have to grab your head to get the leverage required.

The only problem, such as it was, was that I would have to be ferried to and from the surgery. Mrs Stevie had plans to be in Manhattan with The Stevieling all day, but grudgingly allowed that she wouldn't be due to leave until after the surgery was done, so couldn't pass up the chance to see me in post-surgical agony and offered to drive me there and back.

On the day, I was X-rayed in surround-rad in a stand-up rig that gave me my yearly dose of Roentgens in 15 seconds, then I was conducted to the operating room and helped into the leather recliner that would be the scene of the action. Mrs Stevie announced she was leaving to get gas for her car, and I engaged the surgeon in conversation. I was in the middle of regaling him with one of my many witty stories, when he leapt onto me and stuck a needle into my arm. Long years of life with Mrs Stevie have granted me immunity from such minor assaults and so I didn't break the stream of my amusing narrative. Five seconds later, just before the hysterically funny climax of the tale, I passed out.

I was awakened some 45 minutes later by the frantic nurse who demanded to know where Mrs Stevie was. I wracked my brains, wooly from the aneasthetic and also because my head was stuffed with real cotton-wool, and realised I didn't know since I had no idea where she went for gas. The nurse started yelling about how she would have to take me home, but I couldn't pay attention to her because the room was swishing around and I was very tired, so I just said that she should leave me propped up in the waiting room until Mrs Stevie returned, at which point Mrs Stevie returned.

The rest of the day was spent attempting to shrug off the anaesthetic, which left me with the mental acuity of a drunken hedgehog for about 17 hours.

But.

The operation was painless and so was the recovery. Even after the sleepyhappy juice wore off I had absolutely no discomfort at the wound site. Mouth felt a bit odd with a hole in my toothline you could drive a bus through, and I drooled uncontrollably for three days, but no pain from that side of my mouth.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for the other side, where the stub of the other root-canalled tooth was cutting the hell out of my tongue. I think I was biting myself in my sleep, probably during nocturnal gnashing brought on by the need to do constant mental battle with the mercurial and ultra-violent Mrs Stevie. I stood it for a couple of weeks, then begged Tugmolar's team to give me an appointment so someone could file off the sharp edges. It's fine now, no biting my own body while I sleep and no more drooling and, finally, an end to the endless ear infections and burning sensations in my right cheek.

Oral Surgery is the best thing ever.

  1. It is a central literary conceit of TOS that there are people who read it, and that they are eager for each installment2.
  2. In fact, a recent survey of the system logs here at TOS Ents (North America) Inc. have shown that almost 100% of the visitors to a given page promptly navigate back off it again in less than 12 micro-seconds, which outpaces even a sugared-up teenager's click-read-click rate by several orders of magnitude and strongly suggests these visitors are in fact robotic spiders dispatched by the various web search engines for book-keeping purposes. The small fraction of a percent of visitors who do not go somewhere else in a gnat's eyeblink do so after about two point eight seconds, suggesting they were directed here by the said search engines but were looking for other types of content. There's a way to figure out what they were looking for, and I would indeed offer such content if I could figure out a) how to get pictures onto TOS, 2) how to circumvent certain petty federal obscenity statutes and web host terms of service and ♥) how to persuade Mrs Stevie to pose with the various pieces of equipment and/or farm animals that seem to be in demand. Experience has taught me that Mrs Stevie has ultra-conservative views on such matters and a tendency to illustrate them by the percussive use of cookware on my skull
  3. Number three for the dentophiles out there
  4. Or words to that effect
  5. I imagine this policy would most benefit young professional hockey players or kickboxers since apparently one can get all the crowns one can stand before a certain, undisclosed age, at which point you can't have any.
  6. aHahaha

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Good News For Once

Mrs Stevie just got the results of her last tests in.

The PET scan shows no activity in the site at which she had the beginings of a tumour last year. This is about the best Christmas present anyone could have given her.

There had been some concern about something the PET scan had shown concerning her thyriod, or what's left of it (Mrs Stevie had Hashimoto's Disease shortly after we married and underwent a hemi-thyroidectomy). The results from the "thyroid uptake test" - whatever that is - just came in and she's "clean".

So all those life-insurance policies I took out on her were a collosal waste of money and yet another retirement investment scheme has gone nails-up.

And Then Came Saturday

And Sunday too.

Saturday began with a bang when everyone in the whole world decided to get in the car with their dog and do some seriously witless driving, on account of there being two flakes of snow per cubic metre falling from the sky. This meant that the world was about to end and everyone knows you can't meet the end of the world without a cellar full of canned food (if you can get it, the early birds being up and about very early this morning). I wanted to go out to get my shirts from the dry cleaners and the part for the washing machine that stops it winding the legs of jeans and apron strings around the agitator drive shaft, so I was part of the fun whether I wanted to be or not.

Such was the chaos that it took me about four times longer to get my stuff from the cleaners as it usually does. The drive down to Sid's Appliance Parts and Ammo Shoppe was even more annoying and took so long, what with people forgetting how traffic lights work and deciding on novel interpretations of the lane markings that have only been on these roads for about thirty bleeping years, that it was snowing for real by the time I entered Sid's door.

Sid didn't have the part, either.

I returned home and, aided by Mrs Stevie, wrestled the electric Christmas bush o' merriment from it's storage niche in the garage and took it inside the house so Mrs Stevie could erect it and festoon it with crap. It was now mid-day and I already felt like I had gone eight hours with a tax inspector. But things were about to get worse. Immeasurably worse.

No sooner had Mrs Stevie deployed the first stage of the tree1 than she found that a grand total of zero lights were working on it and demanded I fix them tootsweet, and my spirits, already low, sank south of utter depression.

The tree's lower stage has two strings, each running about halfway round the tree. I found a broken bulb, replaced it from a set of coloured lights I had bought years ago just for replacement bulbs (it's about a zillion times cheaper to do this than buy replacement bulbs in three packs) and half the bush sprang into glorious coloured illumination. The second string was to prove more of a pain in the ass challenge.

To find the blown bulb in a string, I normally remove one of the good bulbs from a similar set that is working and test each of the bulbs from the unlit string by plugging it into the working string, and this is what I did with the tree. At first I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Every bulb I tested in this fashion allowed the string to light but wouldn't light up itself. This is how Christmas lights are supposed to work these days, but who has ever seen it work properly? The mechanism is simple: the filament holds apart two spring-loaded contacts that slam together when the filament wire breaks.

Heh.

I think everyone has had experience with how well this works in real life, which is to say usually not at all. I'd put the ratio at one bulb that shorts itself when it blows for every three hundred that somehow still manage to take out the entire string. I had assumed this to be the case with the tree, but in fact I was seeing a textbook case of what happens when the mechanism does work but the bad bulb is not noticed.

Each bulb consumes some of the total electric power coming out of the wall. If one blows, each of the other bulbs gets a little more juice than it was intended to cope with, shortening their lifetimes. The next bulb blows, and the situation for the survivors gets that much worse, making for an even shorter time to failure for the survivors. Given enough time in service, it is possible for the shear amount of electricity coursing through the bulbs to cause a cascade of failures, each one quicker than the last until either the whole string is dead or one bulb fails in the more usual string-killing manner and puts a stop to the avalanche of popping bulbs.

I found myself hoping for this string-killing behaviour in one of the bulbs before I got through the entire string, but in fact I was 2/3 of the way round the tree and had replaced all but one bulb before the dead string of lights burst into glorious multi-hued splendour. I immediately unplugged them of course, because I noticed that the other 1/3 of the string was still un-illuminated and that that could only be because every single bulb from that point on was dead! Had I left the string plugged in, each bulb lit would have been overpowered by about 25 volts and I would be likely to see first hand the Wonder of the Popping Bulbs.

In all I changed over three dozen bulbs from that string. Only two bulbs from the originals were still working from the entire string of lights. And that was my Saturday shot to hellanback. By the time I was done it was after six and the snow was coming down hard.

Sunday dawned and I leapt from the marriage bed before Mrs Stevie could wake up and complicate matters and ran to the front door. Then I remembered the conversation with officer McDermot and went back for some clothes, then opened the door to survey the problem.

Snow was still falling, just, and had piled up in front of the storm door. I pushed it open and discovered I could get it to open enough for me to squeeze out with a snow shovel (unlike the year before last when I had to remove the glass from the storm door and climb out through it). We'd had about 15 inches of snow, which had drifted to several times that level in places, notably around the Steviemobile which had so much snow piled around it the hood (UK Bonnet) was below ground level.

I dug for about thirty minutes, opening up the deck, steps and front path, then waded through the knee-deep snow in the driveway to the garage. It was time to once again deploy the mighty Troll, The Snowblower Of Supreme Spiffiness.

Troll has a maw on it that is 27" wide and about 20" tall. Today, the snow was just the right sort for maximum fun - not too dry, not to wet, and so deep that Troll was tunneling for some of the time requiring second and third passes over the same terrain. How the early morning idiots attempting to drive on the roads marveled at the graceful arc of snow, twigs, small rocks and fragments of frozen turf that flew from Troll's ejection chute to a height of perhaps thirty feet before falling all over their vehicles2. How they screamed their own enjoyment of the snow-clearance process to me as I in turn howled in the sheer primal joy of my manly domination over the mounds of soft, frozen inconvenience lying about the place.

I did our driveway, the sidewalk in front of my house and that of Mr Singh the next-door neighbour, Mr Singh's drive, because Mr Singh has rescued my bins from the road and cleaned out the leaves from the property boundary which was half my job and I like him. I was just mulling over whether I had enough gas to go and clear Mike's driveway when Troll mutinied and refused to move any more.

Once my brain was clear of endorphins, which it was quite soon after the manliness factor evaporated, I realized something serious had gone wrong with my beloved snowblower. The self-propulsion drive was inoperative probably due to the malign influence of the dread anti-handyman demons, which had been quiet - too quiet - of late. I dragged Troll back to the garage and located the manual for it which for once I had not put in a Safe Place and therefore rendered un-findable until the snowblower was but a dim memory. It looked like the problem could be one of two things: a) the drive belt could be broken, or 2) the drive wheel could be damaged.

The transmission on these devices is fairly straightforward. The engine spins a shaft, which drives two belts, one for the self-propulsion drive and one for the augur (the thing that munches the snow, then throws it over Mr Singh's garden wall). The self-propulsion belt drives a wheel oriented vertically across the width of the machine. A second wheel, much smaller and with a rubber rim, can be brought into contact with this spinning wheel to transfer the motion to the wheels via a chain-and-cog reduction gear. Why so convoluted? Because you derive the speeds by moving the small wheel across the diameter of the larger spinning wheel with the "gear shift" lever. In near the middle of the spinning wheel gives you a slow speed, out near the rim gives you a much faster one3 and across the center and over to the other side a bit gives you reverse. Simple and fairly robust, but a bugger to service because it means pulling the snowblower apart.

I removed the cab, which was heavy and made tipping Troll up on her scoop almost impossible. Fortunately, the manufacturer foresaw the need to occasionally be cabless and it is a matter of undoing two ripstock nylon belts and removing two cotter pins to get the cab off. Finding somewhere to leave the cab while you work is another matter, but I managed to find somewhere that wouldn't result in a damaged window. Then I upended Troll and removed the steel plate covering her underside to reveal the works. Turns out it was in fact option þ) that was broken. The final chain-driven cog that turns the roadwheels is mounted to the axle with a bolt. This bolt had broken. I thought it might be a shear-pin (something that is designed to break to prevent something much more expensive being broken) but I wasn't sure and it would be an odd place to put one. I couldn't get to any local Sears likely to stock the part (and I doubt that any Sears stocks the part anyway) so I nipped down to Arse Hardware where they very kindly sold me a suitable bolt and nylock nut. It was a very pleasant shopping experience, which if it hadn't involved driving on the same roads as the other idiots out doing Xmas shopping and trying to get ice-melt at this late stage in the game would have been idyllic. Said idiots included a number of teen and twentysomething morons on quads racing around at far above the speed limits, ignoring the everyday restrictions on overtaking, traffic light precedence and so forth and posing a threat to life and limb. One, for example, blew through a red light on a main road and came this close to going under a car that was spinning its wheels, and which made contact with tar and catapulted forward - with a green light - almost hitting the berk on the quad, who had the nerve to look surprised. It's bad enough when these quad and skidoo morons come out on the roads late at night when there's little to no traffic, but to do it on a main road in busy traffic? Idiocy of the first order. While I was ploughing out the drive I saw a couple of quads come screaming up behind a convoy of slow-moving cars (the road was still snow-covered at that point) and the quads pulled out into the oncoming traffic's lane and hit the gas. I was absolutely flabbergasted that people could be so monumentally suicidal. Bear in mind that these vehicles are not legal on the roads and therefore their drivers carry no insurance. The threat they pose to children playing in the snow - themselves not noted for common sense when the whit stuff is abounding - is terrifying.

Anyway, I bought the bolts and some snow-melt on account of mine had migrated from the place I put it at the front of the garage in July to Places Unknown4 and returned to Chateau Stevie to fix Troll.

I'm well aware that replacing what might be a shear pin with an ordinary bolt is a) asking for trouble, 2) an enormous and potentially costly gamble and ♥) akin to replacing a troublesome fuse with a coin, but there may be another dose of this white stuff coming our way and a buggeréd snowblower beats a buggeréd heart any day of the week.

I tested everything worked, put all the bits I took off Troll back on, pumped up the tires which I noticed during the drag back from Mr Singh's driveway were flat for some reason and, infused with sheer manly fixiness turned my attention to the matter of the Steviemobile's blown headlamp.

The drivers' side headlamp has been dead since at least the time I last loaned the car to Mrs Stevie (I only say that because that's the first time in ages I've seen the car at night from the outside, not to infer that Mrs Stevie somehow broke the lamp - though I wouldn't put it past the woman). I bought a new bulb, anticipating the same job that I had when I replaced the other one. Remove the bayonet fitting dirt cover, undo the clips unplug the bulb, put in the new one and do everything else in the reverse order you did to get the old bulb out. Easy.

The drivers' side one is a tad more involved. Following a design ethic that I haven't yet fathomed, the Elantra design crew called for the drivers' side headlamp to be entombed in front of the battery, itself fastened down with a clamp and then obscured by a plastic cover bolted to the engine with a bolt and to the front metalwork of the car with Phillips head screws. No problem then. Out comes my TR6-era Hilka socket set, lovingly brought from England and now showing signs of rust since someone left it near the garage door during a storm and water splashed all over it in such profusion it got into the closed steel case. Where was I? Oh right.

The bolt came out no problem, but two of the three screws simply turned without unscrewing, while the third locked tight and then the screwdriver slot chewed up since the screw was made of soft engineering plastic. If I was going to pick an unfeasible material to fabricate screws from I'd go with poster-putty, then ice, then this engineering plastic, though it would be a close thing between the three materials as to which was the most ridiculous choice. The spinning without coming out behavior was simple to divine. It was caused by the fact that the screws did not screw into a threaded hole in the steel, but into a rawlplug-like device similar to those things you put in plasterboard to hold shelf brackets on with. The plastic plug swells up (in this case deploying four stubby "wings") to lock it in place while providing a surface for the screw thread to bite into. My best guess is that mechanics simply cut these off and replace them in the shop when they need to get the battery out.

Exhaustive study showed no other obvious way of replacing the bulb, though I did try to remove the headlamp module and work on it while it hung off the car. I failed to find the hidden third bolt securing the damned headlamp module to the car after a half hour of looking, and so was reduced to deploying some class three words of power and resigning myself to getting the job done when the next service comes due.

I went out to a Pep Boys, a sort of American version of Halfords crossed with Clutch Brake Autospares, with a view to obtaining the Haynes Manual for the vehicle, to see how the trick was done.

Now Haynes Manuals got off to a running start when they published their first book, the one on the early minis. This book was a diamond in the rough and an indispensable piece of any mini-owner's arsenal as it gave incredibly practical advice on how to do literally everything to a mini, from changing the wiper blades to rebuilding the gearbox. It scored over the Austin/Morris (later Leyland) workshop manual on just about every job, not the least because the tools required were described and, where possible, improvised rather than the Morris standard Service Tool 18G-something5

It might have been expected that every Haynes manual would be so complete and well thought out, but in fact that was not the case. Indeed, judging from my own experience and that of people I've spoken to on the subject, none of the other Haynes manuals achieve the clarity and error-free procedure schedules of the Mini manual, and there's a good reason for that. The reason is that the compiler of that first manual was Paddy Hopkirk, who rallied Minis in the late 60s and early 70s and who developed a series of radical procedures for quickly servicing these cars6 and therefore not only knew every shortcut and trick in the book, invented the tricks and wrote the book. The man was a genius. Not so the man who oversaw the Vaxhaul Viva manual, and who miscounted - low - the number of bolts holding the water pump to the engine block, or the nitwit who advised me to undo the eight bolts holding the prop shaft on my TR6 to the rest of the drive train and simply lower it to the floor and forgot that on a real car there was an exhaust system in the way.

With this in mind, I decided to read the bit on the headlamps before I bought the Haynes Hyundai Elantra manual. Good thing too, because the instructions read: remove the dust cover, undo the clips, remove the bulb and unplug the wires. To install a new bulb, reverse the procedure. I'm paraphrasing, but my version is not that far from the Haynes one and the salient point is that there is no acknowledgement whatsoever that there might be a bit of a problem when it comes to doing the driver side bulb because some fat-head put a battery and a big plastic cover in the way. No sale there then.

So, as of today I still have only one headlamp because I could not get the battery cover off no matter how much I swore. I mean, is it really necessary in this day and age, when buying a car to have to ask the salesman "can I change the headlamp bulbs without substantially dismantling the vehicle"? So I'll just have to give the mechanic at the dealership the bulb and ask them to fit it for me.

At a standard rate of 80 bux per hour or part thereof.

  1. There are three, rather like a Saturn 5 moon rocket except greener, needley instead of frosty and each stage has umpteen strings of lights pre-strung on it instead of being filled with cryogenic rocket fuel. The first stage has two, the second four or more. The third only one, I think. It's pretty right up to the time they don't work.
  2. Troll is very loud - and therefore very manly - and I can't hear motorists approaching even when they sound their horns almost continuously and scream through their open windows so it is sometimes the case that a foolish driver, more intent of getting to their destination than pulling up until I'm done with that bit, will be forced to drive through the ejecta plume. This is very unwise, but then again, so was driving on the roads that day.
  3. If you don't get this point, pop the lid on your CD player and look at the rate at which the outside of a spun disc zooms along compared with the middle for the same rate of spin (rpm). If you steal your final speed from the disc you should see that it matters where on the disc you steal it from
  4. Stuff migrates in my garage, especially during bike-riding weather, without my touching it. This means something.
  5. every tool in the official workshop manual was referred to not by common name but by an alphanumeric identifier that started with 18G-. Something that was described as Service Tool 18G-451-763B might be better known as a hammer for example, yet the workshop manual eschewed such pedestrian terms.
  6. Which were so small and light you have to wonder why no-one else thought to just turn them on their sides instead of jacking them to change the wheels and look at the underside gubbins

A Bad Day

Friday started out as a much better day.

I compose may of my TOS posts on an aging Handspring Visor that I have repaired and resurrected many times, but that has recently developed a very inconvenient habit. It powers itself off if it gets a physical shock because the battery (or the battery connections) are disconnected from the unit. If I don't notice and rearrange the two AAA cell batteries it runs on and by doing so restore the power in a relatively short time, the bloody thing forgets everything and I have to restore it from a backup.

Like everyone in real life, I don't backup the Visor anywhere near enough for my usage of it, which means stuff gets lost. If I don't have a paper backup (I do for some of the things I use it for) I am up a certain creek without a paddle.

This morning, wile commuting in to work, I had composed the beginnings of a very nice TOS entry and was planning on working on it on the way home. You can guess what comes next. Sometime during the day the bloody Visor took a hit and forgot the future TOS entry. I had a backup on a so-called springboard module (a forerunner of today's memory sticks) so I could get it back up and running but it was thouroughly annoying.

This evening, the train began moving, and proved to be one of what I call the "Seaview" trains that throw the passengers violently from side-to-side if the track is not arrow-straight, such as in the Flatbush Aenue to Jamaica section of track. The train just crossed a switch and almost threw me from my seat, so this evening's commute looks like being a real doozy.

While I was waiting for the restore to finish, the train smashing me first against my co-commuters and then against the window, my water bottle contrived to upend itself on the seat. This would not have been a problem last year when water bottles typically had a pull-to-drink nipple on them, but these days the bottled water companies fit flip-top nipples and the damned thing leaked all over the seat, me, my coat and my book.

And people wonder why I'm constantly in a foul mood after my commute.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's Getting Better All The Time

Just heard President Obama's address to the nation on the subject of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you didn't catch it, he touched briefly on what Operation Iraqi Boondoggle1 aka The Phony War2 has cost us. This has been the Fact No-One Must Ever Mention until now because doing so would cause members of the previous administration to scream "Why do you hate America?" and froth at the mouth. Listening to these swine yap on about how we must cut education and health coverage to kick-start the economy when a thousand times more money is poured into a war we should never have started in the first place and another we should have piled in weeks before we did has made me froth at the mouth for years.

Anyway.

The President has promised that we will be out of Iraq by next summer or so (schedules in these sorts of affairs being a tad slidey) and that we finally have an exit strategy for Afghanistan. About bloody time.

Afghanistan is a real problem. No-one has been able to get the place in order because the only thing that will grow there in any sort of profusion is poppies, and the illicit drug trade only makes a few select individuals rich, not a country. Shutting the drug trade down and turning the land over to conventional crops is a non-starter. But I would like to know if anyone has considered getting the pharmaceutical companies to fund bigger poppy crops for more benign purposes. The way you get rid of loony regimes is to make everyone rich as Croesus. Give everyone a chance at paradise on Earth and they won't be so eager to scatter their bodies over the landscape on a hunt for however many virgins the going rate is today. Is there no legitimate way to make the opium crop pay for Afghani education and infrastructure?

It remains to be seen whether or not this charismatic young President can energise the people of the USA and get them behind him and his many agendas. The political landscape here right now is a joke. Eight years of a regime that threw away or simply disregarded every check or balance put in place to prevent unilateral power developing in the Executive branch (and a lickspittle Congress and Senate that let them get away with it), followed by an almost unprecedented turfing out of the old guard in favour of the new, and now there's "worry and concern" about checks and balances from the right.

Politicians who can't understand the difference between a public spectacle put on by shills for the insurance industry and the State of the Union speech. Mendacious, evil, manipulative people who, against all reason, can still find an audience for their monumentally stupid "birther" blather4, and I don't know what other madnesses today will bring. The only way to stay sane is to contemplate one blindingly obvious and unquestionable truth:

It's good to have a man in control of the Nuclear Deterrent who can actually pronounce it properly. The last bloke to sit in the chair got it wrong on a daily basis for eight long, long years.

  1. My title
  2. AKA by me3
  3. And probably me alone
  4. That's the one that goes: We believe that the President is a citizen, but some people have legitimate doubts. The President should produce his birth certificate and end the debate. Until this unspeakably idiotic nonsense came about I had thought the stories that mainstream America was racists at heart were overblown, but how else can you explain how people could possibly believe that the issue of a candidate's citizenship wouldn't be a matter of intense scrutiny before his or her party would think of endorsing a run for office?

Playin' The Slots

Why do the designers of machines that accept credit cards for whatever service it is that will cost the user deep in t'purse make it so bleeding difficult to actually swipe1 the card to complete or, more often, initiate the transaction?

Consider: The vast majority of the world is right-handed2 and so will pull the credit card from a wallet, purse or little Kevlar™ envelope with the right hand. The natural action would then be to take the card orient it so that it is vertical with respect to its short edges and attempt to insert it in the slot provided.

The MTA machines that sell metrocards for use on the subway require the card be inserted flat, with the magnetic band pointed down, on the left side of the machine. The card must be oriented with the stripe to the right though, so even a lefty will be in trouble here. No doubt there is a sound design principle at work here. If only it were a little more obvious.

The LIRR ticket machines have the slot (again, card goes in flat with the stripe down) on the right, but at such a height that the user must employ an awkward cocked wrist arrangement. Then again, the LIRR has a long history of incompetence and being bloody awkward just for the heck of it, so we shouldn't look for more from them.

Gas pumps often employ a vertical slot. Huzzah! But the card has to go in backwards (lefty-fashion) so on any given day you can see drivers madly revolving their credit cards to get the bloody pump to recognise the bloody card. This is not funny, because these days a five second delay in swiping the card can mean another 5 cents a gallon for regular unleaded. I mean, if we had been put on the Earth to pay exorbitant gas prices we'd have been born in Europe!

Point-of-sale swipes usually require the card be upside-down and back-to-front. No doubt this arrangement won a major design award for someone.

Much more of this and I'll be forced back into using cash. Would do so now, only I haven't got any to speak of.

See, the ATM machine at my bank can only be unlocked by swiping my card and I can't figure out which of the four possible (horizontal) orientations actually unlocks the bulletproof glass door instead of flashing a little red light at me and sounding a buzzer.

  1. in the US sense rather than the UK one
  2. Un-PC but indisputably a fact. Swivel on it, lefty southpaw losers!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

An Ode To My Ex-Tooth

There's a hole in my head
Where a tooth used to be
I'd write a bit more
But I have to go pee

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Teeth - Forswear Them

Remember the root canal I had in June?

A problem involving my pig-useless dental insurance plan meant that it took until the end of last month before I could move forward with the crown and peg the dentist had been recommending. I also wanted to examine the options since the damned tooth was cracked and hurt like blazes when subjected to sideways force despite having no nerves in it any more. This was exactly the same as the last one I had done, and I wanted to make sure the dentist was sure about her descision and that she was clear the crown would have to sit below the datum line of the other teeth so it would stand a chance of 'settling down" (a technical phrase thrown about by dentists).

Anyway, I was finally convinced and had the insurance go-ahead (they were going to pay about 250 bux of a 1400 bux bill by the way). The dentist removed what was left of the temporary filling (replaced several times over the months), then whent "Hmm" and decided to take an(other) X-Ray. She now announced that not only was she sure she couldn't fit the crown on account of the crack, but the tooth would have to be pulled - something I had been trying to get her to discuss weeks before on account of I don't have 1200 bux lying around for a tooth that will probably need pulling out 6 months after it is crowned.

Not only that, she told me that because the root was nestled up against my sinus cavity (which explained all the ear and throat infections I've had in recent years), she couldn't pull it. I would have to go to an oral surgeon.

The Oral surgeon's personal assistant was very helpful and determined that my insurance would cover full anaesthesia, so I should be asleep for the duration of this miserable business. There's even a slight chance I might not wake up afetrward, which makes it all the more attractive to me after the year I've had so far, but I couldn't be that lucky.

The tooth comes out on Saturday at around 10:30 am, setting me up for a weekend of sheer misery. Mrs Stevie has been supportive, and has offered to drive me to and from the dentist's office. She rather spoiled the moment by grinning savagely and rubbing her hands together as she made the offer, but I need a ride apparently; they won't let me drive myself after the surgery. I don't know if that's because of the anaethetic or because driving while screaming in agony and trying to strangle yourself into merciful oblivion is considered unsafe.

The aftercare will be a solo affair it seems, as Mrs Stevie has elected to go into Manhattan with the Stevieling rather than minister to me in my hour(s) of need.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rong Agen

Well, that didn't take long.

I recently detailed how two nitwits pulled into the hard shoulder behind a tractor-trailer rig under the impression they were in a turning lane, and I explained how no truck driver would have been so monumentally dimwitted as to use the hard shoulder as a turning lane because their vehicles have such a wide turning circle.

This morning I observed a tractor trailer rig do just that at the turn before the railway bridge, the one with the doughnut shop on the corner. In order not to mount the curb he had to pull so far ahead of the turn that he came this close to clipping someone trying to turn left out of the road he wanted to enter.

So once again my "I'm an unlauded genius" theory has gone down under the wheels of Mrs Stevie's "You're A Nidiot" premise.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Goodnight Pool

It is that time of year again.

More precisely, it is weeks before that time of year has taken place in years gone by, because come hell and high water I wasn't going to be attempting to shut down the swimming pool in a force ten October gale while the womenfolk stretched out in the house and watched TV.

Accordingly, I raced out of the house on Saturday, pulled off the solar cover and vacuumed up all the crap the Maple tree had dumped in it over the week. I cleaned up all the air pillows with a scrubbing brush, and got the crud off the solar cover while I was at it. Curse that aerial plague on mankind known as "birds".

Conventional wisdom says you should tether a 4-foot diameter balloon in the middle of a pool our size before covering it with a winter cover. This allows the cover to fill with rainwater that holds the cover down in gales. Over the course of the winter months the trees, birds and insects conspire to convert this "water" into a soup of such disgusting olefactoriness that it defies description. Steviewisdom says "sod that for a game of soldiers". Last year I augmented the 4 foot pillow with three 4x8 foot blimps, and apart from some teething troubles when it rained so much the cover almost burst with the pooled weight of water it went rather well.

Well enough that I decided to up the oomph, blue vinyl balloon count wise, and purchased another 4x8 foot pillow and a 4x15 foot one that I envisaged forming a sort of ridge pole for the tented cover.

Inflating these things is a bit tiresome to be honest. They do not have a standard fitting such as one might find on a vinyl dolphin, inner tube with a pillow, fancy airbed or other non-life-preserving swimming pool fun-enhancer. They have instead a one-inch plug that has a sort of inexpensive one-way valve underneath it when you pull it out. This means that standard fittings on compressors or hand-pumps will not work, a decision that was no-doubt taken for consumer convenience reasons.

The proper method for inflating an air pillow is as follows:

Go down into the basement and retrieve shop-vac.

Spend fifteen minutes locating the hose which you removed three months ago, the last time you used it, when the damned thing attempted to snag you with its tentacle as you walked by it. Twice.

Wrestle shop-vac up basement stairs, dislodging carrier bags of crap hung on walls at shoulder height by spouse and child so that the contents form a satisfactory hazard the next time you descend those same stairs.

Bang head on door at top of stairs and come this close to going arse-over-tip down them.

Emerge into light of day clutching shop-vac and hurl it onto living room floor so the power cord can unspool.

Wrestle the shop-vac out of back door and tangle power cord on screen-door handle, slamming said door on left elbow punching a hole in screen.

Disentangle power cord from screen door, pick up shop-vac and stumble over hose.

Fall down short flight of concrete steps, twisting right ankle and give siding of house a good banging with head.

Once shop-vac is successfully situated on the patio, deploy hose in "blow" configuration.

IMPORTANT - connect vacuum to power supply and switch on while pointing hose away from anything you care about, own body, windows, car etc, so as to avoid a repeat of the Low Compression Air-Powered Sawn-Off Shrapnel Gun Fiasco.

Lay out air pillow on clean lawn furniture so as to not pick up crud from the floor and thereby transfer it to the pool - once was enough for that oversight.

Unplug air hole and poke finger in to bend back flap of valve otherwise it will take all day.

Grasp air hole fitting by making a ring from your index finger and thumb underneath the plastic valve.

Switch on vacuum.

Leaping smartly aside to avoid flailing hose, switch vacuum off again.

Grasp hose under right armpit wile grasping valve of air pillow as described before with left hand.

Switch on vacuum.

Flail about for ten seconds attempting to get right radius and ulna to spontaneously develop extra joint.

Turn off vacuum.

Grip hose between manly thighs, ignoring unseemly comments by family members, neighbours and other onlookers, grip air pillow valve as described before in left hand and switch on vacuum. By pressing vacuum on the ring formed by your finger and thumb you will eventually persuade the air pillow to inflate.

Wash blue vinyl blimp with hose to get all the stuff off that stuck to it anyway, and transfer pillow to pool, fighting sudden gale-force wind gusts, and lash at each diagonal with ratty clothesline.

Repeat.

The process became much more fun with the 4x15 foot pillow, which in only half an hour went from being an unwieldy, unmaneuverable, heavy blue vinyl tarpaulin to an extremely unwieldy, unmaneuverable, unaccountably even heavier blue one-inch-to-the-foot scale model of The Hindenburg. With perfect timing a small gale blew up just as I was getting a proper hold on the damned thing and I was swept around the garden from pillar to post, augmenting my manly grip with that of my manly teeth and, on one occasion, one of my legs too, all the while chanting the most powerful charms against the forces arrayed against me in a World Gone Mad. My vocabulary came into its own when I was slammed up against the razor-sharp corners of Mrs Stevie's four-burner barbecue which had decided to join the fun and become just mobile enough in the windy chaos to intercept me as I was pushed backwards and cushion what could have been a nasty collision with something not sharp at all.

Well, to cut a long story shorter, I finally had all these pillows inflated and resting in the water, ready for me to apply the pool cover. Which was when I realised that I had never gotten around to cleaning the crud of it last spring. I had no time to do it now. The topside was clean because I had managed, in typical a moment of genius, to lash the damned thing on upside-down last autumn. But I emphatically did not want the dirty side anywhere near my pristine clean pool what I had spent lo! These Many Hours that morning cleaning out. So I once again mounted the cover on the pool in inverted configuration. This wasn’t optimal because the seams are tucked under and form places where filth can be washed to form colonies of Azathoth-knows what if they point up and out but I was at the end of Mr Tether by then and speaking in tongues. It is my hope that the tented arrangement will allow the dirt to rinse off in the coming fall monsoons.

I had no more ratty clothesline for temporary cover securage, so I cut up one of my nice sheathed ropes. Normally, this would have been unthinkable, but it was getting late, the wind was getting up and I was getting fed up. With the cover on I set the pump to run for twelve hours and dropped in a “winterizing orb”, which is basically a way of adding copper sulphate to the water as an anti-fungal/algaecide. It didn’t work last year, but I noticed they’d changed the instructions and so gave it one more go. Worse comes to worse, I’ll just eat one load of diatomaceous earth next season by vacuuming up the crud at the start of the season. This new filter is so good I was tempted to not bother winterizing at all to tell the truth. The D.E. is so cheap it won’t matter if I have to completely clean out and rebuild the filter after the first cleaning next year, and the water stays clean.

Once the pool was down for the count I dismantled the tent gazebo and packed it into the garage, then called it a day. Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling are off to see Hamlet on Broadway tomorrow so I can get on with productive stuff then. I retired inside to staunch my wounds, shower and mess around with what Mrs Stevie is pleased to call "pointless crap".

I’d earned my supper this day.

All Aboard The Good Train Seaview

Today1 I could not, under an circumstances, be late for work.

I had one of those interminable "Meet the Teacher" nights at the Stevieling's school and had to be there at 7 pm. Why they insist on doing this is beyond me since almost everyone with a kid in that school has at least one parent who works in the city and who probably cannot get there under normal circumstances until 7:30pm without taking time off work.

Not only that, the way they do it means that you only get about ten minutes with each teacher to ask about the whole business of education from their point of view as it applies to your child.

Of course, the whole point is actually so the teacher can harangue parents about getting the kids to do their homework. Naturally, no-one is allowed to point out that most teachers today rarely do more than glance at said homework, let alone do anything so outré as mark the stuff with a grade, so the message is lost on the kids anyway. I often feel like yelling "you treat the homework seriously and so will we!" at these people. I digress.

As I say, I could not be late and so had little of my customary short patience to spare for the particular brand of idiot that infested the roads this morning. Traffic light dawdling was about usual2 with a nice variation when someone in a Ford Behemoth stopped at the green light to converse with the crossing guard. But pride of place has to go with the two dimwits who followed a semi into the hard shoulder just before the turn onto the main route to the station, then realised it wasn't going to turn, causing them to foul the now-moving traffic with their attempts to pull around the truck and make the turn.

Mistaking the hard shoulder for a "turning lane" is a common error in these parts. Almost everyone uses the shoulder as a turning lane, and few realise that it really isn't legal to do that. But what takes le Grand Prix Des Idiot Blithering in this case is that anyone familiar with the turn (the one just after going under the railway bridge) could not possibly have expected the truck to make the turn from the hard shoulder since it would have had trouble making the turn from the outside lane of Deer Park Avenue. American tractor-trailer rigs are long. The bloody thing would have demolished a car park wall if it had tried anything so monumentally stupid and the people in those cars should have been able to figure that out and factor it into their decision to pull in behind it.

I made the turn (around the truck) and in no time at all was sitting at the light where the right-turn immediately crosses the LIRR tracks a few yards west of Wyandanch LIRR station. This light is especially challenging for the L. I. driver because a natural tendency to treat "No turn on red" signs as optional, the crossing route being a major truck route and an innate lack-of-mental-oomph when it comes to who has right-of-way in a train vs. truck situation4. The light turns green, the crossing alarm goes off, the gate comes down and that is the signal for trucks turning right to enter battle with oncoming trucks turning left for the small area in front of the gate with no regard for the poor sods trying to go straight on. Massive traffic jams result if the poor sods don't get a clue and zig-zag between the turning trucks.

I eventually made it to a parking spot in a side street (all the parking spots in the LIRR lot are now taken by rich-git lawyers5 newly returned from their summer vacations) and leapt from my car to begin the sprint for the train. I could not be late.

Which was when, of course, I discovered I had left my wallet at home.

Pausing only to curse everyone and everything in the entire universe across all time while simultaneously doing the Rage Dance, I returned to the Steviemobile and drove home to get the wretched thing. Doing this made me miss the train, lose my parking space and be late. Thus was the day off to a rip-roaring start. One could only hold one's breath in anticipation of what the day might hold in store afterwards.

I lightened my journey by reading a book on Object Oriented Perl, a computer language that is many things to many people but is singularly unsuited to the rather arcane business of being Object Oriented6. That one can do the Object Oriented Programming thing at all in perl is a wonderment to be sure, but a first choice for the job it ain't, and the book reads rather like a primer in tax instructions written in Linear B. Unfortunately I was in a noisy car, liberally salted with cell phone louts and Typhoid Marys7 so I couldn't escape the book in the arms of Lethe8. Well, I might have done so if the bloody train hadn't been imitating that damned submarine from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and lurching unpredictably from side to side by a couple of feet every few seconds as we crossed yet another section of precision trackwork laid by the experts of the LIRR Permanent Way department. My brains felt like they were in a cocktail shaker. It's a wonder I didn't get a concussion.

I arrived at work, spent several fruitless hours trying to be productive, then made ready to leave early for the parent-teacher froofaraw. I decided to simply record my time in a spreadsheet rather than do battle with the official time collection system. For that I would need a clearer head.

The timesheet system is a piece of unadulterated crap which was designed around the central idea that the workforce was stealing time by not allowing an (unpaid) hour for lunch when doing the sums. Consequently, the bloody thing wants to deduct an hour from the recorded time once a given number of hours have been worked. I won't get into the arguments that have arisen as a result of someone working exactly that number of hours, but let's just say the process is ill-understood by the administrative assistants charged with collecting consultant timesheets. I am no longer a consultant so I just have to do battle with the machine.

And what a work of genius it is.

The interface provides no short cuts like an "I will be out all day" checkbox or an "I will be out all week" option. It is easy to enter the times absolutely honestly and find out two weeks later that you've been docked an hour's leave without pay because you factored in the lunch hour when you entered the times, then the machine factored it in again because it assumed you were trying to cheat the system. It also wants you to slide your start time to the end of your one hour "flex-time" window. This means if you book a week's vacation and start it at the earlier time, you'll get docked an hour because the software can't work out that you just took a bloody week off and slides the start times of the second and subsequent days but not the end time of the last day because you put that in when you booked the vacation under the assumption, like the dolt you are, the stupid thing was an actual, real timekeeping system, and your return from a week's well-earned rest (or a hospital: it does it for sick time too) is marked by the arrival in the mail of an LWOP notification. Getting that first LWOP notification in the mail is a Rite of Passage in this place. Everyone has fallen for it at least once, and we all keep an ear open for the anguished howls of the consultant-turned-salaried-employee figuring out that his/her first LWOP is not the result of mistaken timekeeping on their part, but lack of familiarity with the idiot logic it uses to "verify" the figures.

I long ago wrote a spreadsheet to figure it all out, and use it to record my time, transferring the figures to the official system when I'm properly alert.

Once I got home and then to the school I was forced to wait half an hour in the foyer, then I had to listen to administration staff lecture me for almost half an hour, leaving approximately eight minutes allocated for each teacher to talk to us and invite questions once we had actually located them in their classrooms. This meant a detailed examination of curriculum issues - such as why the Chemistry class, already three years late in the scheme of things, is dwelling on Physics rather than Acid + Base = Salt + Water, what valency means and how it works, and when are they going to get down to brass tacks and do some chemistry - is out of the question. I started doing this stuff at eleven. My kid hasn't so much as done a litmus test and she's sixteen. She did spend three school years studying plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanism though. No wonder the Americans compare so badly with the rest of the educating world9 when it comes to the after effects of their schooling.

We decided to decamp to Five Guys burgers afterwards for some much-needed comfort food while each of us pondered the meat-grinding education system and what it meant to us. The food was good, the conclusions weren't.

I can't fault The Stevieling on this one: School most decidedly Sucks.

  1. Thursday last. I'm a little backed up on these posts. Actually, that's like saying the economy is a little out of sorts right now. I might explain the why of the blog thing if I decide that I have reached the absolute nadir of my humiliation. I couldn't tell you the why of the economy, and neither, apparently, can anyone else.
  2. I sometimes lighten the3 mood by pretending to be the driver at the head of the line when the light changes by screaming in a falsetto voice" It's changed colour! What do I do? Why doesn't someone tell us what to do?". It wiles away the delay while the moron in question finally Gets A Clue and their vehicle starts rolling forward. The Stevieling thinks this is hilarious. Mrs Stevie, not so much
  3. i.e. my
  4. And what idiot puts a boom-gate right where a truck would need to stop when it illegally turns just when a train hoves into view only to find another red light? Who could predict that this would end with a busted gate, a dinged-up truck and a massive traffic jam, armed only with the knowledge of several years driving the same route?
  5. Please don't contest this on the grounds that you are a lawyer and you aren't rich: I share trains with these dolts and have to listen to their loud conversations and phone calls. If you are a lawyer who isn't rich, you’re doing it wrong
  6. Computer programs can be written in many ways. Doing so in a structured manner that provides clarity to the maintenance team, simplicity to the designer and efficient use of low-level resources when running has been a nirvana in the business since the advent of high-level computer languages. Object Oriented Programming is the latest and arguably most successful idea along these lines to come down the pike since Babbage started drawing axles and cogs. Like all the other stylistic fads that came before it, it is controversial and widely misunderstood. Funnily enough, most of the arguments about it center on how unobject oriented this or that language is, while failing to grasp the essential detail that if the bloody software doesn't work it doesn't matter how itis written
  7. Nothing says "sick day" like a ride on public transport in NY
  8. Couldn't get to sleep either
  9. Everyone looks good when comparing themselves to places that base their education system on extremist religious doctrine of course

Come Uppance

Sometimes life gives you a little pat on the back to make up for all the aggravation it puts you through on a day-to-day basis.

Case in point: A week last Saturday I was running errands and had joined a line of traffic waiting for a light so we could all turn left. As I pulled into line a large white panel truck1 a few cars ahead of me pulled out of line and onto the sidewalk. I drew level with a power pole and stopped. Suddenly, my attention was wrested from the gripping story I had been listening to on the radio by the even more gripping sight of the truck reversing at some speed towards me.

I looked around quickly and took what the military call a "sitrep". I was boxed by traffic. There was a narrow space between me and the power pole. The truck still had two wheels on the sidewalk and was approaching fast.

Mr Brain ran a couple of hi-speed simulations for my benefit. Three options seemed most likely:

a) the van would hit the power pole

2) the van would hit The Steviemobile a glancing blow all down the passenger side

♥) the van driver would see the pole, swerve at the last minute and drive the rear-end of his truck directly into me.

Since none of these options were good, the van was still on course for the pole and I was unable to maneuver The Steviemobile to avoid the whole business, I sounded my horn in a couple of short, polite beeps

The truck driver, hearing my warning, chose not to re-appraise his situation and actions, but to go with the standard New York Driver reaction to being informed he might not be cognisant of all the facts of his environment by cursing me loudly through his open window, while adjusting his speed and course by zero mph and zero degrees.

as he shot by my open passenger side window, his loud curses and pontifications of my parents sexual practises and marital status at the time of my birth were punctuated by the sweet sound of tearing metal and crushing glass as his passenger side door mirror was smashed to flinders on the power pole.

I waited, smiling sweetly until the light changed, and let him go before me so that I could luxuriate in the sight of all that twisted, mashed and above all expensive wreckage dangling from his door.

  1. For the UK reader, this is a ubiquitous animal on Long Island, used by any sort of mobile business that doesn't do landscaping, and is about the size and shape of the old long-wheelbase Ford Transit van

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pool Fun

Once again the pool turned green right when the weather turned nasty-hot.

This has been the pattern for the last three years. I have no idea why suddenly I lost the ability to keep the pool water clean, healthy and crystal clear after more than five years with nil problems, but once it goes green - typically because I didn't have the chance to check it in daylight every single day and no-one else has the wit to do it for me - no amount of filtering will fix the problem. The best I can do is kill the algae that makes the water green, but getting the now milky water clear again is impossible, even if I run the filter 24 hours a day.

I long ago theorised that this was because the particles that make the water cloudy are simply too small for the cartridge filter to catch. I have added emulsifiers to the pool water to make the crud clump up, but I've had only marginal results afterward, with the water clearing a little but still looking cloudy at the end of the day.

Research on the matter of filters led to the idea I might switch the cartridge-type filter system with either a sand filter or a diatomaceous earth system.

Cartridges are relatively cheap and easy to maintain. They work like this: The water is drawn out of the pool through a slot in the side wall into a sort of can, about the size of a catering can of peaches (around10 inches in diameter and about 15 inches deep). The water passes through a mesh basket, which strains out the leaves, branches, footballs and canoes and enters the lower half of the "can" in which the filter cartridge is installed. The water passes through the filter and out of a pipe in the bottom of the can, travels through the pump and is returned to the pool by means of a jet in the side wall, rather like a jacuzzi jet. The pump works by means of a rapidly spinning turbine-like impeller that takes in water at the center of a disk with vanes on it that fling the water outward to the outlet at the rim. Very robust, very simple. Relatively cheap as I have said.

Sand filters work in much the same way, except that there's no filter cartridge in the "can" and the water passes from the skimmer to a second container, typically either a cylinder or a sphere which is filled with sand. Water is drawn through the porous levels of sand which catches the crud and holds it. Periodically you have to swich the pipes around and reverse the flow of water to backwash the filth out of the sand, but that's a job done on rare occasions. The filter system is quite a bit more expensive than the cartridge type, typically six to ten times so, but lasts "forever" (the sand never wears out but the pump will, eventually) and it catches particles down to about one tenth of the size that the cartridge filter will trap.

Diatomaceous earth filters are a breed apart. They typically work out initially a little cheaper than sand filters, but have a repeat cost (the diatomaceous earth) which the sand filters don't. They are arguably the most efficient type of filter, with a truly impressive dirt removal properties but the pipework and other infrastructure is a quantum leap sideways in complexity. The other types of filter may be tedious to connect up, but with a D.E. system we step firmly into Mousetrap Game plumbing and Engineering Smarts prerequisites. The water is drawn through the skimmer as before and then into a second sealed skimmer with a fine mesh basket intended to run entirely full of water. It possesses a clear lid so the lucky owner can check that a shark, log or bather isn't in danger of being sucked through the works. This is important because the D.E. filter works by positive pressure rather than negative pressure: the water must be forced through the filter rather than drawn through it. This means that the pump is situated before the filter itself. Water is drawn from the second skimmer and forced into the D.E. filter container, thence back to the pool as before. The whole system runs at around 10 p.s.i. so all the parts have to be firmly fastened down, fitted with O-ring seals and all threads must be well wound with teflon tape.

I had wanted one of these for years.

About three weeks ago I took advantage of a sale and landed a D.E. system for about $3001. I hadn't assembled it because of lack of time, but as though by prescient vision of the greenness-to-come I began to do so during the week the pool water mutinied.

It came as a kit.

Eight boxes, each containing up to thirty bits and pieces. It looked like a do-it-yourself nuclear reactor kit. Once I had emptied everything out of the boxes, my kitchen floor looked like the back of an octogenarian plumbing contractor's truck. Because there was the possibility of there being substitution of "equivalent" parts, fittings had been included for all of the possibilities. Or not, as it turned out.

The first problem was encountered about three seconds after the various pieces were laid out on the living room floor. The instruction leaflet made repeated reference throughout to various photographs to clarify this or that possible ambiguity in the "one-size-fits-all" instructions.

Unfortunately, these instructions had been reproduced on inexpensive copying equipment and the photographs were so dark that no details were discernable in them. It would perhaps have not been so bad if each component hadn't been black. Trying to scry out how a black thing mounted onto another black thing in a photograph that was pretty much a square of undifferentiated black was apparently all part of the fun of D.E. filter assembly. I ended up using the cartoon drawing in the sale flyer2 and even then was flummoxed.

The second problem was more prosaic. The motor was mounted on its own baseplate, but the filter components had to be assembled on a shared, larger baseplate. Although the instructions had a line drawing to "clarify" the process, there were no holes that would let me mate the small baseplate to the larger with the bolts supplied. Snarling some first-order Words of Power I got out Mr Socket Set and removed the motor from its baseplate and attempted to remount it on the filter baseplate, on which there were about a dozen variously-spaced pairs of holes to accommodate umpty-tump different models of motor.

None of them matched the motor I had in my kit.

Moving on to some second-order Words of Power I grabbed Mr Drill and made some holes that did match, then I attempted to bolt the motor down. The bolts that came with the motor were, of course, too short to do the job. The bolts that came with the baseplate were long enough, but too fat to go through the holes in the motor mount, which couldn't be safely widened. All retailers of bolts were now, of course, closed. Without hesitation I moved to Third-Order Words of Power and did the Dance of Rage. Then I gave up in disgust, had a shower and went to bed.

The next day I procured bolts of the right size and length and mounted the motor to the filter baseplate. Feeling particularly pleased with myself I attached the diatomaceous earth containment vessel, which made the thing actually begin to look like a filter.

But not much of one because after consulting the instructions I could now see I had the D.E. canister mounted backwards so it was time for The Bonehead Dance and some more third-order Words of Power. Once I had the damned filter canister on the right way round I called it a night and went for a lie down with a cold flannel over my face.

The next day I went back to the pool supply place and took a look at their display models in order to get some sort of clue as to which holes in the various bits had to be connected to each other or the pool itself, then returned home and installed some L-bends and the hose that connected the pump to the D.E. vessel, and the pressure gauge in the D.E. vessel lid. I was doing all right until I realised that although I had a scad of bits left over, none of them would supply the last hose fitting I needed in order to connect the filter assembly to the pool. This was the proper moment for some fourth-order Words of Power, so I used some up while punching the furniture and calling down all manner of plagues upon the head of the idiot who sold me an almost-complete filter kit.

The next day saw me back in the pool supply place to buy the missing part, and I was done! This was the signal for the pool to turn green.

Mrs Stevie was mad because she had scheduled a pool party for the Sunday and now it was looking like it wouldn't happen. I dumped a double load of shock into the wretched thing, connected the pump of the cartridge filter to the mains, bypassing the timer, and dumped a double load of emulsifiers into the damn thing for good measure. Then I connected up the pool robot of extreme uselessness and crossed my fingers.

By Friday, the pool was murky but not green, but on Saturday it had a relapse and Mrs Stevie used some fourth-order Words of Power, then decamped with The Stevieling for whatever they do when they've had enough of Chateau Stevie. I decided that I would finish up a couple of chores and then fit the D.E. filter system and let it have a go at the demon pool of greenness.

I finally got started at about 2 in the afternoon. The first thing was to fit two shut-off valves to the pool plumbing. Because the D.E. filter sits below the pool's water level it is important to be able to isolate the water pressure supplied by the pool when servicing the unit. This was, believe it or not, fairly straightforward even though the pool was currently filled to levels exceeding that of the places the shut off valves needed to be installed in.

I had previously bought a kit with a bunch of generic stoppers, sized for common sizes of fittings and used to winterize the pool, which I did one year instead if simply draining off the excess like I usually do. Using these and a free hand I was able to block the various holes left by unscrewed fittings for the time it took to install and close the valves.

I carried the new filter out and put it in place, and removed the old pump and filter cartridge. I connected up the device and bled out the trapped air. Everything was, worryingly, going without a hitch. This was a danger sign of no small magnitude. I rely on a steady stream of small problems and inconveniences in my jobs to bleed off the anti-handyman forces that otherwise build up and precipitate catastrophe at the worst possible moment.

The instructions called for 11/2 lbs of diatomaceous earth to be mixed in a bucket "to the consistency of pancake batter". This was a problem. I had no idea what pancake batter looked or felt like. I took a guess that it meant a sludge-like consistency and got out the postal scale, a couple of fast-food coke cups, and slit open the 25lb bag of diatomaceous earth.

On reflection I should probably have relocated outside for this bit, but I wasn't paying attention on account of fretting about where the inevitable killer problem was going to manifest.

It turns out that diatomaceous earth could just as accurately be described as White Soot. No sooner had I opened the bag than clouds of choking white powder erupted into the air, coating everything in a five-foot radius and almost killing me there and then. Measuring out this stuff produced more and more chalky clouds of annoyance. It got everywhere.

Eventually I had the stuff mixed up in the bucket and was able to start the motor and pour the sludge into the skimmer. It didn't seem to make much difference, but I left it running and went inside to clean up, just as Mrs Stevie returned.

"What in the name of all that's holy is going on here?" she demanded in her trademark menacing shriek.

I caught sight of myself in the mirror, noting the white powder lodged in my beard and moustache and daubed on my nose, and spotting the postal scale with its tell-tale small drifts of white powder lodged in every crevice. "It's not what it looks like" I said, defensively.

"It looks like you've been measuring out that filter stuff in my living room instead of outside where it belongs" she snarled.

"Okay, it is what it looks like", I said.

The conversation from that point became by turns abusive and very abusive, and I don't want to talk about it any more. Suffice to say I ended up once again lying down with a wet cloth over my head.

The next morning, Sunday, Pool Party Day, dawned and I looked out of the bathroom window. I was astounded. I could see every crease and fold in the pool liner. The water was clean. Not just clean-ish. Clean. Mrs Stevie, who was out of sorts on account of it being her birthday and the correct offerings had not yet been made, was passing by. I suggested she look at the pool. Her reaction assured me that we would have a good day after all.

This filter is the bestest thing ever.

  1. Quell snip!
  2. Of a different filter model but beggars, choosers etc

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

More Of That "Life" Crap Happens

The lack of posts around here lately might have drawn peole towards the conclusion that nothing has been happening at La Famile Stevie of late, but, in fact, the reverse has been true in spades.

for a start, The Stevieling went to New Orleans for a Lutheran Gathering and Reconstruction Effort. She was impressed with the Non-Reconstruction activities, including a concert that was, apparently, "awesome". I'll have to take her word for that.

She also forgave Mrs Stevie for kitting her out with hiking (aka "ugly") boots and making her break them in before going, because after the first day she was the only Lutheran from her church without blisters. The congregation had been warned that there would be a lot of walking, but apparently they were no more "with it" than the kids when it came to suggesting prudent choices of footwear.

She was also sent off with gloves, the only child thus equipped, and therefore was the only one to survive the "reconstruction" project (which turned out to be another term for weeding) unscathed. She was mad about not getting to rebuild houses, or at least paint them, but happy that she still had skin on her hands.

Mrs Stevie and I had planned to Have Fun while the Stevieling was gone since it was my birthday and Mrs Stevie decided to suspend hostilities in celebration, but then she got scheduled to have her Chemotherapy port removed on the Friday and didn't feel like having fun for a few days, so we went with plan "B" and just waited 'til she felt up to arguing and had a row.

The next week just flew by, or to be more precise, teemed down. More gallons of wet from above because, Azathoth knows, we haven't had enough rain this year1. On the Thursday, just as I began my evening commute home, I was bombarded with phone calls and text messages, none of which I could respond to because they arrived in the short window in which my train moved out of Flatbush Avenue RR station and into the tunnel it takes for a couple of miles or so. Leaving the tunnels I found myself still unable to respond because my phone was bombarded anew with yet more text messages and calls shunted to voicemail. When the phone, in danger by then of melting from the overstimulation of its vibrator gubbins2, finally allowed me to actually read the texts and listen to the voicemails it turned out that Mrs Stevie had been rushed to hospital with some problem that caused her heart to beat so fast - 200 beats a minute it turned out - that she became "unresponsive" and was rushed to the emergency room of Plainview hospital.

I contacted the Stevieling, who had been thrown into a small panic because Mrs Stevie's boss had called her before me3, and told her what I knew, involved her by asking her to get a Google Maps route from Chateau Stevie to said Emergency Room and settled back in my seat for an hour's serene contemplation of impending bachelorhood C/W vistas of the flood of crumpet now to open before me. Of course, this was too good to be true.

I eventually got to the hospital to find a goodly selection of family already there4 and made my way back to bay number 13 5 where Mrs Stevie was watching reruns of "NCIS" while hooked up to oxygen. She was surprisingly not-at-death's-door, only in mild discomfort from having various monitoring sensors stuck to her body and inserted into it in places I could only speculate upon.

"So. Feeling better then?" I asked?

"No thanks to anyone here! And why is the sound for this TV permanently off?" she wittily replied.

A couple of hours passed as though they were a month, then a doctor hove into view to say he couldn't find any problems and she could go home. Mrs Stevie asked what had caused the problem, but he didn't know. I asked if the problem could have been psychological in origin, and he glared at me and snapped "No!" Why this suggestion should have upset him I don't know, unless he thought that my question, designed to elicit a confirmation of my thought that it might be stress related, was actually a paraphrasing of "Is she bugnuts or what?", and even if that were true, why he held psychology in such low esteem is beyond me. Perhaps he was struggling with his own inner demons. Perhaps he just wanted Mrs Stevie off the premises tootsweet, for which I couldn't blame him.

I returned home to find a pile of bills that needed paying, including a Visa bill from Bank of America that included a service charge because I had paid the bill two days late. They had also sent, under separate cover, a helpful letter explaining how to most effectively use a credit card to minimize financial outlay. This I found a bit much for three reasons:

a) I always clear the balance on this card. I've twice before missed payments, once because a bill fell behind a piece of furniture, once because my brain shut down. Twice in almost a decade. This late payment could, I suppose be said to represent a third infraction.

2) The credit card industry for years rewarded people with bad payment habits and pretty much rubbed the faces of anyone responsible with their money in the dirt. The way you got your credit limit raised on any credit card in the last twenty five years was to run it up high, make minimum or less-than-balance payments for a couple of months and then clear it. A ten- to fifteen percent increase in your credit limit for that card would be announced by the next post.

♥) Bank of America is at the center of the financial meltdown and a bonus scandal for which they were just fined 33 million bux for not keeping their public balance sheet properly (it's used to tell shareholders and would-be shareholders what you're worth and how much you've promised to shell out on stuff in the near future). I happen to cleave to the eccentric belief that anyone who demonstrably cannot run a bank for toffee has no business telling me how to run my pitiful finances "efficiently". Nowhere in the "suggestions" they sent were the instructions to lie to anyone who could give them cash about what I was going to spend it on, or using my influence with politicians to get my crushing debts covered by the taxpayers.

These buggers crack me up. They, and the newspaper reporters that cover them, claim that the ridiculous bonuses they pay are justified because:

a) Those departments where bonuses are paid were profitable

2) The bonuses were guaranteed by employment contracts

♥) The bonuses are paid "mostly" in stocks in the company the people work for, most of whom have lost a bundle as a result of that. þ) If they don't pay them, the individuals concerned will flee to other firms and their expertise will be lost. Indeed, I heard one analyst admit that the AIG bookkeeping was so twisted that firing the buggers involved would mean no-one would be able to understand what the company was actually worth.

To these idiots I respond in the following way:

a) You're missing the point. Without a public bailout these incompetents would be on the street trying to get work in the rather more accurate light of having put themselves out of a job with no references.

2) Has no-one in the financial industry heard the term "Force Majeure?" It means "Sorry guv. I know we inked a contract saying you were quids-in for the next three years but the money has run out so you're history". These firms were all, in every way calculable, broke until the bailout gave them fistfuls of free cash, at which point it was Bonanza Time for the Boys Upstairs.

♥) Lies. The bonuses are paid partly in stock options, a sweetheart insider deal to sell stock to the boyos at a cut rate, a process so rife with fraud Steve Jobs was outed for fouling before the meltdown was fully underway. Steve Jobs, a man so rich he need never work another day in his life cheated on a process that already guaranteed him a stock price no-one else could get. I digress. You want to pay the bonuses entirely in stock, add a rider that the shares so "earned" cannot be sold for 24 months and I'm all for it. That way, even if some bugger has cooked the books he can't get out from under quick enough to guarantee he won't be caught. No more guaranteed cash bonuses for these bastards who demonstrably know little about how the economy actually works despite their bragging that they do.

þ) This is just laughable. If a mechanic screwed up so badly that his place of work was threatened with closure, the owners would fire him with extreme prejudice. Ditto nurses, computer programmers, firemen, garbage collectors and everyone else you can think of up to and including the President of the USA (although the last bugger to sit in the chair seems to have gotten clean away now I come to think upon it). If a computer systems expert introduced procedures that only he or she could understand as a job protection scheme, as has happened recently in a much publicized case in San Francisco and in several less publicized cases in my own experience stretching back over 30 years in the biz, he or she would be subject to severe penalties including, depending on where the computers were located, heavy fines and imprisonment. Jail a couple of these fbleepers for five years and the rest would soon fall into line.

And then there is this whole sorry "healthcare reform" hysteria, with Americans I normally respect running around convinced that a nationwide government plan run alongside the extremely self-marginalizing private insurance schemes will spell the end of civilization as they know it.

If ever there was a broken healthcare system, the American one is it. Americans often proudly announce to anyone who doesn't move quickly enough that the USA has the best health care system in the world6 without taking time to ponder the usefulness of any healthcare system that people cannot afford to use. If anything illustrates the bankruptcy of the current model it is that my own healthcare insurance policy now wants to charge me a co-payment for hospital visits, including emergency rooms (though they generously state they will refund the 50 dollars for an emergency room visit if I am admitted to hospital, while omitting to stress that I will then be dunned for 100 dollars), and that to avoid unnecessary expense I should visit alternate emergency clinics (listed on their helpful website) for "non life-threatening emergencies".

Re-read that. Part of the much-vaunted "personal choice", often touted as the primary raison-d'etre of the current US healthcare system, the removal of same being the bugbear waved in front of people should anyone (like Hillary Clinton back in '95) try and change things, now include the personal choice to become an expert medical practitioner with the knowledge to self-diagnose emergency conditions as life-threatening or not.

Even better, my dental plan has just declined (again) to cover a dental procedure needed to fix a 50 year old tooth (on which the warranty went out years ago), citing an "age-related" exclusion. Apparently, this dental plan is based on the notion that one needs less dental work as one matures. I imagine it was originally intended for Rugby Football teams and Hurley players, who typically knock out all their teeth before they're thirty.

And this morning I was joined on my two-stop subway ride by a woman who spent the trip to stop one haranguing the air about "people who try and claim more of the public transport than they're due". I initially though this was intended for me since I had stood aside to let some children off and been elbowed aside for my pains by a crowd who wished to board now, and had been rather forceful in asserting my own right to a seat as a result. However, she seemed after a little observation to be directing her weird diatribe at the air around a lady passenger of great size. Normally under these circumstances I would, of course, have offered my seat to the large lady so she would squish The Oratrix (for such I named her), but I'm having trouble with leg pain and didn't.

The large lady debarked, but the diatribe didn't stop. I turned to another passenger and we traded a grin, at which point The Oratrix began to direct her attention my way. I began to lose it and started to giggle, The Oratrix got a little more personal (I think; it was hard to tell since her peroration was voiced in the same manner as a William Burroughs novel is written and sense only sometimes made it past her lips). As I stood for my stop she demanded in the plaintext if I was laughing at her. Actually, she said something along the lines of "You better not be laughing at me". I spluttered "Keep taking the tablets miss" and stepped off the train, laughing hard now at the thought of her rage-enhanced dribble entertaining the others for the long ride to Jay Street/Borough Hall.

Sudden thought: I hope no-one got stabbed by The Babbling Loon of the Seventh Avenue Line.

  1. Warning: This statement contains significant quantities of irony
  2. My hatred of cell phone ring tones extends to my own phone and I try and avoid inflicting it on anyone if possible. Would that everyone else would do me the same courtesy
  3. Lawyer. I used to think lawyers were smart but now after meeting a few dozen of them I realize that they only have to appear smart twice in their lives - when they take their finals at Law School and when they take the Bar exams for their state. I remain amazed that some of the ones I have met could manage that
  4. or to be more precise, a Bil the Elder's entire in-law-to-be collection was there; Mrs Stevie's family were all at home watching "McGuyver" reruns and mine moved to north west Canada the minute I wasn't looking
  5. Another bum steer - it appears that that number confers no lack of luck on the occupant of the room, just their husbands
  6. It is notable that most who say this have no actual knowledge of other healthcare systems; these are the same people who believed George Bush Senior when he blamed rising health care costs on hordes of Canadians swarming over the border to tax our system. People believe this tripe despite the self-evidently ridiculous notion of people abandoning the umbrella of their insurance to pay privately for American healthcare, and the even more ridiculous notion that this, if is could happen, would magically increase costs to the average American

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All In All It's Just Ay...Nother Kick In The Balls

So, another click on the odometer of life, another digit rolling down to replace the one there for the last 365 days and Azathoth knows how many now out-of-warranty parts silently going nails-up in what is laughingly referred to as my body.

The Stevieling departed Chateau Stevie sometime around the middle of the bloody night, bound for the airport, thence to New Orleans in the company of a host of Lutherans who yearn to "fellowship" and repair houses washed away when the city re-enacted the classic Led Zeppelin song, and stuff like that.

Before she left she woke me in accordance with the instructions I had left the night before, which I had written in a state of mild post-beer euphoria and therefore hadn't fully thought through the timing involved, to wish me Many Happy Returns and let me wish her luck. It is my fervent hope that the child heard the word I shouted when she poked me awake as "luck". I came awake enough to accept tribute1 and to offer her my best wishes for her term of duty in the Lutheran Expeditionary Force, then I fell back into a deep sleep in just the right position to trap a nerve in my right arm.

I awoke at 7 am with the three useful fingers and the thumb of my right hand numb. I shook them to wake them up, which in retrospect was a bad idea since the nerves, once awakened, decided to run a simulation of what it's like to get your hand caught in a rat-trap. As I type this, some two and a half hours later, the tip of my index finger is still very painful. I guess I just found one of those newly out-of-warranty parts then.

Things I did not get for my birthday:

  • Flying Car
  • Paid weekend on the Space Wheel
  • Rocket Shoes with an altimeter in the heel
  • My 401K investment capital for the last eight years returned2

But at least I have job satisfaction, an idyllic home life and my health.

Oh, wait. No I don't.

  1. A rather nice copy of the movie "The Colour of Magic"
  2. I know investments are never guaranteed but Cthulhu on a bike! It comes to something if the money would have been better off if had been stuffed in a mattress, then the mattress had been set on fire. And people are still saying nice things about the Bush-Cheney years in which the government fiddled (in every sense of the word) while the economy went down the pan. But thank Azathoth we got that Saddam Hussein bloke, totallyun-implicated with the 911 attacks while hoarding absolutely no Weapons of Mass Destruction, even though the point of the whole affair was to get Osama Bin Laden (still at large). At least Operation Straw Man was a complete success (if you don't count the whole "quagmire" aspect of it)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Domestic Bliss, Chateau Stevie-Style

It finally stopped raining long enough for me to get the cover off the swimming pool

I normally aim to have the pool up and wasting my time by late May or Early June, but it is a practical impossibility to remove the pool cover without draining the water out of it first, and this year each time I had siphoned off the wet more had fallen from the sky to replace it. I was beginning to believe that I wouldn't ever get a chance to open the bloody thing to be honest, because once we get into mid July the heavens will open on a semi-regular basis in a series of tropical downpours. This is generally followed by an even wetter August through to September, at which point the weather veers into the brass-monkey version of Fall we've been getting of late.

First job was to remove the lock that secures the little windlass on which is wound the ends of the cable that is stitched through the eyelets on the cover to pull it tightly around the walls of the pool in the manner of a drumskin, albeit a particularly loose and floppy drumskin. None of the keys on the ring would fit the lock and turn (though one jammed inside it nicely for several jiggling, swearing minutes) but it turned out that once I had gone through every key on the (large) ring, the lock turned out to be unlocked anyway. I dimly remembered that I couldn't find the key at the end of the previous swimming season and had to rush the normally precise pool shut-down procedures on account of the gale force winds that had sprung up the moment I had wrestled the cover into place, and had elected to leave the lock unfastened until I could instigate a search for it.

The cable then could be unwound from the windlass by a process of walking away from the pool to keep the wire taught1 until I hit the big hook used to hang the vacuum on with the small of my back, at which point an alternate method was employed in which I stood on the twirgly mass of cable with both feet and stretched upward so that lengths of cable were pulled off the spool, and then I gathered up the slack, stood on the coils of cable and did it all again. After that it was a matter of only an hour or so to pull the twirgly cable through the eyelets until I had a tangled mass of knotted steel-reinforced cable wound round the fence, my feet and my ankles. It was all very trying.

I pulled off the pool cover, wetting myself down with the last remnants of the stinking goo that forms from rainwater, old leaves, twigs, algae and mosquito larvae, and made my first direct observation of the pool water, which this year was clear, I think. I say "think" because it was hard to tell the colour of the water when the bottom of the pool was a thick mat of verdant growth. A mat of algae of truly staggering proportions had taken root on the floor of the pool, and was busy working on its first flint axe-head.

How? How had this stuff grown when there was no light? It was green, which meant it was photosynthetic. It needed light the way I need bacon sandwiches, but the pool cover is several microns of jet black material through which no light passes. I fearfully peered again into the water as the ugly thought presented itself that some higher, bioluminescent life-form had evolved in the pool and was even then plotting to take over the unsuspecting world. This was terrible! What if I had loosed some pool-incubated alien horror on the pacifistic Americans? They were so child-like they would be killed for food or used as hosts in some sickening parasitic way before they realised their danger. Clearly, Action was called for.

I long ago2 figured out that it is cheaper, quicker and less mentally debilitating to drain the pool of such polluted water and to clean it, then refill it with fresh, clear water than to attempt to mitigate the problem with filters, vacuums chemicals and imprecations. Not only that, draining it means I actually get to swim in the thing rather than just look at it as the temperatures soar past 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so I grabbed my trusty submersible pump and one of the hosepipes and began the process of getting the water, algae and PBLTAs3 out of the pool and onto the driveway, where this liquid challenge to Mom and Apple Pie would end up in the drains where it belonged. I was so overcome with emotion at the thought of how I had just saved democracy that I went for a lie down.

When I awoke, about an hour later, it was to find that the threat to democracy was now forming a pool in the middle of the sidewalk, which it seems has sunk owing to all the bad weather of late. Cursing liberally, I relocated the hose so that Mrs Stevie would walk in the stream when she got back from whatever she and the Stevieling were off doing while I was busy saving the Free World. This proved to be the key to removing the threat for good.

Powerful as my submersible pump was, it couldn't shift a full pool of water in the eight hours it had before I went to bed. Not wanting to burn out the pump by running it dry, I turned it off until the next day, leaving the pool to siphon by gravity overnight. The next day I resumed pumping operations, and began breaking up the algal mat with a scrubbing brush on a very long stick (a standard piece of pool maintenance gear rather than a Stevie-improvisation, in case you were wondering). I saw no evidence of PBLTAs, which meant that my quick thinking had probably saved the day. Of course, I would remain an unsung hero in this action, since no reporters for major news outlets read this blog (nor any reporters for the minor news outlets, even those UFO-ridden free papers you get at supermarkets come to that) but that was okay. I knew whose heroic measures saved the country, never once thinking of the danger to his own life while doing so, and that was enough. I'm not one to bang my own trumpet.

The once proud civilisation of green goo broke into pieces and was sucked up the pump and flushed away with the last of the water. Or almost the last of it. I could see that the water was deeper on the other side of the pool, where the tangle of cable had been abandoned, than on the side I had deployed the pump. In order to finish the job, I would have to move the pump. Then I could wash the little pools of algae in towards the still-submerged pump and get the liner clean.

I should explain that when we4 put in the pool, we were persuaded that we should use this rubber cat-litter-like product as a cushioning layer between the pool liner and the pounded earth it rested on. We were supplied with four bags of same as part of the installation package. We were then informed it would take about sixteen bags to do the job on a pool our size, and we, like mugs, bought it. The instructions showed how to rake the rubber granules into a flat, cushioning surface on which the liner would lay. What the instructions carefully avoided saying was how every step taken on this stuff would leave a deep hole in it, or that dragging the liner into place would inevitable scoop the stuff up and redeploy it all on one side of the pool, meaning it would all have to be re-raked. It was all extremely tiresome. Once the liner was attached and the water added, the stuff gradually crept around forming small pot-holes in the liner in which dirt collected. I recommend that no-one use this product. There must be a mat-style rubber padding one can use instead of this granulated rubber rage-inducer. if not, improvise one or just put the damned thing down on dirt like everyone used to do. Anyway, it was into these pot-holes that the algae was collecting, and why I came up with the submerged pump/hose-pipe method of cleaning the pool liner.

I relocated the pump, and it promptly quit on me.

I field-stripped it to see if something was jamming the impeller, but I couldn't see anything jamming it. I eventually discovered by a lengthy process of elimination that the pump was now tripping the GFCI. Somehow, it had developed a spontaneous Ground Fault.

This is, of course, the very bane of any job: the breakdown of an essential piece of equipment, adding hours to the original job while whatever it is gets fixed or replaced. In this case, replaced, because I've spent enough hours of my life on piddling side-quests fate has shoved onto my plate. I was mad because I have come to rely on that pump for all sorts of water shifting jobs and now it wasn't there when I needed it. It was particularly galling that it had gone nails-up at the very end of the job. I was within thirty minutes of refilling the pool when the pump failed, and I had no alternate way of doing the job.

So it was off to Home Despot where I went through the usual displays of stuff in beaten up boxes in the hope of finding a unit that a) did not look like someone had used it and then returned it5 and 2) had all the pieces it was supposed to have. In this I was unsuccessful.

Some day someone will explain to me why the managers of Home Despot franchises think anyone wants to buy stuff that comes in a beaten-up box or that has been given a damned good thrashing by the forklift's tines while being "stocked". Someone will also explain why people treat other people's stuff so cavalierly. I have no doubt that many of the boxes were ripped apart by "customers" investigating the contents. Idiots catering to animals. Man, I'm growing to hate New York.

I zoomed over to a nearby Blowes where I discovered a nice little unit (not as nice as my original, but that sort of goes without saying in these days of "just so good an no better" thinking) that only cost %150 of what I wanted to pay, so it was grab one, and a big bottle of bleach and head off for The Steviemanse.

The new pump proved up to the task and in no time at all I had the pool bottom clear of water and was ready to scrub the bottom with a short-handled scrubbing brush (better control and more oomph than the longer handled one). It was at this point that my sandal strap tore out of its mounting and almost pitched me onto my face. I discarded both beach shoes and walked round the pool so I could pull out the pump. The twirgly cable caused me to have a slight delay as I freed my toes and ankles from its vampyric embrace, then I was able to skin the sole of my right foot on an obliging raised paver, forcing dirt and grit into the wound and some class four swear words out of my mouth. I hopped around the garden on my left foot while attempting to suck out the poison until the almost unbearable agony subsided to a sharp, stabbing pain, then got the old pool ladder (which is a step-ladder design) and climbed into the now almost clean pool.

I say "almost clean" because the first thing I did was to step into a shallow pond of something that looked like water but felt like concentrated sulphuric acid in the slash on the sole of my right foot, eliciting more howls of manly anguish, swearing, pleas for death and so forth. Once the moment had passed, about ten minutes later, I was able to finish the task, climb out, remove the steps from the pool, rig a hose and begin the task of filling the wretched tub all over again. Only then was I free to seek medical attention for my poor foot.

I limped into the bathroom, past the sniggering Mrs Stevie, and applied a field dressing, then returned to the scene of action and threw in half a bottle of bleach. It was getting late, what with slashing of feet, twirgling of cables and malfunctioning of pumps, and I realised that the task of filling the thing was going to take more than a day. Since I wasn't going to risk the pool overflowing by running the hose overnight, there would be more time for the insidious green goo to regain a foothold. This I offset by making the water highly chlorinated from the get-go. A few hours later, when the pool was about half-full, I added a sachet of shock powder with algaecide to seal the deal.

When I left home this morning there was still about three hours worth of water filling to go. I left this in the capable hands of the Stevieling, with vivid descriptions of the vengeance I would wreak on her tiny self should she disappear into Stevieling Land for a few hours and allow the ruddy pool to overflow.

So I expect I shall find an inch of water in the basement when I get home tonight.

  1. It goes very twirgly after six months being wound on the spool and will tangle at the drop of a hat if it is let go slack, adding hours to the job while you disengage it from itself, the scenery, your tools and appendages
  2. Last year
  3. Postulated Bioluminescent Threat to America
  4. i.e. I
  5. A common Home Despot problem despite their introduction of a rental program to alleviate that very practice