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