Friday, December 31, 2010

The Crap Goes Ever Ever On

A Day in The Life of Yours Truly.

Awake after a grand total of three hours sleep. The rest of the time spent coughing up a lung thanks to infection spread by thoughtless clod of a colleague. Reflect that next month the LIRR ticket price will soar to a new high, as will the subway metrocard costs. Contemplate choking to death on own rage at same. Alarm goes off.

Shower. Bath plug-hole blocked again, so end up paddling in mixture consisting of own sloughed-off night sweat, soap, water, Head 'n' Shoulders shampoo and dandruff. Wonder why skin on feet so red and tender. Tread on removed bath plug bruising right sole severely.

Limp out of shower, attempt to dry off with towels rendered water-repellent by various laundry chemicals.

Dress. Discover no clean socks that fit feet, so don toe-socks bought during 70s in France.

Assemble gear for commute, including chapstick for badly chapped lips, and highly acidic wart removal stick for troublesome planar wart on thumb. Place each in its own pocket to avoid possible confusion over similar packages.

Exit house, discover car windows frozen solid.

Sit in car with engine racing using a combination of anti-freeze window washer, cold air and class two Words of Power to melt ice. Lose ten minutes in this way.

Drive to station along frozen half-plowed roads also used by idiots in SUVs. Attempt to find parking spot without ice or broken glass in it.

Buy coffee from Indian gentleman in station.

Hear announcement that train is operating "on time". This is an automated message triggered by the train not having arrived two minutes after the posted time.

Train rolls up three and a half minutes later. Board train.

Discover coffee undrinkable swill. Train picks up loud clods at Farmingdale, then Bethpage. Drink coffee to cheer self up.

Arrive in Atlantic Terminal bursting for a pee. Visit brand new washroom. Discover that after a public information promotion that cost millions on the subject of coughing into one's elbow to avoid spreading disease on the MTA, the LIRR (part of the MTA) has no soap dispensers in the men's washroom. This mirrors the situation at Jamaica. Wonder at acumen of MTA morons who think that coughing is a Public Health problem but unwashed hands after stall use aren't.

Arrive at work and deal with increasingly annoying stuff until lunchtime.

Eat lunch - typically something from one of the three places in easy reach - Chinese food, Pizza or a Kebab. Consider killing self in order to introduce element of variation to lunch.

Deal with more annoyance. At around four pm split lip. Reach for soothing chapstick and, without checking, apply generous coating of acid-laden wax to cracked, bleeding mouth, burning off both lips.

Descend to subway for train to Atlantic Terminal. Delays cause train not to arrive until LIRR train departure imminent.

Run through Atlantic Terminal and board crowded LIRR train.

Ride home in slow train rocking so hard head cracks against window while attempting to snooze.

Pick up car, windows frozen. Sit in car with engine racing using a combination of anti-freeze window washer, cold air and class four Words of Power to melt ice.

Drive home.


Go to bed.

Dream of the cold peace of oblivion.

Repeat four times.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ho Ho Bleeping Ho

Ho Ho Bleeping Ho

It began sometime around two weeks ago.

One of the consultants in the office began a hacking, bronchial cough1 worthy of a Dickensian consumptive. The sounds were so bad that I was certain he would take a few days off, but he decided to soldier on and the cough has been ringing through the office now for three weeks. In only a week this thoughtless clod had given his disease to the woman in the next cube, who has just returned from maternity leave.

The woman is on the same team I am. I tried to avoid close contact with her mostly because having spent my Thanksgiving in bed sick I had no wish to have my Christmas ruined, and with each hacking roar from her next door neighbor had to restrain myself from walking over to The Clod's desk and explaining the wisdom in taking sick time, even if you have to foot the bill for same from your own consultant-level wages, at blunt instrument point. Surface. Whatever.

My boss didn't help matters. He likes to call meetings on the spur of the moment, too much of a spur to secure an official conference room in which to host it. He gets around this by ingeniously using his office as the location for these meetings. The office can comfortably hold about four people, four people who must be on very friendly terms given the proximity in which they must sit. Meetings of late have involved from seven to nine people (and in one spectacularly bizarre instance, fifteen bewildered people).

I have pointed out in so many words the wisdom of crowding the workforce, sick and well, into tight spaces and forcing them to share air and the aerosol of spittle we each of us produce as a by-product of speaking. I shall from now on be attending such meetings by phone, but I'm getting ahead of the story.

On the 23rd of December, the last work day in our operation before Christmas, the guy in the next cube to me and I began coughing almost simultaneously, suggesting that something had made its way through the A/C system to the register situated over our desks. Whatever the vector, by Christmas Eve I was so ill I had to cut my participation in the traditional Famile Mrs Stevie Xmas Eve Extravaganza very short and go to bed.

This was a bad idea, because although I was sick as a dog and getting sicker with every breath, lying down with this sort of upper respiratory tract infection only makes things worse for me, and in no time I was in for a sleepless night hacking until my throat ruptured and the post nasal drip reduced the entire back of my throat to one huge sore.

Christmas Day was canceled.

We were supposed to wander over to my In-Laws after we'd had at the prezzies under our tree, but I was so ill I begged off for an alternate plan involving lying on the sofa groaning and calculating how far I could push the dosage limits on the old Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu given that I had already redlined the limits on Vicks Dayquil and the even more warning-infested Vicks Nyquil.

The day wore on with the room rocking back and forth ever more violently while I made an attempt on the world record for facial tissue usage and snot production. The cough periodically made its presence known and by the time the afternoon had reached the point at which in the UK the Queen appears on the telly to tell everyone to buck up and stop whining I had pulled all the muscles in my chest, severely limiting my nose-clearing efforts (but not my body's ability to produce nasal mucus).

That night I decided to sleep on the recliner sofa, but I woke up once or twice an hour through the night and hence managed to get precisely no value from this "sleep".

I cannot sleep sitting up, even if that is the only option.

Now the problem with all this was that there was an awful lot of liquid involved, far more than I could comfortably consume. Every time I awoke I would take a couple of mouthfuls of ice-water (or stagger to the kitchen to refill the pint glass with ice and water, then take a couple of mouthfuls of water), and every four hours I would undertake the chemistry set nonsense of turning Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu tablets into Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine.

Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine is an almost-soluble, effervescent product I find efficacious in mitigating the downside of colds and flu-like viruses. One adds two tablets to water, they fizz for a bit and dissolve - mostly. The process can be brought to more full completement by vigorously stirring the mixture until it stops fizzing. I've found it to be a very effective treatment but it is another 4 ounces of liquid.

There was also the matter of the Metamucil fiber product I have to take at least once a day in order for my digestive system to stay in line and not mutiny with extreme prejudice. This is an orange-flavored almost-soluble powder that upon mixing with water produces a suspension of powder in faintly orange-ish tainted water. I've found better solubility can be had by placing the mixture in a Magic Bullet blender and spinning everything for a couple of seconds.

Better solubility does not mean better flavor.

I have, over the course of a few months of this torture come up with the technique of using not water, but a mixture of 50% thin orange juice and 50% water, and blending in the powder. This works, is palatable in the same way orange ice-lollies that contain no hint of real orange are palatable on a hot day when the thirst is on you, and does what it is supposed to do.

But it is another 6-8 ounces of liquid.

Years ago I could put away several pints of beer over a Saturday lunchtime, but now the sheer volume of liquid called for by that program of events is terrifying. I can't get that much through the old kidneys fast enough that I could even make the attempt today so naturally I looked for ways to reduce unnecessary fluid intake during this fluid-intense Christmas.

Back at Thanksgiving I had been in the same bind vis-a-vis liquids and colliding Metamucil and Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu schedules, and had come up with what at the time seemed like the perfect solution - I would combine the two products in one Orangey Drink of Health.

I reasoned thus: I would first produce the Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine and stir until all nascent effervescence had been excised from the mixture. I would use this instead of water in my water/juice/Metamucil charge with which I would load the Magic Bullet. Simple. No downside.

I had, of course, neglected to factor in one quite major downside: that this plan was conceived in Mr Brain, and that the proof of concept mental experiments were run in that perfidious organ's grey matter. I have mentioned before that Mr Brain is demonstrably not my friend2 and this was not to be an exception to that rule of thumb.

I spent a depressing amount of time stirring the Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu mixture to induce all the treacherous carbon dioxide to come out of solution, then added it to the juice and Metamucil and gave the result two seconds in the Magic Bullet.

A sad mistake.

The stupid Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu solids still had some oomph in them and the vigorous swizzling they got in the blender produced enough gas to lock the blender's container onto the cutter base. Indeed, I could see it was about one more swizzle from blowing itself apart. It took a while and many, many class four Words of Power but I finally managed to rotate the base one quarter turn in the "unscrew" direction.

At which point it did blow apart.

This was foremost in what passes for my mind when I concocted the Christmas Day version. First rule was "No Blending of anything that has come into contact with Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine". I would blend the Metamucil with the juice, then add the Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine, pre-dissolved and fizzless. The result would be stirred, not blended.

This plan was carried out as the kitchen reeled and span around me and there was no problem with exploding blenders. There was however a problem in that Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine is all-but immiscible with a suspension of Metamucil in orange juice. Drinking this while all visual stimuli were urging reverse peristalsis in the most strident tones was...challenging. I would go into more detail, but I'm half-convinced I hallucinated the worst parts.

Boxing day was spent feeling horrible. My headache vied with my pulled muscles for who got second billing to the throat. I was now at the point of adding a shot of Southern Comfort to both the juice/Metamucil concoction and the Alka Seltzer Cold and Flu medicine.

And then it began snowing.

It snowed all Boxing Day, all that night and all this morning. This was made infinitely more inconvenient by sustained winds of 40 mph gusting to about twice that. By morning there were over 7000 reported power outages on Long Island and the TV morning news programs were begging people to stay home.

This was made even easier for me by the LIRR, who sensibly shut down, abandoning only the bare minimum of poor bastards to the unheated facilities unequipped with so much as drinking water that pass as waiting rooms on that blighted mass transit abortion. There was an actual American Red Cross mercy mission to Hicksville in order to prevent someone proving that if no-one makes any effort to make things otherwise we live in a world still capable of killing people the same way it did in the Dark Ages - with weather.

I felt well enough to beak out Troll, The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness and clean out driveway around 11 am, once the snow had stopped and the wind had dropped. The kid from across the street offered to use "a bigger snowblower" on my drive for me, but I declined, reasoning that there were enough blocked driveways to go around. No sooner was our driveway looking clear than this same kid asked me if I could help him and his brother clear his own driveway! I would have offered anyway so I said I would and did, during which time they disappeared out of theater. Once I had cleared their drive (a little miffed that I had been left to do the job alone, I admit) I did the Singh's driveway as best I could, then nipped down the road to help Pedro and Mike with their drives3.

And so to lunch, and an all-afternoon session with my Jeeves and Wooster DVDs4.

  1. I used to get these regularly as a side benefit of my pack-a-day cigarette habit. The sound of the tubes in the lungs abrading destructively against themselves is one of the most easily identified sounds in my sound memory bank
  2. And hasn't been for much longer than I suspected when I began writing The Occasional Stevie. Going over all the shenanigans that that miserable brain has set me up for by denying me access to intelligence at key moments of my life has revealed a most insidious pattern. How could I, a chemistry student, have not known that adding Magnesium powder to Ammonium Dichromate would result in a rather weak but still powerful Thermite recipe? Only by having the image of the Periodic Table blanked from my consciousness during this sorry business, that's how. The relationship between Chromium, Oxygen and Magnesium is obvious just by looking at the Periodic Table (at least, the one I used to use; the new one is daft) which was, after all, designed to help spot and avoid accidental stuff like this.
  3. Mike called to say that the same kid had offered to clear his drive for cash but had never appeared
  4. A present

Monday, November 08, 2010

No Title, No Content

So I looked out of the bathroom window this morning and saw it was snowing.

It didn't stay round for long, but yesterday it was warm enough to go without a jacket and today it's brass monkey weather.

It's like the world decided to give Fall a miss and go straight from summer to winter.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Agony! Much More Painful Than Yours!

So on Thursday night I started to feel a pain in my lower right abdomen.

I assumed it was just gas, a side-effect of the Metamucil-rich diet Doc Rubberglove insists I partake of, but it didn't stop on Friday, it just got steadily worse until I called Doc Rubberglove's office and begged to be seen.

The trip back onto the island was pure hell, made infinitely worse by the LIRR calling for me to switch trains at Jamaica onto one which started at Penn Station loaded to 150% of its seating capacity. By the time I got to Wyandanch station I was almost in tears.

Doc Rubberglove took one look, gave a grunt of surprise, said "you look really ill, does it hurt when I do this?"

When his hearing had returned somewhat he yelled "It might be appendicitis!", took a quick look at his inch-thick liability insurance policy, hustled me into his own car and drove me to the Emergency Room thereby cutting through about four hours of red tape and getting me to someone with needles and blood-drawing gear in about half an hour. Mrs Stevie hove into theater during the lengthy triage process.

There a man who told me he used to be an electrician but found that people wouldn't pay him on time attempted to mount a hep-lock in the back of my hand and use it to draw blood. The pain of this process was enough to drive the pain coming from my lower bowel from my head and cause me to pass out for a few seconds. While I was out, Mrs Stevie used the opportunity to tell everyone how I'd passed out some years ago when giving blood.

This was a base calumny. I had not passed out. I had told the staff to hide from my sight the bottle steadily filling with my blood as it rocked back and forth on a small device to mix anticoagulants into it, because I thought I might faint. The two other guys I was with had laughed at my squeamishness and called me names. Then with perfect timing one of them took a good look at his rocking bottle o' blood, let out a quavering moan and passed out. Then his muscles relaxed in such a fashion that it took the staff about thirty minutes to clean up the place and he was disinvited from giving blood there ever again. While I and the other guy were waiting for him to regain enough strength to start attempting the commute from the World Trade Center to Penn Station we discussed the problems of navigating a partially disabled person with questionable control of his sphincter musculature through the public transportation system of Manhattan during rush hour. As we pondered the best course of action, a thin, wavering, reedy voice came from behind a screen: "You go on, lads. I'll be alright." I waited about a microsecond for him to request a service revolver and one round before we left, then burst into gales of helpless laughter.

That is what happened that day.

When I woke up the hep-lock agonizer said "So, I hear you fainted the last time you gave blood."

"What? No! It was the other guy who fainted!" I yelled, then screamed as the reflex to sit up to make my point had induced the original reason for my being there.

Doc Rubberglove hove into view. "Does it still hurt when I do this?" he asked, and there followed a couple of minutes of nurses, doctors and patients staggering around clutching their bleeding ears and moaning quietly.

I was made to pee in a jar, then to carry the jar around with me for an hour or so as I was moved hither and yon, ending up in a rather nice, quiet abdominal ER with three patients and about six nursing staff in it.

A very attractive nurse gave me a cup of ice and a bottle of contrast fluid, told me to drink it as quickly as I could and remarked in passing "So, you fainted when you last gave blood?"

"What? No! It was the other guy! I didn't faint!" I yelled as she injected my IV line with something that began with "Z", had four syllables and made my head feel like I'd drunk a pint of Bacardi white rum.

A doctor hove into view. "You don't want to chug that" he said. "Drink it slowly so it spreads out. So, I hear you faint when you give blood."

"Whu? Nnnw. Wuz ovva guy whut fainted." I was having trouble getting my eyes to point in the same direction by then.

"He doesn't give blood anyway" sniffed Mrs Stevie. "He has Mad Cow disease."

"D'n't! Tha's lie! 've g't Prius. Mebbe!" now the stuff that began with "Z" had reduced the pain in my bowels to tolerable levels, everyone around me was attempting to induce a pain a bit lower down. It was all very trying.

"Have you finished that drink yet?" asked the nice nurse who had given me the stuff that started with "Z".

"Doc told me to slow down" I replied.

"Well, the faster you finish the faster we get you into the cat scan and figure out what the hell is wrong with you" she said.

So I chugged it down

Meanwhile, Doc Rubberglove (who has privileges at this hospital) was dictating his notes on my case into a small recording device. I only caught part of it. The part that went "...fainted when giving blood some years before".

Damn that woman!

Another nurse, this one a male biker with a mohawk and tattoos hove into view and demanded more blood. As he was inserting the needle in my arm (the hep-lock was in use) he said "You're the fainter, yeah?"

"B'g p'dun?" I mumbled, attempting to make sense of the world through stuff-that-starts-with-Z-addled senses.

"You faint when you give blood. Everyone says so"

"Whut? No! Wuz other guy!"

"Nope, it was you. I was there" said the ex-electrician as he walked by.

"No! Other time! Not me!"

"I think he's having a reaction to the stuff that starts with "Z"" opined the biker, drawing the thirteenth test-tube full of blood.

Eventually, just as the stuff that begins with "Z" was wearing off I was wheeled down to two guys dressed in black who ran the Cat Scanner. They made me pull down my trousers and lie on a table with my hands on my head, then, just as they were about to start the machine one said "So, I hear you fainted when you gave blood"

"Which time?" I demanded. "Yes I fainted this evening because of all the agony I'm experiencing but no I didn't when I gave blood. That was the other guy!"

The noise of the cat scanner's recorded voice drowned out the last part of my outraged cries but not the unseemly sniggers of the two goths in the control room.

I'd been back in the ER about ten minutes when the nice nurse who gave me the stuff that starts with "Z" told me I was going home because I didn't have appendicitis. This she relayed as "good news". No, what I had was something called "Epiploic Appendagitis" which feels as bad as appendicitis but instead of being susceptible to surgery and quick pain relief it is what doctors call "self-limiting", which is a fifty dollar phrase for "gets better on its own" over an indeterminate number of days but so far longer than four.

Good news indeed, just not for me.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Extreme Weather As Enjoyed While Attempting To Commute On The Bloody Long Island Rail Road

About two weeks ago or so I was getting ready to leave for my train when foul weather on steroids blew into Brooklyn.

It was quite a sight from the 15th floor. The windows suddenly turned opaque as fog engulfed us followed by a hailstorm, which tapered off to torrential rain that kept me pinned inside long enough to miss my 6:04 pm train from Atlantic Terminal1, now the only straight through train from Brooklyn to Ronkonkoma2.

"No problem" I thought to myself. "I'll wait til this lot lets up a bit, then sprint for the A train to Penn Station and commute from there."

Which is what I did, or tried to do. When I got to Penn Station it was a scene out of some apocalypse movie3 with people packed shoulder to shoulder in every available space. There must've been at least two thousand heads I could see and that was just the in main concourse. And more people were pouring in at a rate of about two hundred ever minute or so as the subway cars emptied out.

The announcement that was being fed to everyone went as follows: "Due to a tree coming down on the tracks east of the tunnels all service out of Penn Station and Atlantic Terminal has been suspended". Periodically they added Jamaica to the list of places trains were not running from. The announcer went on to suggest everyone use the E train, but since the only point to that would be to go to Jamaica and she had told us there were no trains running out of that god-forsaken place no-one was eager to try it as an option.

The irony here is that what the LIRR announcer wasn't telling us was the most useful piece of information: that it wasn't "a" tree but about half the trees in Brooklyn that had been uprooted by tornadoes and flung onto the permanent4 way. Had that been said we would have been able to properly assess the commute situation and react accordingly, but we were dealing with the bloody Long Island Rail Road here and they have a policy of not passing on timely, accurate information5.

I have no idea why the bloody LIRR cannot get a bleeping grip when it comes to giving their customers information that will help them draw informed conclusions about their commute. Derailments that will take hours to rectify are called "Disabled Trains" which I'll grant is accurate as far as it goes but since they class every involuntarily motionless train as a "Disabled Train" is too broad a category to be actually useful to someone who wants to know whether they should plan on getting home or getting a hotel room. Describing the total devastation the trackbed had suffered that day as "a tree" was about as much use as a ham sandwich at a Jewish wedding.

Back to the scene of the crime.

I stood for an hour or so, wondering to myself how hard it would have been to spread the word across the MTA as a whole and, for example, start marshaling the subway trains so they didn't dump hundreds of people every minute into the mix. I mean, they are all supposed to be the same organization for bleeps sake. The incompetence in this lack of preparation alone is staggering. MTA bigwigs stand around spouting about the advisability of increasing the technology in stations by deploying cameras but they haven't fully realized the potential of the phone network and the PA systems they already have and have had for decades. We'll see how this stupidity was to spread the fallout to as many people as possible (presumably the MTA was working on the principle that if everyone was inconvenienced, when the average reaction of the public to their "solutions" was worked out it would be spread so thin it would actually make them look good.

Stupid bleepers.

I walked onto the E train platform and was confronted by a crowd even more dense, if that is possible, than was clogging Penn Station in a fire marshal's nightmare. It didn't help that the uptown E platform opens onto Penn in a chicane that is about two people wide. If people had panicked there would have been a people fall of bodies onto the trackbed. It was terrifying to see, let alone attempt to get past.

Once I managed to board a train to Jamaica along with several hundred others, packing the car shoulder to shoulder with literally no space between us, we set off and I started to observe through the windows the effect that the lack of any sort of integrated problem resolution was having.

You see, most of the people in the stations downstream from Penn Station, places like Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street, are simply trying to get from one part of metro New York (where they work) to another (where they live). Imagine their surprise when their train pulls up, the doors open and there is no way anyone can board because people seem to be making some sort of attempt to get into the Guinness book of records. Imagine how their surprise turns first to puzzlement, then annoyance, then outright rage as train after train after train pulls this stupid trick.

It was obvious no-one waiting at the stations knew what was going on because they were beginning to shout to the crushed, sweating and extremely grumpy people in the trains, asking what the bleep was going on? Naturally, these requests were answered with irony most of the time - usually "Who the bleep knows?"

Now some of those travelers made very determined attempts to board, and fights were only an open door away most of the trip.

I'll break here to suggest that it might have made sense for the Subway part of the MTA to coordinate with the bloody LIRR part and inform everyone at the stations along the path what the hell was going on, along with advice on how to go about mitigating the lesser hell of the stranded subway commuter. Furthermore, it might have made sense to run trains that did not stop at Penn Station on the downtown side so that there would at least be a chance that the local commuters got some sort of service.

It beggars my imagination that for all the bleeping talk the movers and shakers spout about preparedness in New York, a basic plan for moving people in the event the subway was pressed into service in this fashion is still, obviously not in place. I mean, what would happen in the event of a terrorist attack6 removed Penn Station as a commuting option? It boggles the mind to think how empty the talk of preparedness is as demonstrated that day.

Back to the scene of the crime.

We eventually got to Sutphin Boulevard, the E train stop at Jamaica. It is a voluminous station with cathedral ceilings and wide, long platforms. What it doesn't have is an adequate number of stairways and escalators to evacuate the occupants of those platforms to the upper station before the next train disgorges another few hundred into the mix.

Or tries to.

Luckily I was let out right by a staircase and so was able to ascend straight away at the shuffling pace of the crowd. As I did, I looked back. The people at the rear of the platform were standing still, and judging by their expressions had been doing so for some time. A riot in the making right there.

Once in the upper station it became apparent that the same design criteria for the stairwells from he platform had been used for the street exit, to which two policemen were inexpertly directing people to use by shouting at them.

I have found over the last 26 years that when it comes to the bloody LIRR there is no situation so bleeped-up that the NYC police cannot make infinitely worse by the attitude they bring to the stranded, uninformed commuters simply trying to get home despite the bloody LIRR.

Better yet, no police had been posted at the top of the stairs to tell people not to try pushing their way down the jam-packed staircases (you have to tell New Yorkers this even if the evidence of their own eyes is that doing so would be a monumental waste of time and moreover a threat to their lives because here in what is reportedly the most cosmopolitan city in the world people are dumber than the stuff that comes out of a cow's rear end). This meant that the cops were screaming in both directions. The upshot of this was that no-one was paying attention to them at all.

Which made them shout louder

I finally got to the street and ran along the face of Jamaica LIRR station looking on the nice new video boards that adorn the staircases up to the platforms for a likely train East, and found a Huntington train was boarding from one side of a platform and a Babylon train from the other. Either would get me out of this hell to somewhere I could apply money to get me back to my car in Wyandanch.

The Huntington train was packed so full that there was literally no room to board any of the cars, and the Babylon train was almost at that stage, so I jumped aboard the latter and found a place in the plenum up against a wall so I could at least lean against it. It was by then about 8:15 pm and the train was posted to leave at 8:10 pm 7 but as I looked at the new-fangled train destination display hanging from the station canopy the time changed to 8:20 pm.

More people got on, until at 8:20 the doors closed. We were, by then, packed nose-to-nose.

Five minutes later the time on the board changed to 8:40 pm and the doors opened again.

more people pushed their way aboard and some inside pushed back. Arguments began in each doorway. Because the train was on a single track, there were platforms on both sides of the train and the doors on each side were opening in order to double the chances of violence breaking out. There were, of course, no police officers to be seen.

At a few minutes before 9 pm a man in a suit began remonstrating with everyone that he could see a gap in the trains crowd and if everyone would just move he could get in. Some pointed out that the "gap" he could see was in fact merely a gap in the sea of heads caused by three women who had decided to sit on the floor8 but he didn't believe them. Then he forced his way into the train despite being told there was no room, with the result that he was squashed into the corner formed by the closing door and a bulkhead.

The train finally moved.

The seemingly endless trip to Babylon was spiced up for me by the agonizing pains in my legs (my sciatica had kicked in about 15 minutes before the troublesome man got on) and the repeated plaints from the troublesome man that we could all move back and give him more room. By now everyone was telling him to please be quiet. As we were leaving Jamaica (finally) a train pulled into the station from the West. Somehow he got the idea trains had been running from Penn Station, the clear implication being that all these people were being idiots by coming to Jamaica for no reason and crowding him out of a seat. The announcements that could clearly be heard contradicting this view had no impact on his stream of whining. Soon the idea seemed to morph into one in which this train had started life at Penn Station. Why this made any difference was lost on me, but it annoyed the living crap out of everyone.

The train gradually emptied out as we made local stop after local stop until I could, with thee stops to go before journey's end, get a seat. Already sitting was The Whiner who was still asking everyone who would acknowledge him whether or not they had boarded at Penn Station. Every single person who responded did so with some variation of "Of course not! There aren't any trains coming out of Penn tonight", but he seemed to believe everyone had formed a conspiracy to conceal the truth from him.

As I say, a night for madness.

Eventually I got to Babylon where Mrs Stevie would pick me up, but she got a minor dose of the same idiocy I had been subject to: it took her three times longer than usual to make the journey because some idiot was giving someone else a tow, would not exceed 20 mph and would not pull over to let the mile-long jam of traffic behind him subside a bit.

I took Friday off.

  1. or Flatbush Avenue as it used to be called before they spent a fortune in granite wall panels for it
  2. Yes, no sooner had they spent all that cash on the station than they canceled most of the useful trains running in and out of the damn thing. This is probably, in the convoluted thinking of the bloody Long Island Rail Road, a great way to save money on station maintenance
  3. I am not kidding: I saw the same scene in "2012" when people were futilely attempting to get onto the arks
  4. Ha
  5. Unless Amtrack equipment is to blame. Then you get encyclopedic updates every four and a half seconds
  6. The catch-all disaster role-playing scenario of choice for NY emergency services these days
  7. This makes sense when you calculate the times by the secret formula used by the bloody LIRR dispatchers. To decode it you need imaginary numbers in order to schedule imaginary trains
  8. Madness, but it was a night made for the mad

Good Grief, Look At All These Cobwebs!

Things have been a bit hectic around Chateau Stevie of late and this has precluded my posting for a while. Sorry. I know here are tens of thousands to whom The Occasional Stevie is nothing if not nothing. Then there's the three people who read it.

To them I offer this promise: That the incompetence of the Bloody Long Island Rail Road, which reached epic proportions last month, shall not go undocumented in my usual neutral style, nor shall they be spared a single drop of my righteous vitriol.

Monday, September 06, 2010

The Tediousness of the Tedious Tedium

So having moved my entire electronic life onto this laptop, I now have to move it off again so it can go back to Dell to have the cracked casing element replaced.

I haven't had time until now to actually start the process (I got the mailer box to send the computer to Texas in over four weeks ago) but now have begun checking all the various websites that will have to be used in order to re-establish the things I'll have to clean off the hard drive before I return the computer (Dell staff now having a name for trustworthiness second only to the KGB after a handful of very public breaches of trust).

Then, of course, three weeks ago the tower unit that will become once again my digital home blew one of its hard drives (for which it transpired we had no proper backup) so it is limping with broken registry references and shortcuts to nowhere. Spiffy. Let's hope the "factory reset" process is relatively painless.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just When It Can't Get Any Worse, It Does

Just when I am at a low point, with the damage to my left shoulder proving unsusceptible to physiotherapy and a cough I caught last weekend ripping my throat apart, life deals me a joker.


For the last two nights, at around 2am, I have been woken up from my agonised dreams of being pursued by gangs of crazed football referees with whistle-mania by an insistent chirping.

A cricket has moved into my bedroom heating baseboard.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tapping Into My Inner Rage

I decided on Friday evening that I would have to do something about the leaky bath taps in our upstairs bathroom, since the steady drip I had grown to loathe had now turned into a most healthy (and costly ) dribble.

I couldn't remember how the taps came apart even though I could vaguely recall replacing the hot tap mechanism some years ago. The taps in question are decades-old "Delta" type remote faucets, an interesting design that puts the actual internal workings of the taps inside the wall, typically just out of reach of the typical human finger. I was also concerned, for reasons I won't go into now, about mould forming in the walls and so I though I'd remove one wall tile by cutting the wallboard behind it with my Dremel Tool configured as a rotary saw, and e-acquaint myself with the wheres and whyfores of the taps mechanism with a quick eyeballing. I was confident that I would be able to replace this tile-shaped section of wall with reasonable ease.

Since this would be a relatively quick job1 I turned off the water to the whole house using my Stevie-installed nifty ball-valve shut-offs. Then I removed the tap handles, the little square lead adapter blocks that allow one to fit taps handles with splines to faucet stems with a flat key, unscrewed the chromed cylinders that encase the remote faucet internal mechanism, pulled out the remote extender spindles and grabbed the Dremel for some quick and easy wall segment removal.

Naturally the Dremel tool bit was wider than the inter-tile gap and thus couldn't be used.

Nor could I find my large razor saw, my backup tool of choice2 and so I came up with the Other Other Plan, in which I would employ my scroll-saw to do the job.

It turns out that a scroll saw is manifestly unsuited to the job of removing a section of tile-encrusted wall without damaging the tile, and it cracked in two places and chipped in two more before I had the thing in my left hand while I swore into the hole in the wall.

It was then a simple matter to divine the tap-innard removal technique: Re-insert the 3 inch screw that holds the tap handles to the mechanism and pull.

I went out to Arse Hardware and got a "replacement" fitting that looked similar3 for both the hot and cold taps and returned home for the final fitting.

I pushed the new fitting into place but it wouldn't seat. I removed it and compared the length, diameter and outline with the old fitting, and re-fit the old fitting just to check I wasn't going mad. The old one slipped in easily. The new one couldn't be persuaded to seat down no matter how hard or with what I belted it.

I felt around inside the bronze fitting, which was when a little cap of rubber and a small spring fell out. Here was another piece of the puzzle, a spring-loaded seat for the faucet mechanism I was unaware of, but for which I had replacement parts for in the new mechanism's packaging. Bonus!

I carefully assembled the little spring and rubber cap from the new pieces I had, and attempted to fit them into the tiny hole set into the back of the bronze fitting. It turned out to be nigh-impossible to do without some fourth-level Words of Power delivered in a loud, high-pitched shriek of rage. Extinguishing the small fires my language had started in the wall insulation - some sort of asbestos-wool/sheep's hide composite from the look of it that probably dated from around the time plains apes were belting each other round the head with antelope thigh bones in front of a giant oblong monolith - I again attempted to fit the mechanism into the housing, but it would not cooperate.

Realising that Mrs Stevie was about to reappear in theater, I dashed downstairs and attempted to isolate the upstairs plumbing from the rest of the house using two pre-Stevie installed handwheels. If Mrs Stevie came home to no water there would be hell to pay.

The reason I didn't use these handwheels to shut off only the upstairs water is that they are situated in an awkward place and are difficult to activate. The cold one is easily reached by entering the two-foot space between the laundry room and the basement wall and reaching up and around some piping - the handwheel is in an access space in the laundry room wall itself. The hot line is controlled by a handwheel that is situated right over the laundry room wall in that same access space, but due to some bizarre design ethic employed by the original plumber, points directly towards a large iron wastepipe and is thus most difficult to turn in any way, shape or form without a Stillson's pipewrench. Not only that, the pipewrench is needed to cinch down the wheels of both taps because they don't make good seals (and I don't have the room to take them apart and make them work properly) and the pipewrench is quite difficult to maneuver in that tight space. It is all very tiresome.

However, I did get the wheels cinched closed and turned the water back on just as Mrs Stevie came home.

Pausing only to drink twice my weight in orange juice and ginger ale I then removed another section of wall over the hot tap since if I was going to replace the little spring and cap in that tap I would need to be able to get my finger down inside the fitting and I couldn't do that with the wall in the way. This naturally cracked another tile, and the struggle to get the replacement bits in the tiny hole they were "designed" for was, if anything, even more protracted than with the cold tap. Just for giggles I tried to fit the mechanism that would not go into the cold tap fitting into the hot side.

It fit perfectly.

This caused me to waste another 15 minutes attempting to fit the second replacement mechanism into the cold fitting, but to no avail. I pulled it out and carefully catalogued the differences between it and the one that came out earlier that day. There were some, but nothing I could see that would cause the thing to not fit at all.

So I hurtled off in the Steviemobile in an attempt to find a real plumbing supply place that was a) in existence and 2) open at 4:30 pm on a Saturday. In this there were two factors working against me: The almost complete absence of plumbing supply stores in the aftermath of Home Despot and Blowes and what few there were left close typically at 1pm or 2pm on a Saturday (which is part of the reason they are almost all gone of course).

I found Vic's Plumbing Supply and Taxidermy on Sunrise Highway was still in business, but not at 4pm, Vic being of the 2pm school of Saturday closing thought.

So I stopped off at the nearby Blowes and half-heartedly took a look at what they had to offer. And they had an almost identical "drop in replacement" for my fitting, so I bought it and made my way home to the accompaniment of the low-gas light flashing on and off on the Steviemobile's dashboard. "It doesn't get any better than this" I thought.

The fitting did fit, didn't leak and worked as expected when I turned the water back on. The new fitting, however, had a bizarre operational mode. When I turned it on a little, it poured out hot water. When I opened it full, the water delivery rate dropped to about half. I looked at my watch and declared myself finished for the day, blanked off the hole in the wall with plastic taped to the tiles, had a shower and refused to talk to anyone for the rest of the evening.

On Sunday I went back to Blowes and bought another of the "drop in" replacement fittings, returned home and swapped it for the one I put in the day before. It worked, but the tap was working backwards.

This is an annoying feature of the design - you can use the same fitting to install regular capstan-type handles which you crank anti-clockwise to operate, or to install the L-shaped handles that you twist inward (usually) to get water, which involves one faucet opening anti-clockwise and the other opening clockwise. It is all in how you put in the mechanism, which can be installed with the cam on the right or the cam on the left.

I can never remember which way is which and the result of that had been 15 years of weird taps in the upstairs bathroom4 that had to be rotated in opposite directions to get water out of them. I had vowed to correct this lamentable state of affairs with this job and so had to descend two flights of stairs, turn off the water, ascend two flights of stairs, dismantle the faucet, rotate the mechanism 180 degrees, reassemble the faucet, descend two flights of stairs, turn the water on again, ascend two flights of stairs and re-test the whole thing. It worked.

So it was then a "simple" matter of replacing the bits of wall. this was achieved with the aid of some lengths of wood glued across the hole with five minute epoxy to which the tile-bearing wall sections were in turn glued. Once that had set up, I re-grouted and went downstairs for dinner.

Another weekend I'll never get back.

  1. Hah!
  2. It reappeared in theater five minutes after I had finished the job, as expected
  3. but not absolutely identical it turned out
  4. The last time I had done this job the Stevieling was still in a car-seat. We still speak of the time I had driven everyone around trying to get a replacement fitting for the one that had been fired across the bathroom in a spectacular failure during Mrs Stevie's shower. Failing to secure one all morning I had taken them all to lunch. On the way home, driving down Sunrise Highway I saw another Home Despot and pulled into the lot. The Stevieling, who was too young to read at that time, saw the distinctive orange sign, and in a tone of disbelief and disgust thundered "This again?!! I responded in placating tones, saying "Honey, I have to find the part for the faucet". She, with almost prescient perspicacity said "You know they're not gonna have it!", and she was absolutely right. They didn't

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Madness, LIRR-Style

So this morning I get to my station and, unsure as to the scheduling situation vis-a-vis rail-mounted public transport-wise, I looked to the electronic announcement displays installed last year at a cost of Azathoth-Nose to see what the LIRR can tell me with regard to train times.

All I could see was "Wyandanch" blinking on and off about once a second.

Call me Susan but if you are standing on a station platform of a morning and don't know which one despite the big tin signs riveted to the handrails every 100 feet or so, then you should just give it up.

More money poured into the Pit O' Waste there, then.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another Round To The Bloody Long Island Rail Road

Stop me if you've heard this one

It seems there was this signalbox that had somehow, in the welter of moneyspending that had gone on in the last 25 years had not been modernized much. It still used some sort of comical pneumatic system installed during Warren Gamaliel Harding's administration1 to work the points and signals and other froofaraw that a railway needs to direct trains through complicated junctions, and they don't come much more complicated than Jamaica (not the good one) where eight lines enter, eight lines leave and in between they can all be cross connected in about 14 bajillion different configurations. Want to send that train that normally stops on track eight to track one? Pushpushpresstwiddle, hishisshissphut! Job done, 23 Skiddoo!2.

There was plenty of wiring in there too, connected in some arcane way to the Magnificent Air-Organ of Train Steerage, but I'm not sure what role it played other a demonstrably important one. Some of his wiring was of the hand-extruded, lizard-hide insulated kind fitted personally by Thomas Edison, but at least one was of the newer, "better" machine made plastic coated stuff all we Electrical Savants know and love.

Perplexingly, one Monday, it came to pass that it was this newer, "better" wire that caught fire.

The fire was extinguished in a matter of minutes, but by then the stalwart damage Crews of the Bloody Long Island Rail Road had gotten stuck in and declared a state of emergency, shutting down the entire network. Management than went into crisis mode as they had done so many times before and began sequestering information so that the commuters who were against all reason cramming into Penn Station trying to get home would be able to swelter shoulder to shoulder with like minded free-thinkers in an atmosphere of ignorance for hours.

Well, luck wasn't with the LIRR that day because those same commuters, who should have fallen on bended knee and thanked their various Gods, both benevolent and squamous, for this their gift of a chance to stew for hours in the damp air breathed before by about two thousand people, instead began speaking to the press, opining that in their view said railroad personnel could not for the life of them find their own rear ends with both hands, a map and a top of the line GPS navigation system.

So enraged were the LIRR at this lack of proper fawning that they sent in a spokesman of their own, who stood in front of a camera, "explained" the problem ("the railroad is broken" is a rough paraphrase of his statement) then dodged all questions about why there is no backup system, why the equipment was so easily damaged as to cripple the entire railroad3 and why no-one felt moved to instigate railroad-to-paying5-passengers lines of communication, that last a constant feature of all LIRR problems-in-progress. Why the idiots in charge of the LIRR can't get a bleeping clue on this one is beyond me. Any problem on the railroad is made infinitely worse by them not uttering a single sound as to what is wrong and, more importantly, how long it will take them to get one home.

Now your humble scribe dodged this particular bullet by virtue of the fact that he spent the weekend running role-playing games at a local Gaming Convention and had taken Monday off to recuperate, the old manly juices not running so wild as they once did and stuff like this taking a toll on the old constitution6.

On Tuesday I attempted a commute, but gave up when most of my morning trains failed to show up. It seemed that the LIRR wasn't done with this particular silliness. Luckily I was not needed at work, so I took the day off and went back to bed in disgust.

Today the LIRR is still in turmoil, and failed totally to move me from A to B successfully, which wouldn't have been so bad if someone hadn't boarded the train at Hicksville who sat opposite me, announced he was a member of the "tea party"7 and spent the trip between there and Merillon Avenue trying to get me to agree that everything he was yelling about was right.

Before this event I was tollerant of the (to me delusional) views of this mostly right wing conservative action group, but now I feel they must be stamped on out.

This man knew everything. Socialized medicine was bad and I was an idiot if I didn't see that (no point pointing out that as I had lived both with and without socialized medicine and he demonstrably had not he was in no position to be lecturing me as to it's utility or workability). Canadians were swarming over the border to use up all the healthcare in America. I asked him to explain to me how that worked, and before he could launch into his set speech (derived from Pa Bush's counter-Clinton election soundbites) I pointed out the obvious absurdity of a people who had perfectly good healthcare paid for out of their taxes crossing a border to use an overpriced healthcare system they'd have to pay for out of pocket. He responded by yowling that he'd never mentioned Canadians and called me a "Liberal".

Presumably he would have started in on Mexicans if I hadn't waved my hands and said firmly that I was done talking with him. He tried several times to re-engage but I repulsed all his advances. I don't mind being called "liberal", but when someone in this country calls anyone "a Liberal" all further discussion is futile as they have put their opponent in a box that contains everything that person personally believes is Wrong With America.

When I meet people like this I like to draw them into discussions of the economy (Obama's Fault for not fixing same, of course) and then point out that the last time my investments made any sort of real money was under Clinton, and that under G.W.B.'s stewardship my savings would have been safer if I had put them in a shoebox under my bed and then set fire to my house. The kicker is that the figures can't be argued with, and it drives conservatives, most of whom are Republican voters, up the wall.

To point out that it only takes a second to smash up a car but it takes hours to fix it again is lost on such people who refuse to accept that the country was mismanaged for years and badly mismanaged for the last six of the Bush administration.

I arrived at work to find a gajillion nagging e-mails from various people wondering why I wasn't answering their previous e-mail. Since I had had a particularly aggressive session with a physical therapist that morning I was in no mood to coddle whiners and dealt with them accordingly. Amongst those e-mails was a demand for a status report on a project it is almost impossible to work on owing to the pressures of other stuff.

Next I was summoned to a meeting that made toothache look interesting. This had the usual effect on my bowels so I ran to the gentlemen's rest room and public trash heap. Some days just entering this room is enough to persuade me never to shake hands again. I raced to a stall, grabbed a paper seat-cover and tugged it to release it from its cardboard dispensing box. It tore in half, the box shifted inside the in-wall metal box container and it dropped out of sight into the depths of the wall cavity with a hollow "bong!". I could see it was going to be a good day.

I didn't get lunch on account of whiners taking up all my time. I did manage to deliver a rush job to a developer, who thanked me by asking about two items I had been specifically told not to discuss with him by my ultraboss. This put me in a hard place since I had already engaged with this developer on the items in question before the ultraboss had decided to intervene, and was also doing other sanctioned stuff the ultraboss had demanded be given Top Priority for him. It was impossible to play dead on the other two issues so I simply replied to everyone in the world with a terse statement that the issues were under review.

I have no doubt whatsoever that this will please no-one and result in a shirtstorm from both sides aimed at my desk, so I have only one course of action tomorrow.

Take another day off.

  1. 1920 for those too bone-idle to look it up
  2. Which raises the question as to why simple train breakdowns bring the entire shooting match to a standstill time after time. No man knoweth the reason
  3. A lie of the most blatant stripe. the Port Washington line was unaffected. On account of it not going anywhere near Jamaica (NTGO4)
  4. Not The Good One
  5. Through the nose
  6. Though strength, wisdom, dexterity, intelligence and charisma were unaffected. Ahahahahaha
  7. A so-called "grass-roots" movement that sprang up in the aftermath of the Obama election win and which has a few good points to bring up hidden amongst a pile of trash-talk that obscures the real issues under anti-Obama rhetoric so virulent I have to wonder if this country has gone anywhere towards racial acceptance in the last fifty years

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Laptop Annoyance Rant Number 1

When I got my new lappy, it had what looked like a crease in the thin plastic veneer that surrounds the screen.

Not a big deal, cosmetic, not noticeable. Last night the corner of the screen applique fell off in my hand. So, a crack, not a crease, then.

I attempted first to use the manufacturers website to initiate the warranty service for this obvious manufacturing defect. Lest you suspect me of throwing the machine around and chipping bits off it, an examination of the case will show even the most suspicious person that this machine has been coddled, carried everywhere in a padded briefcase purpose made for the business of not damaging laptops, and that it hasn't been dropped or had something dropped on it.

I wasn't concerned I could be held culpable.

The website had many links. What it didn't have was a "Warranty Replacement" link, so I attempted to email the problem to them using a link it took only ten minutes to find. The link didn't launch any sort of email client or page, but did pop up a JavaScript-driven window to collect the service tag number, which was duly filled in. However, on clicking "next", nothing happened.

A quick examination showed the dreaded "JavaScript error on page" message in the status bar, so I attempted to re-do it all using FireFox just in case it was an IE flavor of JavaScript issue.

Imagine my joy when a message informing me that the JavaScript "applet" would "only run properly" in IE. More ammunition for my grass-roots web experience improvement movement GROUJN1 right there then.

So it was off to the tech support chat page, which wanted to download an active X control and we all know that is a path to three hours you never get back, so I bit the bullet and called the phone number listed.

And dealt with the ultra annoying "helpful" recorded messages telling me I could probably fix my problem faster by using the webpage to email or chat it away. And waited. And waited. And got through only to have the call dropped the moment a human being spoke.

So I called again, was annoyed by bots again only to be told there were extended delays due to call volumes. So I gave up.

This morning I went through it all again, with the added frisson that the infuriating phonebot couldn't understand my "rapid response number" and so directed me into a five minute maze of irrelevant Q&A before connecting me to the recorded advice about webpages and emailing again.

And Got through, and was redirected to another recorded voice telling me to reboot the computer and see if that would fix the problem (unlikely, but I was getting to the point it almost made sense to try).

And got through to a "technician" who insisted I run a hidden low-level diagnostic that showed me colored bars and asked me if I could see them, and then made some loud beeps so that everyone would know what I was doing, and finally ran a twelve minute memory test.

I asked, bewildered, why we were going through this. The technician said "Believe me, it's necessary".

The test completed with a query as to whether I wanted to run 35 minutes more of memory tests just as he came back on the line and told me he had spoken to his supervisor and I was to return the computer. I asked again why the tests on the memory and disks had been "necessary", and inquired if it was because they thought I had dropped the computer. The technician said that it wouldn't matter if I had since I had paid for a warranty that was good for damage due to dropping.

So the necessity of the test was to give me something to watch while he did whatever he was doing.

And now I won't have my computer just in time for an event for which I would probably be using the computer more in those three days than in the three months since it was delivered.

This reminds me of the Jeep I once owned; whenever the weather was of the sort that four wheel drive was actually necessary as opposed to merely being extra weight to be lugged around at 12 miles to the gallon, the damned thing was in for repairs.

  1. Get Rid Of Useless2 JavaScript Now!
  2. I realize putting "useless" and "JavaScript" in the same phrase is redundant

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Now That's A Pretty Song

"Daddy's Here" from the album Spiral Staircase by Ralph McTell.

This early McTell album has a number of good tracks on it, but is usually noted for kicking-off with the original, unorchestrated version of "Street of London". His voice isn't as strong as it would later become and falters on a couple of tracks, but that doesn't detract from the genrally high quality of the work.

Nestled in the middle of side two1 is this little gem about the experience of a young boy and, tangentially, his brother during the evening that an obviously estranged father visits his mother.

Spiral Staircase was the second album I ever bought and was replaced with a CD fairly late in my collection, so there was a period of redescovery undergone with the aid of headphones and portable players of various types2 and not a hearing goes by that I don't find something new in the recording, possibly due to the remastering process.

Either way, "Daddy's Home" has been a favorite of mine for 38 years.

  1. Ask your grandfather about "sides"
  2. I recently switched this album into my iPod

Happy Birthday To Me etc etc etc

Another ring around the trunk.

Woke with a ferocious pain in my lower right leg, so I lay there screaming until the muscle pulled, then was visited by The Stevieling bearing a very clever card she'd made for me themed around my fanatical love for the game The Call of Cthulhu1 which included four suitably robed paper-doll cultists for me to array on my wall, one of whom seems to be carrying a staff bearing a likeness of Cthulhu's head. Cthulhu seems to share many of my facial characteristics in this rendering, a message I'm still trying to decode.

And so to work.

  1. Look it up, dammit!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Wheels On The Bus Go Round And Round

Nothing much changes no matter what I do to change things.

Case in point: Back in April I decided to equip everyone with their own laptop because I was getting pretty tired of trying to use our communal tower unit. A typical attempt would involve me signing on perhaps to print a couple of pages of some document, only to be confronted by some situation that would involve me sitting in a tiny room with the computer in pieces while I attempted to put right whatever had happened during the last person's session. The least annoying thing that would happen would be that I'd sit for five minutes listening to the disk clicking while - I presume - gigabytes of cached yootoob video were thrown away. The worst could involve a registry error of some kind.

It was always after one of the women had used the damn thing too. I never had it throw a wobbly after I'd used it once, then used it a second time with no female-themed uptime squeezed in between. Amazingly, whenever I asked "what did you do with this last time you used it?" I would get back one of two answers: a) "Nothing" or 2) "I don't know".

Now call me pedantic, but if you either have nothing to do on a computer or you don't know what you want to do with it, switching it on is not job one on your list of Things To Do that day.

Of course these answers were synonyms for "I can't be bothered to remember what I did because even if I remember word for word the big warning message that popped up before I impatiently stabbed the 'off' switch you'll only get mad and what's the point of that?"

So I finally wised-up and got everyone their own computer on the theory that the kid could virus herself to Chechnya and back without taking me out of the water and the missus could do whatever it is she does to zap the bloody thing into brickdom without impacting my ability to write my world-shattering blog posts. They would be happy as they could brick their own systems in peace. Win-win-win.

So on Saturday I wanted to print something. I haven't been able (trans: can't be bothered to spend hours trying) to get network access to the printer attached to the tower unit, so I just unplugged the printer and attached it to my laptop. I only needed 6 pages.

I got five before the printer ran out of paper.

Now this is something that makes me mad as hell. Whenever I need to use that bleeping printer, there is always and I mean always some problem left for me by the bloody women of the house. Usually just not enough paper, as in this case, but often some stupid coloured paper left over from some greeting card production epic and not replaced afterward with normal paper. I've had documents printed in blue ink on blue paper, images rendered on virulent pink paper and in one memorable bleep-up a word document printed on 3x5 glossy photo paper all because the bloody women can't be arsed to put things back the way they were when they're done making girly-stuff.

This time things were made worse by the fact that I was in a hurry and they'd used up all he damn paper in the house, not a sheet to be had for luvner money, which made the printer sit there beeping at me like it was my fault instead of printing the last page so I could leave the house.

I finally found a single sheet that they had somehow neglected to wrinkle, toss out or cover in felt-pen drawings and was able to complete this Agrosean Struggle in a World Gone Mad.

Why is it that when I use the last sheet I load a fistful of paper even if I only need a couple of sheets, but that everyone else can’t give me the same courtesy? As I pointed out with some heat at the time, I have to put up with that sort of horseshirt at work because I work with bone-idle bleep-holes who were it not for certain nanny-state laws would get a slap round the head with a toner cartridge as a performance-art demonstration of my dissatisfaction with their lack of respect for their co-workers1. I see no reason whatsoever to put up with it at home.

That night, Mrs Stevie used the tower unit to retrieve and print (she'd bought more paper by then I guess) a Google Map for her mother.

The next day, Sunday, I got up and, thinking to use the tower myself, powered it up and went out to put the kettle on. When I thought to look in at the wretched thing I saw the light blue screen of disk problems, which was busy scrolling up a gargantuan list of unreadable sectors on its "D" drive. The entire disk turned out to be unreadable, suggesting that something pretty horrible had gone down in the last session.

I knew it was pointless, but ritual demanded I ask Mrs Stevie what she'd seen while doing the Google Maps thing when she returned from religious indoctrination. The answer was, of course "nothing". She then asked me where the pictures she'd transferred from her digital camera were kept on that computer.

"The D drive" I told her. "I have everything up to just before last Christmas on another drive. Everything else is toast."

The irony here is that I bought Mrs Stevie a digital picture frame at Christmas and an SD card to store the pictures it would display in a continuous slide show. Had she done as I suggested and moved a few pictures each week to the card she likely wouldn't have lost anything at all. But she didn't, so I'm now looking to see if I can read the disk by booting he tower as a Linux machine since XP won't touch it.

I doubt it'll work.

  1. A piquant protest indeed. Toner now requires a personal note to the office manager to obtain. Someone on the night shift (a group of no more than about thirty people that comprises some of the most lazy gits on the face of the planet) decided that this was too much bother and simply removed the toner cartridge from one of my team’s laserjets. Didn’t even leave the empty one, which complicated matters even further. I finally managed to get a replacement after three weeks, but made out a big sign “NO TONER” and stuck it on the printer. This subterfuge wouldn’t fool anyone but the brain-dead thieving idiots on the night shift, of course, but it has worked so far. Of course, someone on my team didn’t have a clue and so loudly cried out to the world that the printer did have toner – apparently he thought I’d forgotten loading the cartridge some thirty seconds before – but fortunately none of the night shift were on hand to hear him and the rest of us punched him until he figured it out

Monday, June 21, 2010

Now That's A Pretty Song

How Can I? from the 1977 Steve Hackett album Please Don't Touch. Found on a pre-recorded cassette tape I got in a remainder bin in Woolworth's in The Precinct, Coventry sometime around 1980 and probably never listened to in all honesty, and had sat in my basement through I don't know how many floods.

It took me a very long time to figure out that one phrase had been "borrowed" from Across the Universe, and that Richie Havens was doing the vocals.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Loathing And The Even More Loathing On The LIRR

The good thing about finally having a laptop to use is that I can drool this dribble "on the go1".

That includes time spent "commuting" on the bloody Long Island Rail Road, who often demonstrate to the world that they couldn't find their rear ends with both hands and a map.

Take this morning for instance.

The day got off to a crummy start when I woke up to the shrilling of my alarm feeling like I hadn't had any sleep at all. I staggered round the house, stark naked, clutching a towel in my twitching, sleep-deprived hand and bumping into things until a shriek of rage indicated I had bumped into Mrs Stevie, who was taking her early morning nap.

Staunching a number of small wounds with the towel I made my way to the shower, where I realized that the dripping tap now resembled an ornamental wall fountain and Something Would Have To Be Done.

All this staggering, bumping, wounding and showering made me slightly late, but that didn't matter as a profusion of total nitwits on the road made me quite late indeed. Each traffic light took two changes to get through because of SUV drivers too afraid of their own shadow to actually drive when the light turned green until someone else had gone first to prove terrorists hadn't somehow subverted the very tarmac, and since each lane was filled with the ugly gas-sucking things no-one went anywhere until the yellow light showed, spurring a panicked dash for freedom.

The bigger the car, the smaller the brain.

I finally boarded my standby, get-me-there-on-time train and settled in as the announcer announced a twenty minute delay west of Jamaica2 into Penn Station, which translated into "trains backed up in the Jamaica station throat because we don't have anywhere to put them". Magic.

That meant that just about the time I should have been boarding my Brooklyn-bound train I was able to watch it cruise into the station while I was still several hundred yards out of Jamaica. And of course, they couldn't hold the Brooklyn train because that would cause congestion.

We pulled in slightly after the following train to Brooklyn, the one that comes ten minutes after mine and stops everywhere so it always carries me 15 minutes into the part of my time card that will, due to the vagaries of the bloody Long Island Rail Road and their idiot schedules, get me home again a full 90 minutes after my usual Azathoth-awful arrival time, typically sometime around 9pm - too late to get anything useful done but eat and get indigestion in time for bedtime.

For our convenience it was brought in not on the adjacent track so all we would have to do was cross the platform, but on the next platform which required us to sprint to a staircase, vaulting over the slower fellow commuters, run up the stairs gasping for breath, dash across the bridge and down the stairs and try and find a door not clogged with standing would-be passengers. For our further convenience this train was a couple of cars short, so it was full to overflowing. But wait! For our absolute convenience the train was held so a few more trains full of people could attempt to transfer onto it from the apparently doomed Penn Station bound trains.

Yes, once again we were being treated to a "tunnel signal problem" fiasco, a staple of the Long Island Rail Road commute.

The problem, they say, is that of the four tunnels under the East River that connect Long Island to Manhattan, only two are signaled in both directions. One of those is permanently in use by Amtrack, who own Penn Station or the tracks into it or something. I lost track of the fine details of this particular needless idiocy years ago.

So, during normal operations the bloody Long Island Rail Road uses two tunnels in the "peak" traffic flow direction and one in the opposite, "off-peak" direction. Should one of these tunnels be rendered unusable due to, say, oooooh a signal problem or something, there is an obvious problem in that using the two remaining tunnels for peak direction traffic is only possible if the problem isn't in the one tunnel that has signals in both directions.

Edit: Which shows how annoyed I was. It of course doesn't matter which tunnel gets knocked out as the bloody Long Island Rail Road dispatchers aka the IQ Brigade will continue to run Off-Peak trains and so any failure will reduce the Peak traffic under the East River by 50%. Were the IQ Brigade to consider not running Off-Peak trains for the duration of the emergency, there would "only" be a 66% chance of a Peak service impact.

That's right, of those three tunnels, traffic can only move safely in both directions through one of them, because in the other two the signals only work in one direction, one into and one out of Manhattan.

Brilliant, eh?

"But Stevie" I hear you ask, "Surely this ancient, steam-era situation has been remedied by now?"

Well, you'd think so wouldn't you? To my certain knowledge the problem has been discussed as a "must get done" item for twenty five, going on twenty six years, because I've been riding the bloody Long Island Rail Road that long. That’s right, the bloody Long Island Rail Road can't get a relatively simple signal installation done in twenty five bleeping years.

"But Stevie" you say, "if the track belongs to Amtrack how can they?"

Well, since the bloody Long Island Rail Road is part of MTA which in turn is part of the city government which in turn is part of the State government, and Amtrack is, via an equally twisty chain of connections, part of the Federal government, both are paid for by Taxpayers and so there should be some way of getting a simple wiring job done. I mean, there are infrastructure Stimulus Dollars to be had that would pay for it.

But in time honored fashion the bloody Long Island Rail Road talks the talk and leaves it up to their passengers to walk the walk (due to cancelled trains).

So I got to work just in time, by hustling. Of course, my colleagues were discomfited by my staggering around the office, throat roaring as I drew in volumes of life-giving air, my face bright red and by my pleas to be euthanized immediately.

So much for the ride in.

The ride back looked to be much better as I sat typing this TOS entry, until the bloke next to me showed me the screen of his Blackberry with an e-mailed alert that "due to a track condition outside Westbury Station, our train was being taken out of service in Jamaica. We discussed the matter for a bit, noting that the crew hadn't alerted us yet and we were very close to Jamaica.

Then we realized that this was the bloody Long Island Rail Road and the crew was probably just trying to avoid unpleasant reactions from the commuters. This turned out to be the case, and as we pulled up to the platform the bleeping useless bastards told use what we had already known for about five minutes.


To understand why the crew were so scared and why everyone was so pissed-off you have to know that there are exactly two trains that leave Brooklyn (which used to be called Flatbush Avenue but since the Granite-Lined new station was opened they re-titled Atlantic Terminal, requiring changes to every automated ticket machine in the system not to mention all the relevant printed schedules and how much did that cost I digress) that do not require the passengers get off at Jamaica and try to get on another at Penn Station are the almost useless 4:34pm and the very useful and popular 6:04pm. We used to have a useful and popular 5:01pm instead of the idiot 4:34pm that is too early for anyone to use, but some bloody Long Island Rail Road wuckfit decided it should run out of Penn. I've actually caught it. It ran almost empty the entire journey that day, but I'm sure that was an atypical day. Riiiiight.


If you take a train that means you have to change at Jamaica, you will almost certainly be catching a rush-hour train out of Penn Station that left already jam-packed full of commuters. When forced into that sort of commute I always ride the subway to Penn and board there because, Mr clueless bloody Long Island Rail Road dispatcher, I can get a bleeping seat that way. I once had to wait almost two hours on a frozen Jamaica platform becuase the system was so thoroughly bleeped to Port Jefferson and back that fewer traiins were running and there wasn't any room on any train that came through.

Well, track problems, congested systems, it's understandable that they'd have to reduce the traffic, but it's rather less obvious why it should be the 6:04pm out of Flatbush Avenue Atlantic Terminal every time this needs to be done, and it isn't at all obvious why, as we stood crammed face to face on the 6:22pm out of Penn why there were so many off-peak trains clogging up the same congested rail system we had to change trains to open up.

My theory is that given that the Ronkonkoma line was the last electrified, and since the computer dispatching system was up and running years before that, the Ronkonkoma schedules haven't been properly integrated into the system and it is just easier to delete trains from that schedule than to try and deal with the problems intelligently. This would also explain, mostly, why numerous times a year the 6:04pm peak train sits at the west end of the Pinelawn-Deer Park single track chicane for ten minutes so an off-peak train can get past us. Call me Phalthobart Malthusian Befubbleblatt but that doesn't sound like anyone with an active brain cell is at the dispatching desk. Can you imagine if the UP ran their line that way? Perishable fruit would sit rotting while a load of coal sauntered the afternoon away with priority routing.

I've often said that the bloody Long Island Rail Road couldn't find the cheeks of their own arse with both hands and a map and that they couldn't get me drunk in a brewery, but today they proved they couldn't get me laid in a cat house.

  1. And indeed, on the job
  2. Not the good one

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Great Deer Park Chainsaw Death Fiasco Debacle

I almost killed my chainsaw three weeks ago, though to be fair it tried to kill me back.

Mrs Stevie1 had expressed a desire to have the enormous Arbor Vitae bushtree growing between the King Crimson Maple we planted in the corner of the property and the struggling-back-to-life stump of the Intolerable Berry Menace - already subjected to chainsaw justice two years running - pruned tootsweet, so I dug out the 20-inch Poulan Pro and went at it.

I'd done most of the cutting, and turned the bushtree into a sort of vertical green poodle, it being several feet taller than me, when the chainsaw let out an almighty bang and tried to leap out of my hands.

Regular reader2 of this blog will know that I'm long accustomed to power tools attempting wily bids for freedom, so it didn't manage to free itself from my vise-like manly grip.

Which was a pity really, I realized when I came to think about it later, because a spinning chainsaw blade has a lot of energy that has to go somewhere in the event the engine comes to an abrupt stop, and that was why the blade - which had decided to make an independent bid for freedom and jumped off the guide bar in anticipation of getting a head start while I chased the saw around the garden but had hung up on the drive cog - swished around in impressive, razor sharp circles, threatening now my crotch, now my face.

Mindful of the hazard posed to others in the vicinity I warned them of the danger by emitting a series of loud, falsetto shrieks as I desperately dodged the whirling blade of unpleasant and embarrasing cuts should it score a palpable hit. It was all very trying.

Eventually the blade was done with its anti-handyman jiggery-pokery and I kicked aside the sawn-off bits of bushtree and sat on the lawn to assess the damage.

I thought at first that maybe the chain had broken, but it seemed whole, though hopelessly tangled. It took me several minutes to puzzle out the series of events that it had gone through to achieve the knotted mess it had become, and restore the more usual circular arrangement.

Next I figured I'd check out the cog, but first I should remount the chain on the chainbar. This required me to get covered in oil and gasoline, not sure why, but the saw was feeling mischevious that day as events had so ably demonstrated. I was checking the gas levels as a possible reason for the motor stalling and the saw rolled over in my lap and gave me a refreshing dousing in unleaded gasoline. The oil was from just touching the saw's guide bar, which was about as oily as the Gulf of Texas right now.

Since I was already covered in odiforous flammables I decided to check the oil levels as a possible reason for the failure. The chain needs constant oiling otherwise it overheats and might seize in the guide or break or expand so much it jumps out of the guide. This sort of failure is usually signified with lots of blue smoke from the workpiece3 but the branches I'd been cutting were thin so maybe they didn't get time to overheat. No, there was plenty of oil.

I then decided to remount the chain on the guide bar. The chainsaw blade has sharp, hook-shaped, horizontal teeth on the cutting side, forming a never-ending chain of miniature planes that shave the wood away, and vertical teeth remeniscent of those on the backs of T34 tank tracks4, which engage in the drive cog and in a slot in the guide bar, which keeps everything pointing the right way5. When the engine is turning, a centrifugal clutch, formed from whirling pivoted weights in a bell-shaped housing which is attached to the cog, allow the drive to slip and the chain is motionless. Rev the engine by pulling on the trigger in the handle and the engine speeds up and the weights fly outward and catch on the bell housing causing it to spin and drive the cog which in turn makes the chain move. Where was I?

Oh yes. Well I checked the guide bar for damage and, finding none I could see, attempted to get all those vertical teeth back in the slot in the guide bar, but they wouldn't go. It turned out that some of them had suffered damage that knocked up spurs of metal on them, widening them quite a bit. Well, that was that then, a new chain would have to be bought . I surmised that he damage occurred at the drive cog.

I didn't have time to find out though because at that point I accidentally let the little finger of my left hand brush up lovingly against the engine's muffler, still very hot after all the sawing, and as a result spent some time explaining how very unpleasant that was to the neighbors, then even more time attempting to stave off the inevitable agony with ice cubes and cold water.

Why I do this I don't know since it never works. As soon as the cold is removed, typically because I've run out of ice, the pain reasserts itself, building to a crescendo that, once passed, dies down to something only moderately intolerable.

Overcome by ennui and agony I refused to work any more that day.

A week later I managed to track down a new chain and reengaged the saw in single combat for mastery in a World Gone Mad.

First I stripped the chain guide off the saw completely and checked that the motor would in fact start. The "clonk" it had emitted had sounded like a piston breaking, and this motor only has the one. It started with only eight to ten minutes of pulling on the starting cord and yelling the Magic Start Words, which not only removed one item off the "possibly busted up good" list but removed the gaggle of jeering neighbors and their children from the vicinity too. Bonus.

I checked out the drive cog for damage while I was at it. There were some marks on the teeth, but the wear seemed even, such as might be suffered during normal wear and tear rather than a ding caused by the chain attempting a break for it.

The new chain came out of its packaging tangled, so once again I was obliged to become a master of improvised topology before I could start the Main Attraction - fitting the chain to the guide.

First I ran a few of the teeth along the guide bar to check that the slot really was undamaged and clean out some of the gunk a year and a bit of sawing had left in it - a lotion made of pulverised tree in chain oil is what it was. Then came the fitting together of all the bits.

The correct proceedure is:

  1. Hook the chain over the sprocket, allowing a couple of tangles to form in the chain
  2. Untangle chain, cutting exposed skin on teeth of chain
  3. Fit bar on bolt-and-peg seating. Tangle chain again.
  4. Untangle chain and hold in one hand, while keeping guide bar aligned with other hand.
  5. With other other hand fit combination cover/guide lock/guide extender and attempt to locate the extender wheel indexing pin in the matching hole in the guide bar
  6. Fail spectacularly
  7. Turn saw over in an ultimately futile attempt to see the pin and the hole in order to match them up, spilling the chain in a tangled heap into your lap
  8. Untangle Chain
  9. Repeat from step 1 until utterly overcome with the desire for death
  10. By dismantling the saw and adjusting the bar extender to wind the indexing pin as far back as possible, figure out the position at which the guide bar will properly engage the index pin
  11. Untangle the chain again
  12. Reassemble the saw, guide bar, chain and cover, finally engaging the hole in the guide bar on the adjustment pin
  13. Untangle chain
  14. Gradually lengthen the guide bar by turning the thumbscrew downward
  15. Or was that upward?
  16. Before the guide bar gets too long, hook the chain over the length of it
  17. The end, the bit with the cog inside, is tricky so mind you don't...
  18. The band-aids are in the bathroom
  19. Well, you should have bought some more last week while you were in the pharmacy!
  20. Once the bleeding stops, refit the chain and wind out the guide bar using the thumbwheel until about an 8th of an inch gap shows between the chain and the bottom of the bar when you lift the end
  21. Tighten the cover and you're good to go

I grabbed the chain and ran it back and forth to confirm that it was moving through the sprocket without binding, and declared it good to go, though I haven't actually tried to cut wood with it yet. By the time I was done reassembling the wretched thing I couldn't bear to have it near me any more.

Two weeks later the burn is healing nicely. The inch-long blister has burst, the old skin has sloughed off and I can finally bend the finger again.

So the time is ripe for a rematch with Mr Bushtree.

  1. So many of my life's more exciting moments start with that harridan's "suggestions"
  2. singular
  3. One of my old chainsaws had had it's automatic oiler fail. That's how I know this
  4. Don't know what that looks like? Look it up! I recommend Squadron Publications' T34 in Action. Squadron is based in Texas somewhere I think. Good luck
  5. Normally

Monday, May 10, 2010

An I-Con Of Science Fiction

I-Con was a blast.

I-Con is a convention run at the Stonybrook campus of SUNY1 for fans of Animé, SF & Fantasy. The VIPs run tha gamut from the movers and shakers in the comic industry to the actors in the most popular SF films and shows of the time such as Battlestar Galactica, Serenity, Star Trek Lord of the Rings and so on, and authors. In past years they had real astronauts and cosmonauts, but these days it is rare to find a real spaceman at this convention. I doubt any of the attendees would recognize them anyway.

At first, Mrs Stevie would attend every other I-Con to coincide with the attendance of Harlan Ellison. After the Stevieling was old enough to attend (11 months) we started going every year. As time went on the con got bigger and started to take over more and more of the Stonybrook campus.

In the early years of our attendance, it all packed into one building, the Javits lecture theater complex, a neat octagonal building with lecture theaters opening off corridors arranged in a cross form, the hub of the cross being a small plenum/atrium for lounging about in. Authors and media guests would be sitting at tables in the plenum or at the ends of the corridors and you were never more than a hundred feet from whatever event you next wanted to attend. It was in the Javits building that I met C.J. Cherryh2, Michael Dorn3 and Walter Schirra4 to name just three.

A big part of the SF con scene is the so-called "dealer's room" in which people can buy badges, props and clothing of an appropriate theme, which in the Javits era of I-Con was a terrifying thing to visit. You'd be shuffled at about a half a mile per hour past the various dealer tables by the force of everyone else packing shoulder-to-shoulder in the tiny room5.

You'd have to make two circuits too: one to select what you wanted to purchase and a second to transact the sale. Azathoth help the person trying to use a credit card. That would mean a third trip and the fervent hope the dealer hadn't given your card to someone else by mistake as you raced from the exit back to the entrance. Good times.

These days the dealer room is housed in a huge sports complex. Media guests also have a speaking stage in there. I have a picture of The Stevieling with George Takei6 taken in that place, and another of her with Billy Boyd7. In bygone years Mrs Stevie has run into Majel Barret8 and John De Lancie9 walking around that dealer room.

There are tables set up in that room for media guests to sign autographs. There's also a table in there somewhere (it never seems to make it to the key on the map) which is used by authors for signings. One of my fondest memories is of Ben Bova10 being dragged across the campus by the very young Stevieling. He had given a reading, then announced he was signing in the ISC11 but had no idea where it was. "I can show you" piped up The Stevieling and promptly did so with extreme prejudice.

Dr Bova is very generous when it comes to tolerating eager youth.

More and more, video games and Animé have taken the prominent role and the old-fashioned type-on-paper SF and Fantasy has been marginalized. I guess it's a sign of the times. Last year, Jack McDevitt12 had to cancel his guest appearance at short notice on account of the lousy weather (would that I had had as much sense) and such was the paucity of recognizable names 13 the con was effectively a waste of time for me that year.

Lest you are an I-Con attendee14 and think I am subscribing to the view that the con was doomed by having to temporarily relocate to Brentwood as the consensus seems to be amongst I-Conites, Brentwood had many advantages from my perspective over Stonybrook and I cut the organizers a lot of slack for having to work with an unfamiliar infrastructure. I've been there and done that. I was rather hoping for a second year at Brentwood in fact.

I was rather more scathing on certain other factors, chief of which is the ludicrously time-wasting method they choose every year to give people the tickets they bought and paid for months in advance, and which I hold to be extremely poor return for the faith shown by those advance purchasers in the con and their support with much-needed funding ahead of the event itself15

The I-Con staffers have stopped sneering "Well, if you can suggest a better method..." at me because I can. And I do.

Less than 9999 people attend I-Con in any given year. Allocate each ticket sold a five digit number. Mail out the tickets (which are also the badges you must wear to prove you belong in the con when challenged) with a missing component. The tickets are usually a piece of thin printed card with a small, square holographic label stuck in one corner. Have the labels held by the people at the desks, each of whom has a clipboard with the alphabetized list of names of people who have pre-bought tickets along with the matching allocated number assigned to their ticket, which could be hand-stamped on a generic pre-printed badge using the same sort of indexing stamp used when numbering banknotes during the quality control phase of production, or could be printed at the same time the ticket is. It could even be written on by hand, like the name usually is.

So to recap: you pay up front, months before the con. Sometime between then you receive through the mail you ticket bearing your name, your registration number but no little holographic sticker (the actual difficult-to-forge part of the credential). At pick-up time you get on line with about a thousand other people in freezing, wet weather, but the line moves really quickly because (and this is the clever bit) anyone can be checked in at any of the tables, since the people sitting behind each table are each capable of validating your badge against the lo-tek master list, unpeel a sticky hologram label from his or her own reel of same, and sick it on the ticket/badge, thus completing the check-in process.

It would also free up the four-to-six guys they need to marshal people into the small area they usually set aside for this "badging" to do real work.

With this scheme everyone is happy. I am because the line moves at a reasonable speed instead of clogging because there are, once again, against all reasonable expectation, fifty times as many people crowding into the L-S line and blocking anyone from getting to the empty A-E table. I-Con organizers are because fraud is guarded against effectively16. Even the people manning the tables are because no-one is snarling at them about terminal bleeping stupidity year after year and them not being able to get me laid in a cat house or drunk in a brewery.

Where was I?

Well this year I-Con returned to Stonybrook and not only did Jack McDevitt agree to try again at being an author guest, but Samuel R. Delany17 was to attend on the Saturday, participate in panels, do a signing session and read one of his stories!

Samuel R. Delany wasn't the first SF author I ever read, but he is the one that is first in the old brain when people ask me who was. I can clearly remember pulling a copy of The Einstein Intersection, a Gollancz publication in their characteristic bright yellow dust covers, from the shelf in the library of St John Backsides. Within about a half hour I was rubbing my eyes and saying to myself "You can do that with SF?"

The Friday badge pick-up was the usual cluster-bleep and took more than two hours. It was made particularly hellish this year by Mrs Stevie deciding that since she has a brand new shuttlecraft18 she should offer to ferry every one of the Stevieling's peers who wanted to go to Stonybrook, so I was riddled with cooties before I even got there. Then two of the young ladies had to buy tickets at the door, which took even longer to achieve than trying to liberate an already bought one. Then I got into a stand-up, knock-down argument with security on the entrance to the dealer's room, the only thing worth visiting by the time we had cleared immigration, that ended with me being ejected over a bottle of water

A goon attempted to grab my water bottle from my bag so he could toss it. I explained I would rather he didn't and it would have ended there with me returning to the vehicle and stashing the aqueous threat to Democracy but a uniformed campus cop, all of about 25 years old and full of himself in front of the giggling 18 year old girls filling the place by then, decided that I was arguing and didn't understand that the security staff had orders. I eventually got so tired of being lectured by this little sheep-pimp I told him to bleep himself and left. He fired a witty "enjoy your ride home" at me, so it became a matter of honor to bleep with him.

I had to give Raven his revolving jewelry display case of extreme inconvenience, Raven was in the dealer room, I would enter the room and drop off the case despite Officer Wannabe.

I simply dropped off the offending water and grabbed the case, which was packaged in a box that originally contained an air conditioner and was a lightweight luggage trolley, and talked my way in through the vendor-only entrance. I spent so much time chin-wagging with the people I knew from all the years I've been attending that I cooled off and jettisoned my plan to stroll out and greet the Idiot In Uniform as I walked out of the exit. I knew I had won.

Word to the wise to any goons-in-training: I get that I can't bring drink into a place where that same stuff is being sold, and will certainly comply with that policy. All you have to do is say "You can't bring that in" and we are jake. If you grab for anything without so much as a by-your-leave, we are on the outs - and I have an attack paralegal on permanent retainer. We now return to the scheduled program in progress.

Saturday dawned, and I grabbed two boxes, one filled with my entire collection of Samuel R Delany books (around 14 paperbacks) and the other with everything I had by McDevitt except the two books I bought the first time he had been at I-Con, about five years before (he and Ben Bova were the SF author draw that year)19, about 17 paperbacks (McDevitt was a lucky find for me and I'll buy anything he writes these days). I was in for a treat. But first we had to pick up the gaggle of young women that "we" had agreed to transport.

I once read a story in which the POV character spends the entire thing in a traffic jam with a heroin addict, who is going into noisy, painful withdrawal. It turns out at the end that the POV character is dead and in hell. After I-Con weekend I now envisage hell as being on the road in a Honda Odyssey with Mrs Stevie and five screaming teenaged girls blithering on about Azathoth-knows what. The level of noise would gradually climb to a crescendo, at which point Mrs Stevie would press the reset button by yelling "Keep it down!" and it would start all over again.

I was climbing the walls by the time we reached the Stonybrook campus, a thirty-five minute drive that Mrs Stevie can manage in about eighteen since she has no sense of smell and the stench of burning tire rubber doesn't bother her at all, and she fears nothing under the sun, including the Sheriff's Dept who now police the Long Island Expressway instead of the Suffolk County Police due to budget crunches. I digress.

As we were entering the car park, one of the young darlings in the back of the van cried out "I've forgotten my ticket! We have to go back!"

To understand the effect of this announcement you have to understand the parking realities of I-Con. We like to put our vehicle behind the sports complex so the walk to it during the con isn't an epic trek. Throughout the day the vehicle will get visited by me so I can drop off books & collect other stuff, and Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling (and, this year, the entire cast of "Hell on Wheels" - a Story of Teen Angst20") attend in costume21 and sometimes need to swap out attire as the day drags on. Parking space in this car park is at a premium and you have to be there 30 minutes before the con opens just to find a spot.

Mrs Stevie first ascertained that this wasn't amusing improvisational Théatre-de-Van, then the screaming started.

I maintained an amused distance, knowing a) that Mrs Stevie had brought this down on herself by volunteering to transport lackabrain teenaged girls, and 2) I wasn't driving so I wouldn't have to go home at all. I could grab my gear and I was good to go.

Not only that, Mrs Stevie had only herself to blame. At every stop to pick up a teenager, Mrs Stevie had gone through a lengthy "Have you got your ticket? Show me!" routine, but had been so eager to depart by the fifth one that she had forgone her ticket check. I remember thinking at the time it was a bit foolish and she really should check all the girls had their ticket, and that in her place that's what I would do. But I had no desire to get on her bad side by interfering so I kept mum and assumed she knew what she was doing.

What then ensued is best viewed from a distance of about three miles through heavily smoked glass from within a half-buried concrete bunker. Mrs Stevie had a full-blown conniption fit.

It would have been interesting to watch under other circumstances since I've only ever seen these from the viewpoint of the target and have often wondered in the short moments of lucidity that come between cranial impacts what they look like from the outside.

Unfortunately I was too busy screaming about the parked cars we were about to crash into and clawing at my seat belt in a futile attempt to escape the hurtling Pilotless Ballistic Van of Certain Death in which I had been unwittingly trapped to pay attention to anything else.

Fortunately the other occupants of the van managed to draw her attention back to controlling the vehicle, by means of a group pantomime involving madly waving hands, informational facial expressions and in one case improvisational urination. It was all very trying.

We parked the van and Mrs Stevie explained that we would not be returning home, suggesting an alternative plan in which the young woman bought a second ticket, the price of which would be refunded on presentation of both tickets at the ticket booth on Sunday morning. There was a deathly silence, followed by general agreement that this was a good plan, and then I ponied up a sawbuck so the kid wouldn't be broke all day as a result of her incompetence and off we went, Mrs Stevie to breakfast followed by Ren Fayre goings-on, me to change my pee-soaked underwear and then to the first author panel of the day and the kids to get a new ticket and then wherever their little hearts took them, clad as they were in incomprehensible Japanese character drag.

Indeed, a little later in the day The Stevieling begged us to allow her to spend a fortune on a rather daft wet-look overcoat that was supposed to be worn in some Japanese cartoon show. The coat featured an oversize zipper with teeth the size of my little finger's last joint, and since the zipper didn't open fully the coat had to be stepped in and out of like a shiny hula-hoop with sleeves. Ridiculous.

All the kids were wearing them too. I shrugged and said "It's your money" which made the daft-mac lady and The Stevieling very happy and Mrs Stevie very unhappy, but hampered by her Ren Fayre finery she couldn't move fast enough to reinforce her side of the argument so that was that. I escaped to the building where the afternoon panels were to be held, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first panel was on the subject of whether someone should start their SF/Fantasy writing career by writing short stories for magazine publication or go straight for the novel. The answers to this question see-sawed back and forth as the panelists, all published authors, some with decades of experience in selling their work, gave their take. Most seemed to feel that you should write what you intend to end up writing - if you are a budding novelist, write novels, if you prefer the short form, write in it. The surprise was Carol Emshwiller, an author of longstanding reputation, who felt that it didn't matter, and went on to illustrate how she had broken every one of the "rules" the others had sagely concurred were in effect during the creative process and marketing of the results afterwards.

After the panel was over, I used the time to ask Samuel R. Delany if my 14 books would be too many for him to sign at one go (some authors have policies on what and how many they sign) and he graciously said no, no problem at all, then asked his helper where he was due to be next and was told he was scheduled to do a reading. He looked alarmed and said that he hadn't been made aware of this and that he had nothing to read. I said that I had everything the con attendees would know of his work in the box I was carrying, and that I would be honored if he were to pick something from that and read for us.

And that's what happened.

Unfortunately, when he opened the volume he picked, I don't think he realized how old the paperback was and he broke the spine of my early 80s vintage "Driftglass"22. Now I look after my paperbacks, and most of mine do not have broken spines as a result. It would be fair to say that if you break the spine of one of my books, I'm not your friend any more until the heat-death of the universe. But somehow, although I heard the "Crack!" and knew immediately what had happened, I didn't mind at all. It was worth it to hear the Grand Master read Aye, and Gomorrah, my favourite Delany short story. Afterwards, during the signing session, he was gracious enough to add "I-Con 29" to each signature so in years to come they would act as reminders of the day.

Authors are often surprised that I ask them to add this, and wonder why I don't want t he date. My answer is that since I have no plans to sell the books (said books are usually from my collection and may be upwards of twenty five years old) that knowing where they were signed is more important and anyway, if anyone wants the date, all it takes is a bit of research.

That said, I used my time on the Delany signing line to buy the new reprint of The Jewel Hinged Jaw, Delany's critique of SF, possibly one of the most sought-after analytical books on the subject and long, long out of print23. It was a good day for Science Fiction.

I followed Delany and McDevitt around to their various panels (both are very interesting speakers) but missed the Delany-biopic "Polymath" because McDevit was signing at the same time and I was eager to get the autographs over and done with so I could return the books to the car. I bought a copy of McDevitt's Time Travelers Never Die while on line, so it turned out to be eighteen books I was handing to him. He was surprised to learn that I had acquired (and read) all the books since his last visit to I-Con, and we chatted about his upcoming fiction while he wrote a book's worth of signatures for me. I reckon I gave everyone writer's cramp that day.

Incidentally, I recommended the McDevitt book Polaris so often that Mrs Stevie demanded to be shown said book when we got home (as this was my first McDevitt book, bought at the other I-Con and signed then, it wasn't in the box) and has since devoured half a dozen McDevitt works and wants to read the others. You really should give Polaris a look.

Seeing as I was already in the dealer's room (the author signing table being in the back of it) I did some T-shirt shopping before returning to the Van of Death to drop everything off. I picked up a couple of T-shirts and a rather neat golf shirt with a really subtle Cthulhu logo on the pocket. S'my fave shirt now.

Saturday evening rolled around and the guests all made off to attend the traditional con banquet, which I'm told now features decent food in sufficient quantities for all. Past fiasco has made it a non-starter for Mrs Stevie and me though. We gathered the girls and departed for a diner, then returned them all home, getting back to Chateau Stevie around 9:30 pm or so, and falling into bed exhausted.

The next day was a much lighter program. I attended more panels, readings and whatnot, Mrs Stevie hobnobbed with Celtic bards, the kids went and got their refund on the ticket and then disappeared into the con for whatever they were going to do. For the first time in years I reached the end of the con before I was really aware it was all over. I swung by one of the filk singing events, but before I could get settled in it was over. I would have bought one of the singer's CDs, but the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate the building. I spent the last half hour reading The Jewel Hinged Jaw in which Delany was developing the idea that form and content cannot be seperated, and then Mrs Stevie arrived in theater and I was told we were leaving.

It was much more fun than last year.

  1. State University of New York
  2. Author of Downbelow Station, Cyteen and the Foreigner series. Buy them. Read them.
  3. Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation
  4. Real Spaceman, not an actor
  5. Actually, there were two of them
  6. Mr Sulu
  7. Peregrine Took
  8. Mrs Gene Roddenberry aka Lwaxana Troi
  9. "Q" of Star Trek:The Next Generation
  10. "Hard" SF author of Mars, Venus and other books with slightly predictable names. Buy Mars and read it
  11. something-beginning-with-I Sports Center aka dealer room during I-Con
  12. Author of Polaris, an SF "locked-room" mystery that takes the Marie Celeste story and runs it into places it was meant to go. I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you haven't encountered McDevitt's work and plan to do so, start with this one. You won't be sorry
  13. A condition I readily cede is as much to do with my lamentable lack of familiarity with the newer authors as the I-Con executive's innability to stock the con with top-shelf talent
  14. A vanishingly small possibility
  15. This nonsense is worth a posting to itself, but I'll summarize: One buys a ticket in advance and gets a receipt. On the opening of the Con, typically late afternoon on the Friday, everyone is forced to stand for as much as three hours in March weather while once again the I-Con executive fail to get a clue. They arrange for people to sit behind desks with the tickets in a file box, alphabetized for ease of use. They break the alphabet into ranges of letters and allocate one file box to each range along with one of two people to verify you are who you say you are and give you your already-bought ticket. This wouldn't be so onerous and time-consuming if the idiots would realize just for once that the ticket-buyers do not spread across the alphabet evenly with respect to last names, but clump around certain letters. Like "S". As in Smith. You'd think that somewhere in the executive there'd be a halfway competent statistician, or someone who could remember last year's fiasco, but no.
  16. The real reason no-one gets their bought-and-paid-for badge when they pay for it: fear the purchaser will scan the badge and run off a few more With my scheme the secure credential that must be guarded with life and limb until the con starts is the box of stickers
  17. Author of such seminal SF works as The Einstein Intersection Babel-17, Dhalgren and a baker's dozen more titles available on request or by using you own Google nodes
  18. A Honda Odyssey seven-seater. Long story to come in another post if I remember
  19. Polaris and Hello Out There if you're interested
  20. As in: Angst brought on by teens
  21. Mrs Stevie in "Medieval Drag" and everyone else channeling some Japanese cartoon character or other
  22. A collection of Samuel R Delany's SF short stories
  23. I had been looking seriously at a copy printed in 1977 just weeks before