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.


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.


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.


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!