The Christmas Tree Guy
Is gone leaving just the smell
Of pine on the air
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Last week I was at a loose end, got curious, clicked something I shouldn't have and trashed my bailing-wire and chewing gum blog markup template, replacing it with a new one supplied by Blogger that has drag'n'drop gadgets, some of which actually work.
Shame I never got round to saving the original template.
I think I've gotten most of the value-added styles back in place, or rather, I've improvised several workarounds that sort of do the same thing the old styles did.
The new look: good or bad? Please let me know.
So, since I last posted life has been crashing over me like cool, wild, blue surf contaminated with sharp scrap metal, nuclear reactor linings and toxic waste.
The LIRR has periodically broken down, never so spectacularly as the evening of hell when a signal outage on the lightning-prone Babylon branch was converted into a system-wide debacle by "a techie who pushed the wrong button", but once so badly I was obliged to take a train so late that I was greeted by my boss with an unironic "Good Afternoon".
Truly these people deserve some sort of Award for Dedication to Lack of Service. I'm not blaming the crews. They generally at least are in it with the rest of us and strongly motivated to Get Things Moving. I blame the middle- and upper-management who it seems cannot find their collective backsides with both hands and a map. Disasters happen, but why do the same disasters continue to cripple the service year after year?
I finally screwed up the courage to visit the skin doctor, who hacked off some of that newly mutinying organ and sent it off for tests. Specifically a skin tag that was growing under my left eye and entering my field of vision1 and a wart on my thumb that reacted to my attempts to freeze it off cryogenically by regrowing, and the attempt at excision by the application of corrosive chemicals by springing a number of freely bleeding wounds which got infected.
There was nerve tissue in there too, as I found when I attempted a home surgery with a razor blade and a small rubber ball, which I bit in half but managed not to swallow as I hopped screaming around the bathroom/operating theater, crashing into things and begging for death's sweet embrace. One in the win column there. And the nerves turned out to be the type that don't become numb when the skin is frozen with the old cryogenic kit as a second impromptu surgery attempt proved.
Doc Hacksaw grabbed my head and, knocking my glasses to the floor with a skillful sweep of his scalpel hand whipped off the offending growth, missing the eyeball by several thicknesses of the blade. I had to admire his technique, especially when he managed to switch out the knife for a small electric branding iron and rammed it into the wound he had inflicted, all without receiving any wounds of his own from my frantically clawing hands and thrashing legs (though I did manage to bite his nurse as she applied the dressing, which mollified me a little).
Deciding that the wart called for Heroic Measures, Doc Hacksaw first anethetized me with a hypo fitted with a blunt needle, stabbing me in many places, some of them close to the area he planned to work on. I cooperated by showing him some of my very best Words of Power and attempting to grasp him by the windpipe. Then, brandishing his scalpel, so sharp the edge gave off blue radiation as it snipped the very photons of light in half when it moved, utilizing what I call a "Jack the Ripper" grip, he began to stab and slash with gusto. Naturally this produced a very deep wound in my thumb, which bled freely.
"Nurse!" screamed the crazed dermatoligist. "The cauterizer! No, the big one!"
I encouraged his efforts with manly falsetto screams as oily red steam rose from my (formerly) good hand and the delicious smell of burning meat filled the room. Then he gave me some cream to put on it and it was all over.
The Stevieling managed to infest her computer with Chechnyasoft and was plagued with pop-ups telling her she needed to buy her anti-virus software. This helpful message highlighted the fact that the still-under-subscription McAffee software she has was turned off, again.
This makes twice in about 8 months.
I was livid, so much so that Mrs Stevie told me to stop shouting at the Stevieling but became less involved when I explained that:
a) even an administrator has to manually escalate their permissions in order to make registry changes (which had clearly happened here) so she had quite obviously clicked "yes" on a window without reading the message in the box
2) The last time this had happened I had taken a day off work and it still hadn't been enough time to get the machine working again
þ) I could take no time off this week and therefore the computer repairs would take time needed to put up the decorative Arch O' Festivity and get the Pre-Lit Yule Bush down from its perch in the garage2 and
♥) That although the Stevieling had sworn to me that she was scanning her computer for infections when I asked each week, I could find no logs to prove it, and the only log I could find was he one from the scan I ran right after I fixed the damned machine eight months before.
It was five nights of pure hell getting the basted thing free of the grip of former soviet cyberthuggery. I thought I could do it in two, but the infection poved immune to the two day fix (either that or that wretched kid re-infected the machine within minutes).
So, life as usual, really.
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Even though it was election day today, and many government offices were closed, we had a mail delivery.
I was impressed until I looked at the mail.
Most was for the house ten digits higher than Chateau Stevie. Some was for a house ten digits higher than that. Not a single piece was for us.
My guess is that Mr Singh got all our mail.
All the air pillows I so laboriously cleaned and inflated developed leaks and sank, so I had to buy another and deploy it on Sunday.
The hurricane had also peeled back the cover and dumped leaves in the water I so laboriously cleaned four weeks ago. I did my best to rectify this state of affairs but was so demoralized by this foul turn of events it was a sloppy job at best. There's four hours of my life I won't get back.
While lifting the pool cover, it became apparent that it was dotted with numerous holes which will let filthy rainwater in anyway. This also explains why the water level was very low - when I siphoned off the water on the pool cover I also siphoned off half the water in the pool through the holes in the cover.
So that's all right then.
I find I have time on my hands to post to The Occasional Stevie, a now-rare occurrence up there with lottery wins, because once again I find myself sitting on a premium-priced peak period LIRR train, waiting for an off-peak train to clear the chicane caused by a rail failure.
I stand corrected: Two trains.
It's not the failures that I mind, though they seem to be occurring more and more frequently of late, it's the witless way these disruptive events are dealt with by the clueless wuckfits who are "in charge" of the bloody Long Island Rail Road. Holding priority traffic for low-priority traffic is mindless.
Yes, I know they have to get the trains back up the other end of the line somehow, but these could be deadheaded back in the relatively slow period from 10 am onward. I am sick to the back teeth of sitting in an expensively-priced peak train waiting because some dimwit dispatcher doesn't have a clue how to run a railway network.
As I just said to the conductor - this bunch couldn't get me drunk in a bewery.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
I arrived home tonight to find I had been served.
I read the summons with mounting rage. Name or defendant (identified by idiot lawyer as me): Wrong. Address: Spelled wrong. The complaint claims I have not acted to compensate someone I've never heard of who was injured some time ago in a vehicle I don't own that was part of a business I have never been involved with in a place I've never been to as far as I know.
Mrs Stevie, who is part of the well oiled machine that is the New York Legal System (and that is the only explanation I can come up with as to why someone would get so many of the details of a summons wrong) said I should calm down and she would deal with it in the morning.
So I'll let her tell the idiot, lazy lawyer he isn't worth whatever the plaintiff is paying him.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Flinging some slim French bird around the place, having her clutch me tightly and get paid for it? C'est une consummation devoutment etre wished.
Sadly, a love of Mars bars™ and food in general, a genetic predisposition toward bisinistrate-rhythmoperambulation and a complete inability to gain even rudimentary fluency in French doomed me to the path more traveled than that one.
Plus: I cannot smoulder convincingly1.
Monday, October 03, 2011
Those who know me know I have some issues with the current festering pile of leperous vileness infesting the World Wide Web.
Chief among these is anything that slows down the delivery of the webpage I'm wanting to look at, and it goes infinity times more for anything that is simply going to be a signpost to where I really want to be.
I sometimes (rarely) use my laptop to connect to the web while on the train, where my Wi-Fi service is spotty at best and passing between different access points as I ride. It is therefore paramount that pages load quickly, especially if they are just being loaded to grab the next waypoint on my (usually unwanted) voyage of discovery.
It should therefore come as no surprise that today I am enraged that I sat waiting for a bleeping secondary site to answer the bleeping phone in order that Google could start showing me the link for the site I actually wanted to see (one of the ad-service sites) and then the bleeping site I wanted wouldn't load because it was waiting for Google analytics to answer the bleeping phone. Naturally, by the time I had the site I wanted up and began the process of untangling the resource I needed to see from the visual chaos that passes for design, the Wi-Fi connection had been lost.
I see many angry young things arguing that as soon as more memory becomes available for a PC, Microsoft fills it with cruft. I see just about no-one complaining of the incomprehensible dash to fill bleeding-edge bandwidth with digital vomit, forcing those of us who bought our machines before last Tuesday to endure design assumptions at the web-server end that are not true at the client end. Amazon is a case in point. Get a slow connection and you might as well not bother to load their site as it wallows, trying to pre-load rollovers and banners and Azathoth-knows what else, none of which is central to the business of locating the new Larry Niven novel and buying it.
For years I had to explain to people that the rest of the world was not built around free local telephone service and that V90 dial-up was not a world standard. My father once had to face paying a three hour long-distance telephone charge in order to download an update. Does anyone here begin to see another reason other than stupidity for not applying the latest patches to Windows? I never saw a business so intent of marginalizing its consumer base.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Regular reader1 will probably be aware that Hurricane Irene blew into Long Island a couple of weeks ago. Given the fact that it was actually dying down to category 1 by the time it made landfall, I expected it would be no real inconvenience, and thus rested my head in confidence on Saturday night.
At about 2:30 am the next morning the power went out on the side street that runs along one edge of our property because a small branch snapped off the dead tree the guy across the road is cultivating and fell on the copper-clad thread of cotton that the Long Island Power Authority deems suitable for urban power distribution and strings for miles on rotten poles inadequately bedded in the sand that serves for soil hereabouts. The irony here is that the main road that runs along the front of the property, and which is referenced in our address, suffered no such interruption of power.
"Irony?" I here you sneer, digging out your Alanis Morrisette collection. "How is that irony?"
It is irony because after a warping power pole had tugged the cleat anchoring our power lines to the house off the wall twice in six months we insisted the IQ brigade at LIPA "do something to permanently address the problem" and they switched out power line to the side street's transformer2.
And so, as the hurricane swept over Long Island in the early morning, we awoke to no power and a flood in the basement.
Mrs Stevie got busy with towels and something called a "sham-wow", soaking up the water and transferring it to buckets which were dumped into the septic system so it could seep back into the waterlogged ground and thence back into the basement in a few hours. I declined to join in since I knew the power would be back on in a few hours. After all, not even LIPA could be caught so badly out of crease as to not have contingency plans well in hand.
It was pointed out to me that stuff was getting ruined by the water, but I replied that all my stuff had been systematically ruined in previous floods so there was nothing I cared about, and all their stuff had been put up on shelves after the last time surely? This was greeted with harsh words but I remained resolute in my refusal to join the basement bailing fun.
In order to assuage Mrs Stevie's deteriorating temper I offered to drive them out for breakfast at a diner. The wind was howling and rain was falling, but it had stopped falling crosswise which I took to be a good sign, so we ignored the witless idiots on the radio saying "stay home", mostly because when we were home we had no electricity for the radio and so couldn't heed their advice until we had ignored it and fired up the Steviemobile, and drove to a nearby diner.
On the way I began to get intimations that the situation might be a tad worse than I had apprehended. Bits of tree were scattered everywhere. That much I did expect. What I had not expected to see was trees ripped out of the ground by their roots and dropped wherever gravity and the prevailing wind felt was appropriate. One fallen tree had a root system that was over ten feet across. The owner probably wished that it had gone down a bit further than it did. It looked like what happens when a very young child is let loose on a scale model railway. There were trees down everywhere. Trees big enough to block whole streets, and over a quarter of the town was blacked out.
The diner was in good repair and had power (and had a backup generator, I was informed) and staff, who all looked like they would rather be at home bailing out their own basements3. That diner was to do record business that day and most of the following week. As it was, we had breakfast with coffee (my main reason for suggesting the trip), and we left to see if Mrs Stevie's parents were okay.
They were in darkness, but un-flooded, so I drove the family home and returned with one of our Coleman electric lanterns after replacing the batteries so they would at least have enough light to get about the place.
I took Monday off and, after taking a box of coffee to the in-laws4 the Stevieling and I went out for a drive out east along the Long Island Expressway. She drove because she needs the practice, it was time she had freeway experience and this day at this time traffic would be very light. I just sat biting my arm and screaming when it was appropriate, while offering advice such as "You're drifting to the right, honey. You're drifting into the shoulder sweetheart! Daughter! You're about to drive into a stream of traffic on your right! TURN THE STEERING WHEEL TO THE LEFT AT ONCE! ARGHARGHLEFT!" and "You see those red lights on the car up ahead? Those mean the driver in front of you is braking. So slow down a little. Slow down! SLOW! STOP THIS VEHICLE IMMEDIATELY! ARGHARGHSTOPTHECAR!"
As we negotiated roads blocked by police insisting we turn right when we wanted to turn left (because all the traffic lights were out) we could see miles of power lines lying on the ground because the poles had fallen over. I started to get a very bad feeling about the whole reliance on LIPA to get the job done quickly theory and decided to formulate a new philosophy straightway - one involving Long Island being in the electrical dark ages for the foreseeable future - while keeping up a brave face and a positive attitude in front of the women of La Famile Stevie.
Mrs Stevie had scored some dry ice to keep the fridge cold which turned out to be the last dry ice in New York, and it worked quite well, but we had no electricity so we had no stove to cook with. The fact that I get home around the time it is starting to get dark was also getting old. I was reduced to walking around with one of those strap-to-your-head LED lamps so I could see anything. It worked well, but it was so damned depressing to only be able to see things right in front of me and only see those in shades of actinic blue-white. On Tuesday the performance of the Long Island Rail Road was the icing on the cake and I came home only to leave again in the ostensibly hopeless search for a generator.
As it happened my first stop was Home Despot where it transpired they had just taken delivery of a load of generators. By the time I found where they were there were only two left, and one of those was gone by the time I had finished checking the price. I grabbed the last one and called Mrs Stevie to bring her wagon to collect me as it was far too big to fit in my car. Then it was a simple matter of paying for it, spending twenty minutes sobbing, clawing at my face, tearing my clothes, pouring dirt on my head and yelling "Why me?" and then it was back home for several hours of generator assembly by flashlight.
Once it was bolted together it was a sort of wheelbarrow affair, a wheeled frame containing the engine/alternator, fuel tank and breaker panel with electric sockets with two folding handles so I could move it with only moderate back strain. I filled the sump with oil and put some gas in the tank, then read the starting instructions and my heart fell. The instructions said to choke the engine then pull the starter cord until the engine compression came up, then to heave on the cord to start it. My chainsaw has the same start sequence and it is no picnic getting that bastard to fire up. I was quite despondent when I contemplated the size of the generator's engine, but it actually fired while I was doing the pull-to-prime thing - the easiest pull-start I've ever personally experienced.
It was also the loudest motorized thing I've ever started with the possible exception of Troll5. Standing next to it, the sound of Mrs Stevie's voice was totally drowned out unless she shrieked at such volumes her nose bled. Unlooked-for bonus there. The noise was magnified by the narrowness of the area between the fence that separates us from Crazy Joe and our kitchen, and the dimensions of the enclosure meant that Mr Singh, the neighbor we are on good terms with, was getting the full benefit of the sound. I shut it down and moved it behind the swimming pool, figuring the body of water would act to muffle the sound. It did, a bit, but it still sounded like a Mr Softee van was serving delicious cone-mounted treats in our garden. Oh well.
The generator has five power taps: one 240 volt, 25 amp supply and four 120 volt, 20 amp supplies, and will supply five and a half kilowatts, but it was getting late so I decided that only emergency power would be plumbed this night. This equated to the fridge and a light. Fridge compressors suck an awful lot of power, but I happened to know ours is under 20 amps at peak (when it starts) so it was just a matter of avoiding voltage drop by using a short enough extension cord, something I didn't have in the thickness of wire required for the current draw, so I used the cord I power the swimming pool pump with, which is as thick as my little finger and weighs a ton. This and another, regular outdoor extension cord were thrown through the open kitchen window and plugged into the fridge and a lamp and all was happiness in the home. I, however, went out to buy gasoline, which because I had only a small can involved two round trips to the gas station to fill the tank.
Now I have a five gallon can somewhere in the garage, but it had been silted over with crap the women put in there then moved about to find other stuff they put in there and now, with no lights, I wasn’t ever going to find it. Mrs Stevie said she’d pick one up while she was out, but wouldn’t ya know it, there were none to be had fer luvner money so she bought a Kerosene can instead. A kerosene can is exactly the same as a gas can, and a day later that same can was available as a gas can, but a kerosene can is blue and it is illegal to fill a can that is not metal or plastic and colored red at a public gas station in New York. I explained this quandary to Mrs Stevie but she announced that she didn’t care because it was my job to fill the thing each morning. It would be my problem. A frank exchange of views was held in which I lost badly, but which fortunately the neighbors were not party to on account of the racket from the generator.
And so to bed.
The next day Mrs Stevie and I had a spirited disagreement on whether we should run the generator all day while we were at work. I felt we shouldn't, mostly because of the cost (24 hours running would be around $70-80) but also because my feeling was that the thing wasn't intended for such a heavy duty cycle (the box had a list of envisioned uses and some had "standby" featured prominently in the wording and specific instructions on how to shut the thing down including a five-minute, no-load running period so that the alternator could cool down before the engine - and the cooling fan - stopped). Not only that, but there were strongly worded contra-indications on the subject of the thing failing under load and my experience has been that tools with moving parts must be watched like a hawk because those parts have a tendency to stop moving in dangerously creative and expensive ways as soon as you take your eyes off 'em. Mrs Stevie felt that if the generator was not running flat out the fridge would slag down in a pool of water and rotting food within minutes.
The discussion ranged over a number of subjects, most of them to my detriment, and then we had another frank exchange of views and I gassed up the generator and left for work, its ear-splitting "blat" announcing to one and all that our (empty) house had power not of LIPA's doing.
As my home-bound train approached Wyandanch (Perl of the East) I got a call from Mrs Stevie to inform me she and The Stevieling were going out. She later claimed that she added the fact that since the generator was still running she wasn't going to do as we had agreed at breakfast and put more gasoline in it, but if she did she said it to empty air and static. Needless to say when I got home the damned thing was silent.
Silent and red hot.
It had clearly shut down while the fridge motor was running and was now in a state engineers call "heat soak" which is a fancy way of saying that the heat built-up in the engine and alternator casing was not blown away by the fan and so was hanging around while the formerly moving parts added more and more heat to the business. The generator was actually getting hotter as it sat there doing zero.
I waited a bit, refueled it and attempted to start it, but it refused to countenance the idea. My guess now is that some sensor had shut off the electrics.
By the time Mrs Stevie got back I had hurt my shoulder trying to get the bastard to turn over so I gave her the benefit of my feelings on the matter of owning a $750 paperweight, my opinion of the headache and nausea I had suffered all day as a result of being splashed by gasoline first thing in the morning, and the exact depth of my despair at the thought of yet another night by flashlight, and then I departed in the Steviemobile for an hour's drive to cool off and revel in the air conditioning, the wide field of illumination of the headlamps on the blacktop and the soft, powerful purr of the engine as we ate up the miles going nowhere useful. I returned home to find Mrs Stevie attempting to start the machine so I went to bed.
Early the next morning I managed to get it started again and put my foot down. I explained that the fridge was capable of sustaining its temperature if it wasn't opened for the eight hours we wouldn't be there if we froze cool packs overnight and moved them into the fridge when we left for work, and that if anyone wanted TV, Internet and a washing machine this side of Christmas they had better get in line with my "only when we're in" plan for running the generator because I was absolutely not doing any more improvised electrical work in the dark by the light of an LED flashlight. Mrs Stevie argued until I mentioned the sheer cost of electrifying an empty house, and she finally agreed6.
That night I ran more extension cords and by 10 pm we had all the aforementioned facilities up and glowing while the neighbors gnashed heir teeth in the dark or listened to their own generators. By Wednesday most of that side street were running similar lash-ups.
One funny incident occurred just as I was leaving. I saw Mrs Crazy Joe come out and glare at the fence between us, from where the sound of our generator was making itself known to the area. This was rich. On Monday they had deployed a generator of their own and placed it about five feet from my house. Payback is a birchbark canoe as the Algonquin Wise-men say.
Of course this running of extension cords necessitated the purchase of a new, thick and hence trés expensiv one because of the previously raised concern about voltage drop over the length of the cord, since the washing machine is another amp-hog. By now I was becoming inured to the hand-over-fist costs of the blackout and so the customers of Home Despot were treated only to quiet sobbing and some pounding of my head against the robot-checkout machine as it printed my receipt.
And so we had light, TV, Internet, cold soda and clean underwear despite the Long Island Power Authority. Huzzah!
On Friday night, around 7:30 pm, I arrived home to find Mrs Stevie feeding coffee and donuts to some LIPA guys who had arrived in theater thirty minutes before and were not feeling the love on account of a crowd of onlookers whose attitude could best be described as "disgruntled" that was letting the workforce know how much they valued the chance to live for a week as their original colonist ancestors had. Galvanized by sugary foods and delicious beverages they had the power back on in a trice and gradually the neighborhood fell silent as, house by house, the generators began to shut down.
Ours was last.
- TOS Circulation now in double digits if you count me and in binary↑
- We had naively expected them to simply allow another foot of cable from the looped reserve at the pole, but they were feeling mischievous and decided to reward our temerity by making our back garden resemble one from Queens by gittishly draping sixty feet of power line over it↑
- I recently got into a discussion with some non-Americans over tipping, in which some of the tightest people I've ever communed with decried the process and claimed to "not understand how to do it". Tipping 101: If the person serving you braved a hurricane so that they could have the single pleasure of serving you eggs and coffee, they bloody well deserve a tip, and a big one, and a verbal thank-you for doing so with a smile↑
- Yes, a box. Google "Box Of Joe"↑
- The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness↑
- There’s some Scots blood in her from her mother’s side of the family that I can sometimes appeal to↑
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
And right after I posted that the building started bouncing like unto a boat on a choppy sea.
Our emergency director (yes, we have someone who directs such things) came on the PA to say he thought it might have been an earthquake and that we should stay inside because there was no danger but if we went outside we shouldn't congregate near the buildings because stuff might fall off them onto us.
I am not making that up. We were safe in the buildings - that might at any point disintegrate and fall onto the revelers outside.
I logged onto Google to see how long it would take to get something to show - about three minutes. The main event was in Virginia about nineteen minutes before. Odd, I always thought shock waves would be faster than that. Nineteen minutes from Virginia to here? That's one laggardly aftershock, but typical of the "just so good and no further" thinking that permeates everything these days. Bah, etc.
I signed onto the USGS website and they asked me to report my observations, so I did. They explained that the observations they were looking for were those about the Earthquake, not on the deplorable slipping standards and lack of backbone in today's youth, so I gave them a gripping tale of one Englishman's struggle to find sanity and relevance as his world bounced up and down around him, a metaphor for the current state of the world made manifest as unthinkable disaster was upon him. The poignancy of his wind-up robot toppling helplessly into the chasm formed between the Ultrasparc Workstation and a pile of unread manuals was of particular note, throwing the whole insane business into harsh relief and causing him to cry out against the forces of nature assembled against his very life in a World Gone Mad.
It took forever for the site to finish uploading my report because the servers were swamped by panicked idiots writing "What I Saw In the Quake" minutiae.
But now I join the ranks of frontline journalists, those who brave the vicissitudes of nature to get the story out to the public safe in their homes. I too, have stood on the abyss as disaster not of man's making loomed large.
You heard it here first.
Deep inside my head there's a notion stirring, something very, very scary.
I don't know when it started, but it seems that it's been with me a while now. Maybe it started with the birth of my daughter. I don't know. That's just conjecture, a bit of pop psychology, back-of-the-cereal-packet stuff. Truth is, I don't know.
I'd guess it was also born from the observation that the vast majority of people in the western world now seem resigned to the steady degrading of Standards of Anything. The rest of the world always seemed to think that the current Standard of Everything in the west was a bad idea and the sooner we got back to the stone age the better, but the current crop of Clever Young Things seems to have accepted that Things Will Get Worse and that the correct response is to just sit back, watch the TV and accept it, and the Venal Old Things with the power are only too happy to play along.
The voice in my head is whispering that I may be living in what unimaginably far future generations will regard as the Golden Age of Everything, the apex of What Was.
How utterly [Terrifying | Depressing].
Delete as appropriate.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
So, The Stevieling graduated high school.
Not sure what happened. One minute she was walking around the house in bib-jeans with a pink and white cloth baseball-style cap turned backwards on her head and a stick pretzel clutched in one hand for all the world like a munchkin Oscar Madison, the next she was filing into a too-warm hall to spend an interminable time listening to people give incomprehensible speeches (Life Lesson kids; when the metaphor takes longer to convey than the plain language message it seeks to obscure, consider just saying what you mean and getting the hell off stage1).
As she walked up to take her diploma (frame2), I couldn't help wondering why my four year old was wearing that oversized gown and standing in that line. I had to stop myself from getting up to go and fetch her out of the Big Kid line and found I was rehearsing reasons a four year old might understand as to why she couldn't take part yet.
And so a party was planned.
Mrs Stevie decided that the Church Gym would, once again, serve handily as a great place for a post-school knees-up, and the parents of one of The Stevieling's friends, upon finding out we had a hall, asked if they could wed their celebration to ours. Turns out The Friend's dad is a chef and he offered to provide the food for the evening. We considered this for about a second and a half before taking his arm off at the elbow.
And thus, a joint party was planned.
On the Wednesday before the party I had to take a day off work3 to deal with a green card issue. I was to be biometricized it seems. For all my other green card pix I was ensuited, but being as how I was within four weeks of advancing geezerhood I decided to wear a nice Hawaiian shirt. I did, however, make a concession to propriety and had a haircut, after which I wandered into Al Sands Toy Soldiers & Whatnot.
Now I used to buy my hobby supplies from Al, but he gradually reduced his stock of stuff I care about by the expedient of arguing bitterly with the suppliers over this or that. I try and give him a little of my money on occasion, because he is a local business and I, for reasons I cannot work out, have a sort of thing about supporting such institutions when I can4.
Anyway, Al leapt up at my appearance and yelled "I have a new line - Airsoft Guns!" His smile was alligator-like and his eyes bugged out alarmingly in his zeal.
"Wossa Nairsoft Gun?" I responded, ruining his moment of triumph.
"BB gun that looks like the real thing! Just look at this Glock!" He waved the safely bubble-wrapped weapon of individual destruction at me.
"Glocks look like that? I thought they were black. That thing is transparent. And I don't remember any gun that has a big orange ring around the shooty-end" I said, dubiously.
"Well, if they didn't do that you could get shot by a cop under the mistaken but understandable impression you were waving a Glock around" he responded, peering into the works of the weapon, which were clearly visible through the transparent casing.
"Nice exposition" I counter-responded. "Naw, I'm not interested in that sort of thing."
"I've got a French assault rifle" he wheedled.
I sucked my teeth and said "Nope. Not interested"
Al played his trump card: "I've got a Thompson over there, in the back of the shop.'
"Ooh, where? Lessee" I masterfully evaded. "How much?"
"Hunnert bux, give or take." He had come up behind me and was not where I expected him to be, but hovering about six inches from my back in vulture-like anticipation.
"Argh! Don't do that! No, not interested. It's got the straight mag. Plus, you know, it's see-through" I said as I attempted to regain control of my heart-rate.
"I have that model with a drum magazine for the same price" he purred.
"You bastard! No. Nonono. If I bring a machine gun home the missus'll kill me and jump on my body until it comes to bits. I haven't got time for your nonsense anyway. I have to get biometricized." And with that I vaulted over Al as he made to low-tackle me and ran for the door.
And I got biometricized, which meant I had my fingerprints taken again and my photo taken again. The only difference between the biometric nonsense and the non-biometric nonsense was that they no longer needed the picture to show my right ear5 but insisted I take off my glasses because it seems the computers that will form the first line of defense vs the terrorist masses and which are the underpinning of this bio-nonsense cannot work out what my face looks like with them on6.
So that's all right then.
On the day of the party I drove out to collect my dry-cleaning and stopped off at Al Sands House O' Odd-Looking Gunz and bought the damn Thompson c/w Drum Mag. Yes it was see-through with a bright orange muzzle. Yes it cost two limbs. Yes it was a 1941 model rather than a 1920s one (no forward pistol-grip, other stuff too nerdy to mention). No, I have no idea what made me do it. To this day I cannot explain the urge, which was irresistible. I mean, I've never owned a BB gun, and never wanted to.
I drove home, assembled it, put the battery on charge and had a think. One thing was obvious: this must be kept from the knowledge of Mrs Stevie at all costs, at least until I had a decent story worked out as to why we needed a Transparent Fake Machine Gun C/W Orange Muzzle. I decided the perfect place to hide it was in the middle of the bed in the front bedroom.
Then it was off to help set up, disguise the gym as a not-gym and so on.
When I got there the decorating was in full swing, with big poster-sized displays of photographs of The Stevieling and her friend, one display per ex-student. I found Mrs Stevie fretting.
"What's up?" I asked
"They have baby pictures. We don't have any baby pictures!" she wailed.
"We have hundreds of baby pictures" I said, 'just not here. So go home and get some." I was feeling in manly pro-active mode, what with now owning a fake weapon of mass-inconvenience. Amazing what a little faux fire-power does for the old juices.
Decorating went on until we were all fed up to the back teeth with it. The friend put up a collection of his oil paintings, using duct tape to stick them to the walls. This meant that unless an adult went around periodically pushing hard on the frames, a cascade of art would happen about three times an hour. Tables had balloons. The food was unbelievably magnificent in both quality and quantity, and the kids whole family showed up to act as kitchen staff. I thought I was going to be washing up, but they had it covered. The guests would be eating off plates that looked like real china with real cutlery (thanks to Mrs Stevie) and one of the friend's neighbors made a huge cake as a gift for the graduates.
I went home to get changed just before things got started, and discovered a crimp in my brilliant hide-the-machine-gun plan: The baby pictures were stored in the front bedroom and Mrs Stevie had clearly been in there and seen everything!
I did The Bonehead Dance and used some class three Words of Power, then went and took the battery off charge, loaded the gun and had a few test shots in the garden, which proved a calming thing to do. Returning to the hall I found the party just beginning and everyone seemed in good spirits.
Around 8 pm or so, our best man, Jeff the Kung-Fu Accountant, accosted me and I told him about how I'd bought the machine gun, hidden it in a foolproof place only to have fate intervene and urinate down my back.
Jeff commiserated, all the while pretending to roar with laughter, then informed me that things were about to get orders of magnitude worse and pointed over my shoulder, his face almost bright red and wringing wet from the tears he was crying (obviously in sympathy of my future fate at the hands of the Vile Harridan who was bearing down on us).
I needed a brilliant plan. My mind whirled, a cascade of psychedelic creativity as a thousand options were individually selected, run in simulation to conclusion and rejected on the grounds that death by strangulation was not an option here. Only one plan would offer a chance, a mere chance of survival. It was a long shot, but I was out of options. Turning to face her I adopted my best contrite expression.
"Sorry about the machine gun" I said.
Mrs Stevie screwed up her face. "What machine gun?" she demanded.
Jeff tried to distract her by collapsing to the floor in fits of simulated hysterical laughter while I showed the world The Bonehead Dance again. That daft woman had not even seen the thing! She'd walked right by it and it hadn't registered in her brain! On the one hand, I had pulled off a brilliant camouflage in plain sight ploy. On the other I had ruined it with premature and unnecessary confession! Damn and blast!
It was about then that the Pastor of the church hove into view and spotted the balloons. These were a problem he said. We shouldn't have them in this hall he said. Every time people have balloons in here, they break loose and get caught in the ceiling fans and it costs a fortune to get them untangled, he said.
Mrs Stevie assured him that the balloons were nailed down good, and somehow got him to stop obsessing about them getting into the fans, and the party continued with the kids performing some sort of group epileptic fit on the dance floor to music that sounded like a recording of a Mardi-Gras parade played backwards and the adults alternately eating and complaining that there was no alcohol (Church, remember?) or that their hearing aids had been blown out by the fiendish Sonic Cannon being fired at them from across the dance floor. Fortunately my eardrums quit around 9 pm so I didn't have to hear any of it.
And a good time was had by all.
It was during the post-party clean-up that disaster struck. Around 1 am I was getting punchy and a balloon got away from me, floating up to the ceiling. It was dead noticeable.
Mrs Stevie stamped her foot in rage. "Now what are we going to do, idiot! Pastor can not come in here and see that tomorrow!" She went on in this vein for some time, and when she paused for breath I spoke.
"I think I can get that down" I said, peering at it speculatively.
"How?" she demanded, 4/5ths anger the rest suspicion.
"Well, I have a machine gun" I said.
"Gogeddit!" she snarled, so I did.
Carefully assessing the target with my experienced marksman eyes, I selected single-shot mode and removed the safety catch. With a quick check to see what would get hit by ricochets, I put two shots into the balloon, only to hear them rattle to the floor.
"I don't think this will work after all. The BBs are bouncing off the mylar" I said, with regret.
"Keep shooting, idiot!" she snarled.
Rarely do I get such carte-blanche permission once Mrs Stevie has assessed whatever it is I plan on doing. A few, a very few occasions in which reasonable actions got out of hand and, for example, burned the finish off her grandfather's table in a sheet of flame7, or dropped a tree on her new car8, or killed a vast swath of the front lawn9, have over-sensitized her to the possibility of sub-optimal outcomes and thus most times a blanket ban on such activity is pronounced "before anything bad happens".
Thus it was I needed no further goading to action. My manly juices started flowing in earnest as I selected Full Auto mode and with the traditional cry of "Top O' The World, Ma!" I put about two hundred rounds into that blasted helium-filled terrorist. A large flap tore in the face of the balloon but it still stayed buoyant. I poured on more lead10 and eventually it began to descend, slowly.
It was then that The Stevieling came in. "Dad! What are you doing?" she cried.
"I'm firing a machine gun in church. What does it look like I'm doing?" I said, pausing to give the drum spring a few cranks11.
"You can't do that! Mom'll kill you" she said. It's remarkable how like their mothers girl children can sound post-puberty.
"Relax! Mom said I had to do this. Would you like a turn?" I answered, and was gratified to see her face light up. My genes are not completely recessive, then.
And so it was that that balloon was machine-gunned until it no longer looked like a balloon. A check showed it had trapped about two hundred BBs inside it. Truth be told I think The Stevieling was right when she opined it was the weight of them that finally brought the thing down.
Best party ever.
- And for Azathoth's sake try and understand that listening to Robert Frost get lost in a wood is only interesting and pithy the first time you hear it↑
- For some arcane reason the actual diploma was sent through the mail weeks later. All she got that day was a book-like mount for the thing↑
- Which again, was a tortuous decision that consumed about half a jiffy↑
- I am regarded variously as an eccentric or an idiot by the younger people whom I meet as a by-product of my hobby. I try to point out that saving four bux by buying something from Amazindeal Dot Com just moves the owner of the hobby store we are standing in that much closer to shutting up shop, but they don't understand. They cannot process the chain of cause and effect, and are incapable of acting in their own long-term interests. The Internet Generation. We has one↑
- A bizarre requirement of Green Card pix of Yore↑
- It is a mark of my growing maturity that I didn't "innocently" ponder out loud what would happen if I shaved my beard, or carved it into a new shape. I wish politicians wouldn't use Star Trek episodes as the basis of their yardstick on how great technology will be in a given situation. What a dangerous waste of money this whole biometrics scam is. Now a well-educated terrorist can steal your passport or whatever from a distance without ever seeing the damned thing because it will blurt out its innermost secrets (like your fingerprints, photo and bio-history) to any properly formatted radio request. And lest you think this is American Nonsense At Its Best, I was biometricized for my British passport years ago.↑
- The Mamod Live-Steam Traction Engine Fiasco↑
- The Foolproof Maple Pruning Method Debacle↑
- The Maladjusted Lawn Fertilizer Spreader Screw-Up↑
- i.e. Plastic. This thing fires 6mm plastic BBs rather than .45 caliber bullets like the original↑
- The magazine on the original Thompson was spring-fed, and the firer needed to wind it up before spraying lead everywhere. The BB version requires the key be turned to keep the supply of BBs in the vertical feed constant. You get about thirty shots before you run dry↑
Thursday, June 09, 2011
The Space Shuttle has been declared officially obsolete, 30 years after the design was first used to get people into (low) Earth orbit.
Not before time. We don't want our brave Astronauts zooming around in antiquated 7-seater spacecraft designs.
No, what is needed is a (hypothetical) new (as yet undesigned) replacement (as yet unfunded). Until then, our International Space Station-bound Astronauts will take advantage of the generous (and costly) help of our Russian friends to ferry them to and from the floating junkpile of science in the well-tested 3-seater Soyuz spacecraft.
A forty-five year-old design.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
De skimmer gate's connected to the - leaky hose
De leaky hose's connected to the - debris exclusion colander thingy
De debris exclusion colander thingy's connected to the - pump rotor
De pump rotor's connected to the - short hose
De short hose's connected to the - base of the cylindrical tower of fossilized diatoms
Or is it the top?
No, it is the bottom
De top connector of the cyl - or is it the top?
De instructions were around here - somewhere
Where de hell did I put those damned - instructions?
I'll figure it out from - first principles
Oh wait, De instructions are written on a sticker on the - cylinder of fossilized diatoms
De top of the cylinder of fossilized diatoms's connected to the - long hose
Ha I knew I had it right - all along
De long hose's connected to the - pool water return gate
De power cord's connected to the - timer
De timer's connected to the - pump motor
Argh! De top of the debris exclusion colander thingy chamber has - blown off!
Bugerbuggerbuggersod - bleepingsonuvvableep!
De valves! Close them before the pool floods the - neighborhood!
Bugerbuggerbuggersod - bleepingsonuvvableep!
De liquor is kept in the - left kitchen cabinet.
Another day in paradise
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Just when you think things are as bad as they can get, they prove your imagination is not up to the task.
I'm writing this from my morning commute. At Farmingdale a couple of young men got on the train. The very large one sat next to me and almost crushed my laptop bag. The one with the jailhouse tattoos sat opposite me and has been steadily picking his nose all trip.I've managed to keep my gorge down so far, but he just wedged a wad of chawing tabackee in his mouth and so I will now be treated to him spitting the juice into a coffee cup when he can spare a hand from digging out nose excreta.
I can't wait to see what awaits me when I change trains at Jamaica.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Thank Azathoth for The Rapture
I finally get some much-needed elbow-room and no longer have to share breathing air with those smug beggars with their turning the other cheek1 and all that nonsense about living forever in my father's kingdom. Take one look at what people have done with the kingdom they had to start with and take a wild guess at what a past few thousand years2 of their occupying The Afterlife will have done to the place.
Odd thing: It sounded for all the world like Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling were stamping around this morning in their usual pre-church opening barrage. It is unthinkable that they would get "left behind" since Mrs Stevie holds a black-belt in Lutheranism and The Stevieling is perhaps the only truly good person left on the face of the planet (as of pre-rapture yesterday). A bit too spacey, but that won't hurt her if Lutheran views on How It All Works are right. I must have been experiencing waking dreams.
I'll miss the kid.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
So, last month I took some advice I've been offered many times over the years by friends, acquaintances, total strangers and family and got my head examined.
It wasn't my idea I hasten to add, but I had reported to Doc Rubberglove complaining that the cough I hadn't shaken since Thanksgiving was leaving me with day-old headaches and in one case almost made me pass out.
I've been serially sick since mid-November and spent every holiday in bed begging for an end to it all. every time I was starting to feel well some twillup would come into work hacking like a Dickensian consumptive and it would start all over again1.
The coughing would cause violent headaches which would, as I say, last all day. I would also get disoriented, at one point having to sit down for a few minutes while the world stopped spinning.
"It could be an aneurysm just waiting to blow!" screamed the doctor, driven mad by the thought of a procedure that he wouldn't be able to perform himself (and therefore bill for). "You need a head MRA."
"Wossat?" I asked, highly suspicious and still sporting bruises from the last round of "tests".
"It's like an MRI, but with an 'A' in it where the 'I' should be. It detects aneurysms. Mostly".
And so, after An Interlude With Insurance Paperwork it came to pass.
On the appointed evening I presented myself and announced that I was there to get my head examined. I was made to fill out some paperwork, which by some miracle of twentieth century technology had finally been mostly done from the extensive computer records that get sent everywhere except to the clipboard with the ballpoint pen, usually, giving the patient something to do in the four hours before they actually see a doctor. This paperwork was mostly a survey of the metal I might have in my body. Then I was told to lie down on a platform, a plastic gridwork mask was fastened over my face and I was slid into the magnet for the most boring ten minutes I've had since the last time I was in a Magnetic Resonance Scanner.
These machines are basically a huge magnet with a radio source and some really smashing computers hooked up to them. They put you in the magnet, which is really strong, and all the rotation axes of the hydrogen atoms in the water in your body line up along the lines of magnetic force like a bunch of bar magnets. Then they shine "white" radio noise through you and all those atoms suck in exactly one photon of a given frequency of radio "light" and flip over to point the other way. The frequency that each atom likes to suck on depends on the local geography, who it's neighbors are and stuff like that. Then they switch off the radio waves so that - and this is the clever bit - the atoms can flip back. When they do that they take their own sweet time, again depending on local factors, and they spit out an identical photon to the one they swallowed. See, it's hard to sort photons out from the sort of radio sources we can make cheaply, so you catch and detect them on the way back. Clever, like I said.
Where was I?
Oh right. You do this over and over, varying all sorts of stuff I left out, and then you let the computer have at it using Fourier Transform techniques, which is a hard sums way of taking a gazillion goes at the same thing and averaging them out so they make a lot of sense. Then more computers and clever software use that data to draw the pictures.
A true miracle of engineering and science. An object lesson in what the human race can achieve when its cleverest minds get cracking, given enough time and money3.
While I was lying in the noise and boredom I suddenly felt my wedding ring and the silver ring I wear on the matching finger on the other hand begin to jiggle around. I would have taken off these items of jewelry4 but they shrank a few years after I put them on and now they won't come off. I alerted the technician to the situation by falsetto shrieking, thrashing around and other restrained and manly methods of indicating All Was Not Well, but he told me to calm down and not to worry.
Easy for him to say. I didn't mind having the rings melt under the influence of Extreme Applied Science5 but there were two reasonably good fingers inside them that I use, off and on, on a daily basis.
Still, it wouldn't do to not be seen to have confidence in the man behind the big desk o' knobs and dials - I was British and in danger of letting the side down in front of an American who deserved to see the legendary British Stiff Upper Lip in the Face of Adversity at work, so I relaxed and let the test proceed with only an understandable amount of minor whimpering and the odd bladder leak any time the machine went "clonk" too loudly.
Eventually it was over and I was about to leave when the technician asked me if I wanted the pictures.
"Doesn't my doctor get those?" I asked, my face contorting as I attempted to parse any hidden meaning from the technician's question.
"Of course" he answered, "but you get a copy too if you want it."
This was a first. Normally getting a look at the pictures medical technicians take of your insides is marginally more difficult than getting a look inside Fort Knox without an invitation. Of course I said I wanted the pictures, and so I had to hang around another half hour or so while they were burned to CD-ROM along with the viewer to properly display them.
This was boffo on many levels. I would get to take a look at pictures of yet another of my organs, always a joy unless it's the skin - I've grown a little tired of that one to be honest6 - I would get to see any problem with the pipes and conduits before Doc Rubberglove could sell me on any bogus "brain transplant" procedures that were not needed and it would prove to that vile harridan Mrs Stevie that contrary to her Theory of Me I emphatically do have a brain in my head.
I rushed home, booted my laptop and inserted the CD-ROM. Then I figured out the viewer software and it was all aboard for a quick journey through the hippocampus with stops in the medulla oblongata and visual cortex.
The first thing I noticed was the old brain was less wrinkly than in pictures I saw in school textbooks. "This not look good" I thought, then realized that I was thinking it with the brain in question. The recursion of that had me crossing my eyes while I tried to figure out if I was on safe ground, rationalization-wise here. I had no desire to blow out part of the damned thing in a stupid accident because of inadequate warnings on the CD-ROM or "everyone knows" precautions I was unaware of due to not having been to medical school and having an education that didn't include MRAs because they hadn't been invented yet then.
I eventually sorted it out and went on to find the part where the arteries show up. They looked OK to me, but as I said I have no formal medical training, just what I picked up from watching "E.R." on the TV, and most of that made me feel unwell.
This was the point when Mrs Stevie came home and in-theater.
"Excellent timing, wife!" I said. "Come and see the pictures of my brain." Boy was she in for a come-uppance.
"It's see-through!" She said. "That doesn't look right. Where everyone else has brain cells all you have is what looks like two lengths of cable TV wire hovering in the middle there. I'd get that looked at if I were you"
"What? No you daft woman! That's just the way that picture came out! Those "wires" are the major blood vessels! Look, here's a picture of the outside"
"Looks a bit smooth to me. I've seen one on the internet. It's supposed to look a bit like a big pile of sausages, all wrinkly. That looks like an odd-shaped balloon"
"What?" I screamed incredulously. "The only time a brain looks like sausages is if you make one out of sausages! You can't use the fake brain from that How to Haunt Your House at Halloween website as a baseline to assess brain wrinkliness! These pictures show a brain, a real brain mind you, in the very pink of health! The only surprising thing is that nowhere are there old pan-shaped scars on it or bruises that spell genuine copper bottom! That brain is in excellent condition and will go for years yet!"
"Pfft! You'd be better off with the sausages if you ask me." And with that she went out to do whatever she does when she isn't harassing me.
The whole thing gave me the worst headache I'd had in months.
- I was close to murdering one of our consultants who refused to leave his post no matter how much phlegm he vented into the office biosphere and who kept the circle of adult→child→rest of kindergarten→child (again)→adult+world going relentlessly the entire time2↑
- This stratagem has backfired somewhat inasmuch as the budget has expired and all consultants are now being furloughed for 10-20 pay-free days.↑
- Of course, most of the money belongs to one kind of person and most of the vision lives in the minds of another sort, but that is just another symptom of The Human Condition↑
- Especially the gold one. I can't tell you how many times that has ruined a blooming romance over the years↑
- Especially that gold one. See comments above↑
- It's too big for one thing, gets too red in summer and has little tags sticking out of some of it that I have to get taken off sometimes↑
Friday, April 29, 2011
This day, at about 20 past one in the afternoon local DST, On the fifth (or was it the sixth) floor of Good Samaritan Hospital, 18 years ago.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Since it is nearly the end of February we (i.e. Mrs Stevie) decided it was time to take down the Christmas Tree.
Years ago we had invested in a very nice artificial tree with pre-installed lights. You take it out of the box, you unfold the branches and arrange them "realistically" and you plug it in. There's an optional "festoon with as much crap as the legs will stand without collapsing" phase which Mrs Stevie is a great fan of, but essentially that is it. No driving all over Christendom trying to find a tree without great big holes in the foliage, no mucking about trying to find a way to prop it up, no sticky pine goo everywhere and most importantly, no waking up the next day to the sight of a propped-up tree skeleton surrounded by a sea of fragrant and impossible-to-vacuum-out-of-the-carpet needles.
I mentioned last year how I had replaced a very large number of lamps in one section of the tree, and how over the Christmas period I was witness to chain-blowing lamp syndrome as the short-when-blown mechanism of each lamp functioned as intended, possibly for the first time in the history of the lamp design. This happens because as each lamp shorts out there is a little more voltage applied to the rest of the string, which shortens the life of the remaining bulbs. Each blown lamp makes matters worse.
Usually this isn't much of a problem because the mechanism is notoriously unreliable, and given to the well-known "one goes out, they all go out" effect. I'm currently working on a theory that this is due to the extremes of temperature the lights undergo when hung outside. However, this theory fails to take into account the fact that everyone has experienced the effect in self-strung lamps that have never been outside the house after the seal on the box they came in was broken. Turning off an entire string of lamps saves the rest of the bulbs at the cost of removing years of life from whoever it is that gets delegated to get the bloody things working again.
I had insisted that before the tree get crammed back in its box1 that I would replace all the bebuggeréd lamps, and Monday being a holiday in New York and me getting the day off, I decided that that would be the ideal time. Next time I'll just go an lie down on the railway tracks2 and save myself the angst.
I had done some post Xmas snooping for el-cheapo light strings which could be raided for spare lamps3 but there were none to be had because the world is currently in the process of stampeding into the era of LED Xmas lights. I therefore was reduced to ferreting around in my Olde Lyte Collection and found four strings of colored lights I'd forgotten I had, that dated from before we owned this house. Dirty, yes, but a quick test showed that twentymumble years on they were still in perfect condition, light-production-wise so they were fit for purpose. They also gave me pause because since microprocessors became dirt-cheap light strings have featured a control box that delivers 20-odd patterns of flashing, none of them ideal and most of them annoying. Thank Azathoth only the neighbors have to see the things. These lights, however, had a control box with a knob on it that adjusted the speed and nothing else. The light would "march" along the string at varying speeds or stay lit and that was it. Perfect for twinkling effects.
So perfect I didn't want to junk them any more.
I had an inner argument with myself for a few minutes and decided to compromise. I would strip out the lights as planned, but keep the wiring harness so I could use it for driving twinkling netlights later on.
In no time at all I had removed and washed the bulbs and classified them by color, and so it was that I had 75-ish lamps for tree-lamp replacements yesterday.
First job was to pull the tree apart so I could work on each section. During this I knocked over a side-table with the remains of The Stevieling's lunch on it and got yelled at. I was forced to endure an harangue on a trumped-up charge of clumsiness before I could start work, but I tuned most of it out so I can't recall the details. Then I began changing the blown bulbs for good ones.
This involves the usual process of finding a good string and removing one bulb (which for maximum enjoyment should then be lost so you can waste hours searching for the bulb and, more importantly, the unique fitting it is mounted in and without which the whole tree is so much junk). This will be the test instrument. Then you remove each dead bulb, testing it by plugging it into the good string to confirm it is blown. Assuming it is dead, you pull the bulb from the fitting, insert a replacement bulb4, trim the wires to length and bend them over the base of the fitting, test the result to confirm it is still a working bulb and plug it back into the place the blown bulb came from.
Eventually the string I was working on would burst into magnificent radiance as I finally found the one bulb that had failed to short itself properly, which would speed the process by not requiring me to test each bulb from that point on. This was important because I ended up replacing well over 50 bulbs5, most of them in that one string that was so troublesome over Christmas. It turned out that, as I suspected, there were clusters of bulbs hidden deep in the tree which had blown and which I couldn't see to replace and therefore my intra-Xmas repairs were already overloaded from the get-go.
I eventually finished up and we loaded the thing into its box and then the three of us paraded out to the garage to attempt putting it back in the storage loft. This involved me steering it into the proper place some seven feet above ground while the womenfolk pushed and heaved. It used to be that Mrs Stevie steered while I pushed, but I figured out who was getting the better half of that job a couple of years ago and suggested we swap so she wouldn't be hurt if the box fell from the shelf during loading.
The threat is real enough; it's just that after watching my savings evaporate in the financial crisis, my house disintegrate at each puff of wind and my health depart for a better deal in some teenager's body, I no longer view death by archived Xmas Tree as a particularly bad thing.
- And for some reason we can never remember how we got the bally thing in the box the year before and have to go through lengthy trial fits that erode everyone's post-holiday joie de vivre and induce the usual Tax Return Season Rage↑
- I'm told death by hypothermia is not that unpleasant, and the steel rails will conduct the cold nicely. The danger of being run over by a train is minimal these days↑
- For reasons that escape me it is often cheaper to purchase a string of 150 lights, strip them out and junk the wiring harness than to buy loose bulbs. This, to me, indicates an economy wildly out of contact with the real world, but I'm told I am stupid by just about everyone I raise the issue with, and you can't argue with facts like that.↑
- Getting the wires into the holes in the base of the fitting is a lengthy process worth a posting on its own, but I'll omit it for brevity, just remarking that it depleted the reservoir of Class Two Words of Power considerably over the course of the afternoon↑
- Lest you doubt this, I still have the swollen fingers to prove it↑
Monday, February 21, 2011
Yesterday, Sunday, I rose at the crack of dawn, donned gloves1 and went outside to clear the debris field that was now taking up the concrete patio that runs alongside our garage.
Mostly made up of twisted, bent Aluminum siding of a bilious yellow color I've never cared for but cannot afford to replace, there were veins of silver-coated expanded polystyrene sheets, often snapped into interesting shapes by the wind that ripped it from the wall after ridding the house of the Siding That Should Not Be and that blew sheets of it all over the neighborhood. It would have been an interesting sight had it only happened next door. Oh well.
Moaning a dirge of hopelessness to keep my spirits up I began to clear the yard, transporting the siding to a sheltered area of the lawn by the fence (there was the forecast of more foul weather to come and I've had the experience of trying to excavate this siding from a frozen snowbank before when the patch at the opposite corner was torn off a couple of years ago almost to the day - it was a Martin Luther King Holiday Weekend job excavating it, thawing it and putting it back on the house). It was not one I hope to repeat in this life. Nor would trying to clear the promised snow from the rear of the house be simple if there was a field of razor-sharp Aluminum embedded in it.
I soon had a pile of siding on the lawn, a pile of expanded polystyrene weighed-down with a bucket full of pool chemicals in one corner of the concrete patio and a field of nails all over the concrete patio. It seems the wind had shaken the pile of crap for some time after it had landed, allowing about a pound of nails to dribble down to ground level. What a wonderful example of mixed-particle sorting under turbulent conditions! What a complete pain in the fundament to clean up.
So I didn't, telling myself the musical jingling that accompanied a walk across he patio as nails embedded temporarily in the soles of my boots then dropped free was a pleasant change to the "wocka-wocka" sounds of siding only partially uninstalled from the wall of the house alerting me to the sudden gusts of wind that were buzzing around me trying to claim credit for the mighty work I was witness to.
Then I went round to the East Lawn to survey the damage there.
It was fortunate that I had been sobbing helplessly from the debacle on the patio and was thus unable to summon more than a groan at the sight of my once magnificent fence, now missing a panel. From the way some of the others were flapping it was obvious I was about to witness a complete and catastrophic failure of the infrastructure, fence-wise unless something was done soon. Action was called for.
There followed the usual nonsense at Home Despot as I attempted to find six pressure-treated two-by-fours that were a) straight, 2) unbowed, þ) not corkscrewed and ♥) not dinged-up to the point of unusability by the forklift used to load the banded bundles of wood onto the racks. It took forever.
Then I removed and replaced the lower rail on the fallen panel, added rails to the corner panel that was about to rip free in the light breeze that was blowing when I returned to Chateau Stevie, did the same to a couple of other panels that were looking very sad, and lastly, installed the fallen panel.
I should explain. The reason so much damage had occurred was that the fence rails, the long lengths of wood to which the fence pickets are actually fastened, were not made of cedar as I had assumed when I bought them, nor were they made of pressure treated wood. They were, in fact, just untreated spruce, what the termites and carpenter ants that infest these parts call "breakfast". The insects work from the rear of the wood, the bit that is sandwiched between the cedar pickets and the rail itself, so everything looks good until it suddenly and unexpectedly disintegrates and the fence becomes a pile of loose pickets on the sidewalk.
There are two ways of repairing such damage. The Proper Way, in which the old rail is removed in a tedious and time-consuming process and replaced with a more durable length of wood, and the I Haven't Got Time For this Crap Method in which the more durable piece of wood is laid on top of the rotting rail and secured top the fence posts, then the fence pickets are either nailed or screwed to it, which saves time at the expense of looking really horrible as the old rail falls apart and leaves dangling nails as a lingering Tetanus threat when it falls apart. I used the latter method this day as I was sore wounded and down-at-heart and just wanted the day to end.
Replacing the panel was a job and a half too. First, these panels weigh quite a bit and are a challenge for two people to work with in a tight spot. Next, replacing this panel meant I had to walk around the entire property any time I needed to get to the other side, which I did, a lot. Third, frost heave had raised the ground so much the bloody thing wouldn't fit back in the hole it came out of and I had to hack at the frozen ground for quite some time to prepare the way and still had to sit on the (freezing) sidewalk and lever the damned thing into place with the mighty Stevieplates before I could drive the screws.
The neighbors had already been given much entertainment and were pleased with the performance that entailed me sitting on the ground, kicking the fence into position and thrusting with all my might to keep it there while I drilled new pilot holes, switched bits, dipped each screw in a mysterious fluid (liquid soap, old fencebuilder's trick to prevent the screws jamming half in) and then drove it home with a battery-powered drill and rage-powered Words of Power.
It was all very trying indeed.
Mrs Stevie hoved into theater as this was going on and demanded to know whether the fence was fixed or not. I informed her, over the course of the next three minutes, that it wasn't and made enquiries as to what mental processes were at work that could infer such would be the case given the extent of the destruction and the size of the workforce deployed to deal with things. She responded in kind, visiting such much-explored territory as my genetic heritage and quality of my gonads (though what that has to do with fence reconstruction is beyond me). After that, the conversation deteriorated somewhat and harsh words passed between us, until finally she playfully punched me in the head and went inside so I could continue working.
The Stevieling swept up all those nails, which was nice of her.
I woke this morning to see it was snowing and had been doing so long enough to leave three inches of white inconvenience all over the shop.
- I call the right glove "Juan" and the left glove "Quixote" so that each time I wear them I Don ...↑
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Spent today, Saturday, goofing off, watching other people play Warhammer Fantasy Battle (a colorful tabletop game involving dozens of painted plastic and lead miniatures that eats time and cash like they're going out of fashion).
On the drive home I got caught behind a cop car which was busting chops by driving slower and slower as it proceeded up a virtually empty Deer Park Avenue, obviously trying to provoke someone into passing so they could be stopped and ticketed for some petty thing, so at the first opportunity I took a right and drove the back way back to Chateau Stevie. Thus it was that I was privileged to see a panel of my 15 year-old cedar fence lying face down on the sidewalk.
I parked the fabulous Steviemobile1 and ran inside and told Mrs Stevie.
"Well, I was trying to call you but you weren't answering your phone. The wind went crazy about half an hour ago and blew the fence down" she sniffed. "It also pulled the siding off the side of the garage'"
"WHAT?" I screamed. "All of it?"
I ran outside took one look at the scene, clutched my head and moaned. The siding had peeled off the side of the house from the roof line to about seven feet from the ground and had dumped itself as a collection of twisted metal all over the yard. Then the insulating panels, made of expanded polystyrene, had blown off, revealing the tatty asbestos shingles that the house was equipped with by the original builder2.
I plan on running the costs of this disaster through the house insurance because those bastards canceled my policy abruptly after twenty years of premiums. Not because of anything I had done, but because some actuarial gimp had calculated that Long Island was now a hurricane-prone area3 and recomputed the cost/risk ratio.
This unannounced move effed up my mortgage payments for the first time since I owned the house and took a while to sort out because it triggered default notices on my account.
Oh yeah. These gits are charging me for hurricanes that haven't happened, so they can bloody well pony up for the siding-wrecking gale that did. But the costs may be high on account of those Azathoth-damned shingles, which are now classed as a hazardous material and will cost much to get rid of.
The wind, which has been gusting strongly for the last 24 hours has now died down.
Its work is done.
- now suffering a suspected hole in the exhaust after dinging it up in snowbanks around Boxing Day↑
- A Mr Gak Eisenberg, who knapped flint arrowheads and hunted Mammoth and Giant Sloth in his spare time↑
- because the climatologists say we are "overdue" for a big hurricane - I wonder if these people are solidly behind the anthropomorphic cause of Global Warming since the same climatologists are saying so↑
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Well, one out of three ain't bad.
The regular reader 1 will know that I was sick over Thanksgiving, sick again over Christmas and sick in the early New Year. All respiratory infections, and thus all made me short of breath.
Once the illnesses were finally over, imagine my surprise to find I was still feeling short of breath. Not "gotta suck air as fast as I can" short of breath, but in the middle of my chest there was the feeling you get at the same time you are sucking air trying to make it go away after a really long run. The same feeling, sans pounding, that you get when someone really cute announces they aren't entirely averse to the idea of removing their clothes in your presence and will let you touch them afterwards.
I had a long think, interrupted by memories of some of the young women that actually enacted that scenario in my presence2, and remembered that in my case this feeling had once been my body's way of saying "Hey, guess what? Your pancreas's capillaries are all blocked with that stuff that looks like toffee again. Prepare for unspeakable agony!" and the clarion call to start ingesting nothing but clear liquids until I was capable of straightening up and not screaming every 30 seconds as I was wracked by spasms of sensation of the sort that alter one's perceptions to the point one can see God.
It generally took a few days.
Accordingly, I switched from solid food to Ginger Ale, and in no time at all I felt like I'd been kicked in the kidneys and was peeing clear, odorless fluid that all-but fizzed. Amazingly no pancreatitis occurred and so I started eating again. The feeling came back, faded away, came back stronger and finally moved in permanently. Then my legs started hurting really badly
Time to see Doc Rubberglove.
The doctor's staff was obviously in need of some entertainment because they got me an appointment the next day, so reluctantly I announced I was taking a sick day in order to deal with the chest discomfort and the slipped disc I suffered when I leapt into the air and clicked my heels upon being told I would have to take Tuesday off. Anything is better than the Tuesday meeting.
That night I celebrated by laundering some clothes and popping them in the dryer.
The next day, around noon I departed for Doc Rubberglove's House O' Humiliation, noting in passing that The Stevieling must have loaded the dryer with clothing before she left for school as it was tumbling away to itself.
The Doctor's staff weighed me with their special scale that adds 50 lbs to your true weight and stuffed instruments in my ears and up my nose, though they couldn't actually muster enough energy to even pretend they were looking into said cavities. I don't blame them; I've seen what's in there myself and there are limits. Then a med student tapped me in various places, fondled a few limbs and declared the doctor would be with me "soon".
A mere half hour later Doc Rubberglove breezed in and prescribed an EKG3 which involved sticking electrodes to my (hairy) chest, running some sort of inkjet printer for five seconds, then ripping off the electrodes and writing down the ones that caused the loudest screams of pain. Then, while the staff went out to watch re-runs of it all on the surveillance system I was allowed five minutes on Doc Rubberglove's Patent Electric Fog Bong, which didn't cure the problem but made me care slightly less.
Eventually the Doc stopped prevaricating around the bush and scheduled me for some tests, effectively using up the rest of my day in medical froofaraw. It was all very trying.
First there was the Chest X-Ray, for which I had to drive to the other end of the island so some young woman could irradiate me with enough monster-creating hard X-Rays4 it made my ribs glow in the dark.
While I was there, another young woman ultrasound-scanned my legs in case I had a thrombosis or phlebitis or whatever a blood clot in the leg is called. The gel used to make the ultrasonic gubbins work properly got soaked up in my leg-hair and thus when I made my way to Good Samaritan Hospital for blood work I had shiny legs that shone with a sheen that would have looked not out of place on the head of someone around 1985.
It felt nasty too. which was, I believe, the point. Naturally, when I showered that evening it turned to glue, but I'm getting ahead of the story.
I drove to the hospital, having no idea whatsoever where the outpatient lab was. Never mind, I would drive past the Emergency Room drop-off on the left side of the hospital looking for signs saying "Lab", and park at the back if I didn't see any sign and check in at the information desk at the Baxter Pavilion in the rear of the hospital. It's actually more of an annex than a pavilion, but that was a conundrum for another day.
There was no sign for the lab
So I parked and walked to the Baxter Pavilion doors. Once inside I noted with a class three Word of Power that there was no-one at the information desk, and from appearances hadn't been since the desk was installed. Another plan foundered on the rocks of reality then. No matter, the hospital is really one big building linked together by zigzaggy corridors; I would simply walk them until I discovered a sign for the Lab.
A sad mistake.
I managed to walk to the front of the hospital in only about 15 minutes, where a young woman barely out of the Zygote stage laughed at my English pronunciation of "Laboratory"5 before directing me to the right side of the hospital. I then traced a zigzaggy path in which a straight-line distance of what could have been no more than 300 yards became about a half-mile of staggering and moaning. I hadn't eaten since the previous night because I knew that any blood work Doc Rubberglove would order would require an 8 hour plus fast, and since it was now around 4 pm I was getting a bit spacey.
Finally I found the lab and had the blood drawn, two tubes of it.
"Is that it?" I asked dubiously.
"Yep" answered the technician.
"How come? I have these tests done every three months and they always take four tubes full".
"Nah. We can do most of the tests with just this one". He held up a single test tube of blood with an anti-clotting agent added to it.
I knew it. I knew it was not necessary to suck out pints of blood for those damn tests. Those bastards at Gouge Laboratories (my usual blood thieves of someone-elses-choice) were clearly inflating the bill and bleeding me dry into the bargain. Gits.
I asked the girl manning the desk which would be the quickest way back to my car (I had no wish to repeat the epic journey I made on my way in) and was told that if I went out of the door and walked about three hundred feet I would be in the carpark.
And so I returned home in high dugeon, and went downstairs to unload the kid's stuff from the dryer.
When I opened the dryer the awful truth became apparent. I was greeted by no outrush of warm, moist air, and the clothing in there was mine. The damned machine, instructed to dry until the heat sensor indicated the clothes were done, had broken down in such a way that the clothes had tumbled for about 36 hours.
I unloaded my dry and very, very soft clothes and one towel. Then I sighed and pulled the lint filter, and removed the mattress of downy lint that had been sucked off the towel as it was pounded into submission for a day and a half.
Fortunately, Doc Rubberglove had decided to hedge his bets (and mine) by scheduling a Stress Test for the next day, so I had another day off in which I might scavenge a few hours in which to effect dryer repairs.
And so to bed and the sweet oblivion of Lethe.
Wednesday dawned and, once the women had decamped, I got up and removed the dryer faceplate and drum. I jumpered the door switch circuit6 and started the dryer so I could observe the gas jet in action.
Or not, as it turned out. The igniter didn't even glow7 so with a sigh I pulled the entire machine (what was left of it) out from its niche and removed the rear panel.
As usual, this was accompanied by the sudden deformation of the razor-sharp pressed steel panel and the consequent infliction of a couple of dozen minor wounds to hands, face, upper arms and anything else not covered by clothing.
I spent some small time bleeding, crying out in pain and so forth, the stuff that Mrs Stevie categorizes as "wasting time", and got back to work.
A quick poke around with the multimeter showed a suspicious open circuit on one of the components.
Aha! Or, after a bit of thought, perhaps not.
Some of those components are supposed to be open circuit until something happens 8 so I had to pore over the circuit diagram for a bit to confirm my diagnosis, then jumper the component and check that the dryer lit when the circuit was closed, which it did.
Okay, so I would get a replacement from Sid's Appliance and Taxidermy Store on my way back from the cardiologist, who apparently was not planning a stress test, just an initial examination according to the human I finally was able to speak with after a battle with the phonebot- no need for towels, shorts and a change of shirt then, and most of the day not wasted in gasping for air in the quest for health.
I excised the mutinous part and put it...somewhere. I remember it was on a small table at one point and I remember distinctly picking it up, but that would turn out to be the last I ever saw of that particular piece of junk. Then I drove to the cardiologist, who took one look and said that he wanted me to have an echocardiogram and a stress test. Right now.
And so I had my chest hair dry-shaved in patches, then the bare spots scrubbed with a scouring pad because "we need the skin to be more sensitive". It worked, too, and much kudos to the scouring pad-wielding nurse who gave her eardrums in the cause.
After that I was hooked up to another EKG machine with industrial strength sticky pads and was made to walk very fast on a treadmill until my vision became tunneled and I was begging for mercy and/or death with every ragged breath.
There was a Big Red Button for turning off this Torquemadaesque Machine, but it had been placed cruelly out of reach of anyone likely to need it.
I was allowed to dangle from the handlebar of the treadmill for a few minutes while my lungs sucked in volumes of life-giving air, then it was time for the ripping off of the sticky pads which revived me by the expedient of exposing the stuff that grows underneath my skin to the air.
Next, I was conducted to a room where an attractive young woman attempted to stick more pads to me but failed on account of the wringing wet condition of my body (which now resembled that of a mange-riddled Gorilla that had been fished out of the East River) squirted yet more gel all over me and began to use ultrasound to show a student my heart (and presumably gather important health-related data) but got discombobulated when I asked if I could have a look.
She made up some excuse for having me lie on my left side (the machine was on my right) and I acquiesced rather than provoke her into some inventive "test", but I felt - and still feel - that if anyone is going to look at a person's organs using technology that person's insurance is paying for, then top of the list of gawkers should be the person who is lying on a hard couch covered in gel with holes shaved randomly in his chest hair.
She spent the rest of the exam driving the probe into my chest so hard I have bruises.
Well, too bad for her. I've been married to Mrs Stevie for 22 ambush-filled years now. Her attempts were pitiful compared to the ministrations that vile harridan has visited upon me at the drop of a hat.
Mistress Ultrasound wanted the student to practice on me and I agreed to let him do so on me provided part of the process was him showing me my heart.
"You really want to look at it?" she asked.
"Damn straight. It's my heart, I wanna see it too" I snarled.
I was somewhat short tempered by then on account of the bruises and the gel which was doing for my patchy chest hair what the other woman had done for my legs 24 hours before, and the fact that once again I hadn't eaten all day.
It was eventually over, and I was conducted to the certificate- and bookshelf-lined office the cardiologist lived in when he wasn't actually examining anyone.9 He waved me to a chair and told me that according to the tests he had done he couldn't say why I was short of breath. He said he'd be happier if he could've run a test with radioactive dye, but my insurance company wouldn't agree to pay for it. Once again I was confronted with direct evidence that the American Health Care System is dysfunctional10. Oh well.
So I left the doctor and prepared to talk to Sid, or perhaps Sid. Which was when I got my first inkling that all was not well with my foolproof "component replacement" plan.
I emptied my pockets and searched the contents. I searched my car. I drove home and searched the house. I searched my car again. All to no avail.
There was nothing for it but to do without. I did the Bonehead Dance, then drove down to Sid's place where Sid and Sid were in residence, and described the part using mime and interpretive dance. I did okay too, against all expectation, and in a surprisingly screw-up free session with my socket set I had the dryer reassembled and working.
True, I did manage to crush a connector into a wad of useless brass with my Leatherman pliers, and I got a teensy shock when my finger brushed up against that connector's mate because I'd forgotten to unplug the dryer but all-in-all a fiasco-free repair, mostly, if we ignore the losing of the part debacle, the squished connector screw-up and the amps up the knuckle joint of my little finger inattention to detail.
If only the Doctors could pull off the same trick with my body.
- there is one, but I've forgotten where he lives↑
- Alright, all three of them↑
- Why is an electrocardiogram an EKG and not an ECG? First order obfuscation so the plebs don't pierce the miasma of jargon the medical community throws around to avoid telling you what exactly is wrong with you↑
- Has no-one but me seen The Quatermass Experiment for Azathoth's sake?↑
- I was exhausted and starving and couldn't be bothered to concentrate on accommodating Americans and their crazy pronunciation and slipped up by saying "la BOH ra tory" instead of "LAB rote ury"↑
- The dryer is designed to cut off power to the motor and shut down the gas jet when the door is opened as a safety measure. Part of the process of removing the front panel involves prying apart a connector that hooks the door sensor into the machines electric circuitry. It goes without saying that the designers viewed the practice of firing up the dryer while it was in bits as dangerous and had designed the circuit so that with the door sensor disconnected nothing would work. However, they then undid all of that careful handyman protection-from-self work by including a circuit diagram (taped inside the control console so it wouldn't be found by just any incompetent fool, only by those with access to tools) from which it was possible, with the aid of a multimeter, to figure out how to run a bypass with a u-shaped bit of wire. We handymen laugh at such concepts as danger and culpable liability. Actually, we usually don't spot them in time but it amounts to the same thing↑
- Plunging me into new territory. A glowing igniter but no flame is a problem I've fixed twice before↑
- usually something getting hot given that a dryer only does two things other than sit in a room: it gets hot and it spins one component, slowly↑
- I'm absolutely certain that there is a company somewhere that supplies doctors with appropriate bookshelf fillers. There's always a large selection of books with the name of the specialist's target organ(s) on the spine - there was actually one called "The Heart" front and center of the case directly behind this one - and a selection of new, worn and worn-out spines crammed in there. All too convenient, if you ask me. Who in Azathoth's name would actually read something titled "Congestive Failure Modes of the Human Cardio-Vascular System"? ↑
- Either the doctor is asking for too many tests or the insurance company is being overly tight-fisted at the risk of my life. I can guess which is the actual case in point here↑