Sunday, December 30, 2012

Musing on the Mayan Apocalypse

Hey, Mayans! What if they had an Apocalypse and no-one showed up?

Not even the idiots that were banging on about the Mayan Apocalypse as though it were a) real and 2) properly identified as to time given the difference in calendars and changes ours has gone through over the last few hundred years.

Does this mean that as your people, long extinct as an actual culture, can now officially be declared as irrelevant in the years to come since in theory if there were any of you left you would have ceased to be in the aforementioned Apocalypse?

If so, it was all worth it.

Can't stand bloody Mayans.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Now That's A Pretty Song

Back in the High Life Again, by the late Warren Zevon, from his wonderfully titled antepenultimate album Life'll Kill Ya.

Steve Winwodd's original was a big hit here in New York in the 80's (I think), but Zevon nails that "threw it all away, wiser now" tone in this low-key, pared-down, laid back version that was released just two years before he was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a cancer widely associated with asbestos exposure.

There's lots of good stuff on this album, which is themed around morbidity, though High Life isn't about physical death as much as social and psychic morbidity (at least, that's what it sounds like to me).

I'm not a big Zevon fan. I've only got two of his recordings and one I bought for the track used on The Color of Money. Not only that, his (to many people) anthemic Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner reduces me to helpless laughter at the point where the mercenary transitions into the vengeful revenant sans tête. There are two schools of thought on that: I reckon it's the most egregious use of bathos I've ever come across, everyone else says I'm nuts and use clever words uncleverly. Whatever.

Buy Life'll Kill Ya" and listen to "Back in the High Life Again".

Musings On The Atmosphere

Azathoth on a bike, I'm so fed up to the back teeth with this never-ending bleep-forsaken bleeping bleep-sucking ass-bleeping rain.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas "Cheer"

So, two things I was looking forward to on Christmas Day; Playing a board game with the family and going to see The Hobbit.

Both cancelled so we can get to the in-laws in time for dinner.

So that's alright then.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Christmas Miracle

After years of seeing them on TV, I finally had me a Christmas Miracle of my very own.

About two weeks ago I misplaced my iPod, an old-style red Nano that I was given as a Father's Day gift and which I've come to find indispensable. I knew it was in the car, and when I looked and it wasn't I thought it might be on my desk at work, and when it wasn't I thought it could be in a bag I only use occasionally for carrying supplies to my Role-Playing games and when it wasn't I began to despair. I looked everywhere but could not find it, and I was very broken up about it, to the point of losing sleep fretting about it. It's only a piece of electronics, easily replaceable with a bigger "classic" unit that will hold all my music, but in another sense it is completely irreplaceable, and not because Apple doesn't make that model any more. It was a gift from the people I care most about in all the world, and I, fool that I am, invest such things with emotional ballast that can't be duplicated.

Tonight, Christmas Eve, I was clearing off our always-cluttered coffee table, which had been searched early on in the process, and there it was - my iPod, good as new.

It's charging now.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Yesterday I left the house for some fun with pals and while I was out, some stupid woman driving down Nicolls Road managed to crash into my property despite it being lit so brightly you can see it from the Space Station.

She did a good job too, smashing into the power pole (yes, the same one that was smashed a couple of years ago and which now is bent so far out of true the wires to my house are bowstring-taut and a second pole once again stands next to the one with the wires on it), gouging a lump out of my grass verge and scattering parts of her car and a few pints of old, well-burned oil all over the sidewalk as she used my chain-link fence as an arrestor-net, bending and dislocating the top rail and stretching the chainlink into unusability.

They said she was swerving to avoid someone who pulled out in front of her from Pineacres Boulevard, which forms a T-junction with Nicolls Road in front of my house. They said no-one was hurt. Well and good. What no one was speaking about at all was the Warp Factor at which Madame Destructo was traveling when she implemented Evasion Pattern Picard Delta One.

Because it was obvious from the debris field and infrastructure damage that she sure as damn wasn't driving at or below the legally posted speed limit of 30mph.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fun On A Ladder

So it was time to enable Xmas Merriment Illumination Chez Stevie once again.

My regular reader will remember that I long ago developed the very sensible policy of not removing last year's icicle lights from the gutters in order to get a jump on the job, which in past years has involved me perching on a ladder in full darkness trying to hang lights in sub zero1 weather, while attempting to avoid freezing to the metal gutters.

I decided that as I had used this policy for the last two Christmases and some of the lights were blown and they all were a bit on the yellow side (this happens too for reasons I can't fathom; after a few years of intermittent use, icicle lamps go from a bright yellow to a more sickly shade, making it impossible to mix new strings with old. This may be a manufacturing process at work that forces the replacement of nine boxes of lamps when only one is needed. I dunno) that I had better change them for new ones before The Rage of Mrs Stevie was let out for a run. Also, I had cleaned out the gutters in preparation for Really A Lot Of Wind And Water Sandy2 and for reasons I will explain in a moment this had entailed smashing half a dozen of the bulbs in the string nearest to the downspout.

In front of my house there is a row of Alberta Spruce trees. They began life as two-foot high bushes and stayed that way for a long time. They spent a few years going from two to three, then four feet. Then they shot up to six and seven feet in about six months. This has introduced a new facet of excitement to the business of getting up to the gutters.

The ladder won't lean against the gutters because the trees are in the way. They poke into the ladder at the halfway point and stop it coming into good, safe contact with the gutters. The end of the ladder floats above the gutter edge at a distance of a few inches. It doesn't sit properly until I am three or four rungs up the ladder. Until then each step produces an alarming bounce. When the ladder finally does land and stay in place, it typically does so on a bunch of light bulbs and crushes them giving me yet another job to do. It is all very trying.

Well, this day I had three boxes3 of lights to hang in place of the strings that had hung for lo these many years. So I unraveled two lengths of new icicle lights and hooked them over the rungs of the ladder as high as I could reach as it sat resting against the seven foot tool bushtree. I plugged in the lights and mounted the bouncing ladder to the sound of crunching glass, emitting little manly squeaks of terror at each fresh bounce until I was safely up the ladder, it had an inch and a half of length poking over the gutters and was resting firmly upon the roof edge.

Partly because it warms the wires and makes them easier to work with, partly because I never want to hang a string of lights, turn them on and see darkness again I have for a decade or more always hung the lights with them plugged in. It also cheers me up as the cold freezes my nose hairs and the feeling slowly departs my fingers. Today, it was drizzling to add misery to the overwhelming atmosphere of utter dejection. So I climbed the ladder, pulled up the strings of lit lights and unsnapped one string of the old, broken lights from the end hook.

At least that was the plan.

What actually happened was that the hook, weakened by three years of extreme temperatures and rotted by exposure to ultraviolet light snapped like a rotten twig and the wires of both old strings fell away putting more weight on the second hook which snapped putting even more weight on the third which snapped and so on in a chain reaction of amateur lighting collapse. With a loud zipping sound the lights along the entire frontage festooned themselves on the ground just as I looked on in resignation and Mrs Stevie stepped out of the front door holding the phone.

"It's your mother" she said, casting her eyes about a scene that did not, to her untrained eye, suggest much in the way of hanging-up lights, but rather the reverse.

"Of course it's my mother!" I snarled. "Why wouldn't it be my mother at this, the least convenient time with the light only two hours from gone and rain drizzling down and me not wanting to get off this ladder unnecessarily!"

So of course I had the phone call while trying to replace the gutter hooks and string lights in the drizzling rain which left me no hands or teeth left for holding onto the ladder. Not only that, the new lights proved to be unbelievably cheaply made and despite my having arranged a working ground-fault interruption device in the circuit I would get the occasional unpleasant shock to the fingers. I pride myself in such cases that I can maintain a conversational tone, refrain from swearing and so forth, though my mother did inquire as to why I kept going "agleaggleaggle" down the phone every two minutes.

She finally hung up just as the sun was touching the edge of the roof, which gave me two hours before total darkness, allowing me to quicken the pace a bit, achieving as much as four "aggleaggleaggle"s a minute.

Until I ran out of lights halfway down the house, which was when I remembered the real number of boxes of lights needed for the job.

I did the bonehead dance, not advisable on a ladder made bouncy by mutant Alberta Spruce bushes I might add, and yelled that I was going to Home Despot for more lightsaggleaggleaggle.

Naturally, this being the first week in December, they only had three beaten-up boxes of lights that looked suspiciously used and returned, so I asked a "helper" to test the strings for me.

"Test the strings?" this stalwart asked, looking askance at me with all the indications of someone who has just heard an outpouring of an unknown foreign language.

"Yes! These boxes have been opened and the lights unwrapped! I'd like to know that they are functional before I get them home please, so is there anywhere I can plug them in and see that they are working?" I snarled. I'm not at my best when people are being deliberately thick at me.

"Calm down! he snapped. "I can test them. Keep your cool!"

"I am calm and cool, but if I'm going to pay full price for obviously shop-soiled merchandise I expect that at a minimum it does what it would say on the box if any of the boxes still had sides!" I howled.

The "helper" grapped the bundles of lights and plugged them in, one by one.



"Aggleaggleaggle. There! Satisfied?"

"Very. Good Day!" I did battle with the self checkout, then having checked myself out returned home where I discovered that these were not in fact replacements for the lights I had bought three weeks before, but similar ones featuring longer icicles and a shorter run. I dealt with this by using some class three Words of Power and doubling the icicles back on themselves and knotting them. As a byproduct of this, I received approximately three times the number of painful shocks I had before. I also ran out of lights before the end of the house.

So I ended up re-using some of the old strings to finish the job and wonder of wonders the color of the bulbs matched perfectly with the newer strings. A first.

After this triumph I decided to ready Troll, The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness for action by firing up the engine.

I do this every year to ensure that if I need the machine there will be fuel in all the lines and the carburetor will be primed. Usually I have an extension cord rigged from the rear of the house with which to power the starter motor, but my ratty old 100 foot extension cord was stolen (possibly by mistake by a builder but the results are the same). It was repaired and ratty and mucky but it was damned useful and it was mine.

Anyway, this left me with a quandary. Troll has a pull starter but experience has shown that using it is a path to a wrenched shoulder, madness and a potentially dangerous depletion of my reservoir of Words of Power of all classes above three. Troll must be fired to life electrically. It is dead symbolic too. The connection of the power, the flipping of the switch, the setting of the choke, the pressing of the button, the percussive detonation of the starter dog engaging, the cough of the engine, the cloud of black smoke, the chugchugchug of the engine lumbering to life, life LIFE I tell you! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!

So pulling the string on Troll's engine would clearly not do at all. However, there, in the garage, was the solution. And if anything, it was even deader symbolic and completely in the idiom. There, by the side of Troll, hastily moved there as I had nowhere else to stick it, resplendent in its bright orange livery, was my generator - without doubt the easiest engine to pull start I've ever owned or used.

I located the short extension cord that came with Troll and which I've never used after a brief, vocally intensive search, moved the genny out into the rain, cleared off the stuff that had accumulated on top of Troll's engine, and began the ritual of The Starting of the Generator.

Fuel tap on. Engine switch on. Pull the cord gently.

No attempt to start.



Pull out extremely stiff choke toggle and try again, and be greeted on the third pull with the chugchugchug of the generator struggling to...LIFE! AHAHAHAbloody hell push that choke in quick before she stalls!

Then, hands trembling, I connected the cord between the generator front panel and Troll's starter motor, pumped the carb primer until I felt gas under it, then another five times, flipped the engine switch to 'on' and twisted the choke toggle to 'cold' and pressed the start button.

Vast clouds of invigorating black smoke belched from the exhaust and the engine struggled into life life LIFE!

Choking and coughing, eyes watering from the acrid fumes and ears bleeding from the almost-negligently silenced engine, I flipped the switches on all engines to 'off' and packed everything away, satisfied that this day I had Done Good Work.

As I was about to enter the house, the ground fault device tripped, plunging my light fantastic into darkness.

  1. English-style. Sub 32-degree weather measuring things the way they do in the US
  2. One mustn't call it a hurricane for insurance reasons, apparently
  3. I always forget when I'm buying lights that I double up on the otherwise weedy-looking icicle lights and need at least nine boxes of lights to cover the length of the gutters on this house, so I inevitably end up trying to find lights three weeks before Christmas, which is when the stores have stopped selling Christmas stuff in preparation for the Valentine's Day rush

Friday, December 07, 2012

Feeling Old

Every now and then life does something to make me feel old without physical pain.

Case in point. Some years ago, while I was back in the UK for Christmas and debating the wisdom of proposing marriage to this American bird I had met, I paid a visit to the Mitsukiku store in Brimingham New Street Station and purchased two nice Kimonos which I got at sale prices. I'd never been able to afford either under other circumstances.

True, the second was at the prompting of my friend Frank who had the girl's best interests at heart - I was going to cheap out and get her a short, shirt-sized "Happi-Coat" as I was still dithering on the "mate for life" thing. I had other reasons for wanting to see her in the shorter garment which he was emotionally unequipped to appreciate and which I won't go into now, but he was right and I took his advice and purchased two full-sized kimonos.

Mine is black, and has a dragon running down the full length of the back embroidered in gold thread with details in various other colors. Hers is lilac with what to my uneducated eye looks like a Willow Pattern scene on it.

I bought a pink obi for hers and a red one for mine which made the Japanese saleslady giggle, this being a female accessory that serves the same focal purpose as a nice wide belt or lace-up bodice does. My kimono was supposed to tie with this length of black material but would still occlude part of the design. Some kimonos have little slots and other accommodation for the tie so it would run inside the kimono around the back and not break the design, but this one doesn't. So I usually wear the kimono with the red obi tied as a sash/belt, allowing the ends to dangle rakishly at the side. Sue me.

I've worn mine rarely, usually as a dressing gown at Christmas or while on vacation, but it still reached the point of needing cleaning. I took it to a cleaner I trust, but the red lining still bled color and looks rather sad now. Oh well.

I can't remember the last time Mrs Stevie wore hers. I doubt she could find the damned thing amongst all the other clothing she has amassed in the intervening years. Imelda Marcos could have taken lessons from this woman.


I just did a ninternet search and it turns out that Mitsukiku kimonos are now vintage collectibles, which means two things:

First, my dream of getting another or of getting mine a new lining is now pie-in-the-sky.

Second, I'm demonstrably vintage (I outrank the Kimono by a good quarter century) which I kindasorta knew but didn't need telling in such an abrupt way.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Another Fine Mess

No sooner did the hurricane finished the nor'easter blew in, dumping 4 inches of damp snow all over the place. Yes, we are talking about inconvenience snow here. The Bloody Long Island Railroad lost no time in making the most of the situation and canceled its post-hurricane minimalistic service 1 replacing it with a super-minimalistic service. All trains were canceled in favor of waiting around on freezing open-air platforms for hours at a time.

It was all very trying.

So I still had all the wreckage from the hurricane line around including some pieces of siding from the house, but now everything was covered in slushy snow. The only bright side was that I couldn't actually do any work on the house to fix any of the things that had broken off in the hurricane. Result!

Of course Mrs. Stevie is getting a little tired of not having a garden gate and having to lob the trash cans over the fence to get them from the back garden into the driveway, so I shall have to begin amateur carpentry on a grand scale in order to put it all again the way it was before hurricane Sandy blew through. Actually, with a little effort I might be able to make it better than it was.


I actually did get started on Veterans Day, although I didn't get very much done on account of the job suffering from the usual handyman annoyances: hiding tools, improvised skills, incompetence etc.

I decided to start work on the driveway part of the fence, the part that used to be a small gate, a freestanding post attached to the driveway by an inch thick pin set into the post and the driveway containing the shackles into which the gate bolts slid, and the larger eight-foot wide gate (used when we need to move really large things onto the patio, like a car).

The small gate had been ripped off the side of the house pulling the lag bolts fastening the gate post and hinges of the brick work, lead anchors and all. The freestanding post had split at the base, shattering the post and leaving only the pin firmly embedded in the concrete.

This pin was poking up at an angle owing to the fact that when I had originally placed it I had actually put the pin into the post first and then set the whole thing down onto wet concrete filling the socket into which an older post had been fitted, and in which it had rotted away because the water table was so high the old post was actually permanently immersed. The pin would either have to be straightened or removed. To this end I gave it a few blows with the sledgehammer, and the pin obliged me by adopting a very-near vertical stance without the concrete shattering.

Color me amazed.

My new plan would be to eschew the nice-looking structurally short-lived Cedar posts I had installed on all the other parts of the fence for the rather more sturdy (if more unattractive) pressure-treated pine posts are used on the stockade fencing at the rear of the house. Should these prove as ugly as I suspect they will I have a few ideas for disguising them as Cedar (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

I would strengthen the freestanding post by augmenting the pin-in-concrete construction of the previous post with an archway connecting it to the post on which the hinges to the small gate would be fastened, that post being screwed firmly into the brick wall of the house (hopefully more sturdily than the original was).

It took all morning to locate three fenceposts of suitable quality (two to become gate posts, one to be chopped up to form the arch which would be actually a half-octagon rather than a circular or elliptical arch proper), along with sundry fastening devices, metal sockets in which to seat fenceposts when they can't be buried, metal threaded rod to form the long bolts that would hold the gate post wall, and since I have the vague idea that I might be using my .22 caliber nail gun to fasten various pieces of metal to the concrete of the patio and/or the driveway, a container of 2 1/2 inch "ram" masonry nail loads along with a box of yellow (high power) cartridges with which to fire the nails into the concrete.

I decided to tackle the gate post on which the small gate would swing first, and drilled three holes into the brick work to take the threaded rod which would hold the post to the wall. Into these holes I placed a special kind of anchor (the lead ones no longer being legally available in New York) which consisted of a steel tube one end of which was threaded to accept the rod, the other having vertical slots cut in it which would be spread by driving a special tool into the anchor, depressing a pin held captive inside the anchor.

This process naturally cracked the bricks.

I then cut the poster size, and put a 22 1/2 degree bevel on the top to begin forming the arch. I had also decided to set the base of this post in a special socket made for the purpose, a metal construction which would hold the base of the post an inch off the ground which would require fastening to the concrete with a bolt if possible, or nails if not.

I had bought a bolt for the purpose pre-fitted with an expansion anchor similar to the ones used in the brick wall but which expanded as a result of tightening the nut at the end of the bolt. This required me to drill a half inch hole in the concrete to a depth of 2 1/2 inches. Naturally, I hit rebar at a depth of 2 inches, forcing me into the position of dismantling the special anchor and cutting down both the sleeve and the bolt to match the hole using my Dremmel tool, a carbide cutoff wheel-point and some class three words of power.

By some miracle, once the bolt was driven into the hole and the nut tightened down over the socket, it all lined up as I wanted it to and not - as is the usual case - in some completely unhelpful orientation requiring a lengthy and involved bodge, a dozen otherwise unnecessary tools and some class four words of power. To compensate for this, I screwed up the cutting of the metal rod forcing an unwanted trip to Home Despot in what was rapidly becoming the fading light of the closing day.

after this I finally got a clue and instead of trying to drill the holes in the post to match the slightly off-horizontal orientation of the anchors (the realities of drilling holes in a brick wall by hand being what they are) I simply screwed in oversize lengths of threaded rod, applied some professional strength construction adhesive in the probably vain hope that it would help prevent the anchors letting go and stop the brick splitting completely, and bent them until they were horizontal ones that were properly seated.

This made the job much simpler, and I was able to bolt the post to the wall just as the sun began to set and the unusually warm day began to freeze down. I trimmed off the rods using the Dremmel tool and ground the sharp edges down with another wheel-point before mounting the old gate to the post and finishing for the day.

It's quite underwhelming what can be achieved in only a day of exhausting work.

  1. one train each hour serving all stations between Penn Station New York and Ronkonkoma 2 if we were lucky
  2. Those poor bastards needing to go to Flatbush Avenue having to change at Jamaica (not the good one) and in the case of the eastbound trains having to fight for a place on an already overcrowded train

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Real Happiness is a Full Tank of Gas

Convoys of ships, sailing bravely toward New York heedless of the danger posed by U-Boats, each laden with gallons of wonderful, refreshing, thirst-quenching gasoline!

I just saw this on the morning news. It was just like those old WWII newsreels they used to fill Sunday afternoons with when I was a kid so we'd remember why it was great to be British, except the boats were going the wrong way.

Soon the lines of idiots sleeping in their cars for days on end so they'll be first at the pumps will be gone.

And I'll have gas for my car again in time for Christmas!

Cue: "When They Sound The Last All Clear"

Cut to sunset over the ocean

Fade to Black

Happiness Is A Warm Light Bulb




LIPA reconnected us late yesterday and we have a warm house and a cold fridge and lights and TV and Internet and no ice-cream truck parked outside the kitchen or extension cords through the window.

It's indescribably beautiful.

It's like the fourth of July.

Friday, November 02, 2012

The In-Laws Have Power Again!

I, however, do not.

I have a generator and a cunning network of high-capacity extension cords with which to pipe oodles of Mr Tesla's Alternating Current to my fridge, laundry, TV and interwebs where they are needed most urgently, a testament to emergency can-doism, forward planning and the deployment of large amounts of cash to ward off inconvenience ('tis the American Way).

What I do not have is a good supply of gasoline, now rarer than Americium on Long Island and which the mere hint of a supply will cause of not a little violence and civil disorder in the populace (most of which is from out-of-town it seems), with which to run said generator.

It's all very annoying.

Singin' Th' Blues

Don't know why there's my shed up in the sky
Stormy weather
Just hope the damn roof holds together,
Keeps rainin' all the time

Lawn is bare, trees are torn up everywhere
Stormy weather
LIPA can't pull itself together,
I'm blacked-out all the time
In darkness all the time

When the wind dropped away the wife came in to get me.
Our pool was propped up on the neighbour's black Humvee,
I would have let it sit but she wouldn't let me,
Hide in the house no more.

Can't go on, now the gasoline is gone
Stormy weather
Can't even run my generator,
Keeps rainin' all the time.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

My Hurricane Tropical Storm Super-Storm Sandy Experience, Being The Absolutely True Account Of The Exceedingly Annoying And Very Inconvenient Weather Hereabouts Recently

More stupid weather has happened.

Things began well on Monday when, with no sign of any sort of storm the Bloody Long Island Rail Road bellied up to the bar and cancelled all trains. The rest of the MTA, like a bunch of cattle from a Sergio Leone movie, spooked and stampeded to cancel service too. No trains, no subways, no buses. No work on Monday then.

And no sign of bad weather until about 6 pm when the wind began blowing and rain began spotting - but not in the biblical deluge quantities we had been promised by the hysterical shrieking of the weathermen now indistinguishable from any tent-show revival preacher in their assurances of hell on earth about to pour out of the cracks in the ground that would soon be forming.

Around eight thirty one of my neighbours from the side street to which our power is connected banged on the door to inform me that the trees owned by the guy on the other side of the road from Chateau Stevie were brushing the power line, had caught fire and were showering Chateau Stevie with burning embers driven by the gale force gusts.

I raced outside and was greeted by a sight that elicited a half dozen level 3 Word of Power. It was true. The howling winds were fanning three different glowing patches on one tree and two on the other into incandescent glory, producing a blizzard of glowing flakes that bounced gaily off my roof and siding.

We had been told to expect heavy rain, which would have solved the problem at the source, but we actually got just enough wet to short the power line to the trees and heat them to flash point.

A small crowd gathered to watch the whole thing from my front garden, speculating all the while on the likelihood of a roof fire chez Stevie, when suddenly the power line finally gave up the ghost and broke away from the splice at the main road, dropping to the street where it arced away merrily with sound effects stolen from Son of Frankenstein. About thirty seconds into the display some fubleepwit drove up to see what was going on and parked with one wheel on the hot end of the power line.

We all roundly cursed the neighbour whose lack of tree grooming had caused what would undoubtedly be an unnecessary power outage of several days duration and each retreated to take remedial measures - in my case wheeling out our generator, chaining it to the swimming pool so it wouldn't wander off and stringing half a dozen heavy duty extension cords from which I would fashion a makeshift power grid for lights, fridge, laundry, TV and internet.

Now I don't mind all this froofaraw, but I could live without the stink of gasoline and I get splashed with the stuff every few hours when I refill the genny or refill the gas canisters from which I refill the genny. It is all very tiresome at the best of times, but panic spurred partly by previous experience with Hurricane Irene, partly by being home from work with nothing else to do has made the business of refueling fraught with angst and bad manners. Nothing beats being yelled and screamed at while trying to fill a can with gas presumably because it makes the pump pump faster. Today, Wednesday, I was almost rammed by a truck whose driver was so incensed by my trying to get between him and a fuel pump for which he was queuing it didn't occur to him I was merely trying to pass between him and the guy already fueling so I could exit the forecourt. Madness.

I decided that this time I wouldn't try running the generator all night, but would conserve fuel by running it only in the morning, evening and night till around 11 pm, shutting it down at all other times. It was during these experiments over the course of the next two days that I discovered that if I filled the tank more than 3/4 full the gas would drip out of the float chamber of the carburetor until the excess had drained off. I calculate about 3 gallons of gas, maybe four hours of light-load running, and a number of class four Words of Power were wasted before I properly diagnosed the issue. No sooner had I figured this out than I realized a number of bolts had wiggled loose because of the ferocious vibration and gotten lost in the gasoline-soaked dirt under the machine. I used one of my rarely deployed class fives and went groping after nuts and bolts which I eventually found and reattached before firing up the rattlin' beast this afternoon.

The major problem is that large sections of Long Island have been shredded by the high winds that brought down trees, smashing property and tearing out overhead power cables. This in turn has disabled other infrastructure components like sewage treatment and water purification.

Water inundation has also added to the toll of damage and disorder. Widespread flooding has affected almost every tunnel in Manhattan and disabled power generating plants. The south shore of Long Island has been leveled by tidal surge.

All of which means that out little street with it's one broken power cable will be way down at the bottom of LIPA's1 to do list.

I've often wondered in these pages and other venues why the Bloody Long Island Rail Road cannot trim trees away from the right of way until the wind knocks them over and disrupts services. Now, after looking at my neighbour's trees which were an obvious short waiting to happen and seeing dozens of similar situations in almost every street, I find myself wondering why LIPA didn't trim more actively during the summer and why it is still legal to plant trees under power lines.

Time to shut down the generator for the night.

  1. the Long Island Power Authority

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Now That's What I Call Entertainment

I have recently viewed the 1958/59 six part series "Quatermass and The Pit" and have to say that despite the degraded monochrome picture it stands the test of time.

With this last installment of the Quatermass trilogy we get some insight as to how the BBC earned a reputation for cutting-edge science fiction in those dawn of the Space Age days, and well deserved it was to judge by this work.

The story differs in small detail from the later movie version (sometimes titled "Quatermass and the Pit", sometimes "Five Million Years to Earth") and the special effects are rather less impressive in a couple of places (but not so many as one might expect; the BBC splurged seventeen thousand five hundred pounds on this effort, a fortune in those days).

But it is the scope of the ideas aired that really make the production a winner. I'm quite well read in Golden Age through Cold War SF and I don't recall either of the two major ideas in this production being explored before (though I'm willing to be proven wrong). I'm not going to spoil here because the revelation of those ideas is a big part of the reason for watching in the first place.

Do yourself a favour and try and see this for yourself. I rather think the six-part show wins over the movie in a couple of areas, but the movie has obvious strong points where it supersedes the serial in quality so either version is a winner.

Do yourself a bigger favour and don't read the plot summary first.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Vacation Log III - An Interlude With Helicopters

I had thought for some while that it was time that Bil-the-Canadian and the Steviedad had other things to do than get sozzled, zoned, blitzed, deranged and disabled by alcohol together.

Not that I don't think Bil-the-Canadian earns his drink when he gets it. The Steviesis makes his life a constant blur of activity on the spacious, tree-and-bear infested grounds of the Parental Manse, and the Steviedad enjoys kicking back with Bil-the-Canadian after the latter has spent all day putting in a deck or fighting dead trees and live bears with a weedwhacker fitted with a brush-cutting blade or re-roofing the garage or whatever the Steviesis has demanded as tribute this time. But the Steviedad and Bil-the-Canadian have both been told to cut down on the weedwhacking so I sought for and found an excuse for them to enjoy each other's company without danger to life and limb.

I found it in the shape of the minature helicopters I discovered when Mrs Stevie gave me one at Xmas.

These things, specifically the Syma model 107G, are ready-to-fly after 40 minutes or so charging, and are so user-friendly that almost from the first flight they provide ten minutes of enjoyable Big Kid fun. They are miracles of technical innovation, using tiny brushless motors to power the contra-rotating twin co-axial rotors and the tail rotor. Really clever design too.

A traditional full-sized helicopter usually has one rotor for vertical lift and directional thrust and a smaller tail rotor mounted on a boom to fight the tendency of the whole craft to spin in the opposite direction to the main rotor1. You rotate left or right ("yaw") by increasing or decreasing the pitch on the tail rotor (or if you are in a Chinook you increase the pitch on the rear rotor I guess), until you are pointing the way you want to go, and you do this with foot pedals usually. You get lift by increasing the so-called "collective pitch" of the main rotor - the angle at which the blades meet the air in other words - usually by pulling on a handbrake-like affair and at the same time twisting the handle to increase the motor power because, just like dropping a clutch in a car, as the blade digs into the air it needs more power to turn it.

You go backwards, forwards or any-way-you-like-wards by making the pitch of the main rotor change, biting more air on the side opposite the direction of travel, using the cyclic stick - what most people would mis-label a joystick. The rotor disc3 then swings freely to tilt in the direction of travel and the helicopter moves. The whole business requires constant correction by the pilot as the helicopter will tend to swing to line up with the rotor disc and the blades will lose lift on one side as forward speed picks up and gain it on the other and all sorts of other real-world silliness gets in the way of the exhilaration.

Models of this arrangement are available and have been since the early seventies4, but they were hard to fly until the advent of on-board gyroscopic servo motors to correct small fluctuations in behaviour. Such models tend to be large, several feet long, and powered by small glowplug engines. Not suitable for indoor use unless the operator is suicidally5 brave or stupid.

The miniature helicopters such as the Syma 107G are electrically powered and use a rather different arrangement.

For a start, there are two main rotors, mounted co-axially 6 one above the other, each driven in opposite direction to the other by a dedicated electric motor through a ferocious overdrive7 gear train.

This means that when you power up the helicopter it will lift vertically with no tendency to spin, because the torque-cancellation is a mechanical by-product of spinning the rotors in different directions.

You turn the helicopter to point in different directions by slightly reducing the speed of one or the other rotors, producing a net differential torque which turns the little machine eerily smoothly in the air. The effect is robotic and hypnotic.

To move laterally you start the tail rotor, powered by a third motor and pointing not sideways as in a traditional helicopter, but up8. This produces a force either up or down on the tail which tilts the helicopter and the rotors in the direction you want it to go and the resulting thrust makes the helicopter move that way.

To stop the helicopter falling out of the air the upper rotor has a rather brilliant centrifugally-controlled mechanism that alters the variable pitch of the blades to counter the tilt and keep it pointing more or less at the ground and thereby provide vertical thrust. This self-correcting device is so clever I can hardly speak about it, and the upshot is the tiny helicopter is very stable in the air and very responsive to the commends it gets from the twin-stick control box. The left stick controls yaw direction when moved side-to-side and lateral movement when pushed forward or pulled back. This isn't like a cyclic stick at all. The right stick controls lift.

I had so much fun with mine that I thought I would give the Steviedad and Bil-the-Canadian one apiece. Not only would they get to fly them together, the Parental Manse features a huge airspace living room in which the machines could really show their stuff.

Mrs Stevie got into the spirit of things by obtaining a rather nice black helicopter c/w spycam and switchable lights for him, but I vetoed this on the grounds it was too hard to fly and the flight time was too short and I wasn't giving it back. No, the Syma 107G would be the helicopter I took to Canada when I went, and I purchased a blue one for Bil-the-Canadian and a yellow one for the Steviedad, which I flight tested, obtained a replacement for the yellow one on the grounds the flight time was very short9 and declared a new era in VTOL fun and games. Well, there was a problem to be solved, but a New Era was just around the corner.

The problem was that the controllers supplied with the helicopters did not feature the spring-loaded vertical lift stick, a feature I deemed essential for quick assimilation of the piloting technique and a positive safeguard in the event of a crash. About the only way you can damage these machines without a hammer is to keep the power on after they crash. With a spring-loaded lift control, all you need learn is to take your thumb off the stick when crashing. Easy.

So I located and bough two replacement controllers, thereby solving nothing because they were clearly rebuilt units and had nasty scuffs and scratches all over them.

So I stripped them down and took the circuit board and sticks from the replacements and put hem in the case with the trimmings from the original controllers. Which required I do a bit of cutting and filing down of internal lugs because the case in the old unit would not accommodate the stick mechanism from the new unit.

By the time I had two working, spring-loaded controllers in my lap10 I was not so sure this plan was as brilliant as I had at first believed it to be.

Next, I discovered that the boxes for the helicopters would not fit into my carry-on luggage, and that because they featured permanently-mounted batteries I couldn't put them in checked baggage, so it was off to the workshop to fabricate boxes from pink insulation foam. The plan was looking more and more like I should've ditched it from the get-go.

Eventually it was done and everything was packed.

Once in Canada I presented the Steviedad and Bil-the-Cabnadian with their prizes to general puzzlement. Oh well.

The Steviedad eventually tried his out a few days later after I took my little Chinook11 for a trip round their living room (no-one can watch one of these in the air without being fascinated by the sight) and he was astounded by the ease with which he could fly it once he actually tried. He did crash it into his head he first time which caused mockery from the assembled womenfolk, but I understood that it was because he, chartered engineer that he is, wanted to get a close look at the whirling gubbins in action and then got an attack of "mirror control panic"12.

He was nervous about crashing but I assured him before I turned in that night that it was almost impossible to break them and I had taken the precaution of including a kit of replacement parts for those bits most likely to get damaged in a truly impressive crash. All he had to do was avoid the old noggin and he couldn't, I told him condescendingly, break it

The next day he asked me if I could fix it because he had broken it.

I don't know how, but one of the gears had slipped out of alignment inside the body and one of the vertical lift rotors wouldn't turn as a result. I quickly discovered the problem (the machines are so simple inside it is easy to diagnose any problems that arise) but it required me to fully dismantle the machine to fix it. To this day I have no idea how that gear, which was snug on its axle, could have slipped the quarter of an inch it needed to move to disengage from the rest of the cogs. I suspect the Steviedad did it to be annoying.

Luckily the Steviedad has a tool supply second only to my own and in a trice I had the little yellow helicopter zooming above their terrified cats - I never saw such scaredy-cat cats in my life as these moggies.

And the New Era was once again dawning for all to see, with the possible exception of the cats who ceded the field and left for the safety of the recreation room and kitchen.

  1. There are twin rotor helicopters like the Chinook which don't need a tail rotor because they spin the front rotor the opposite way to the rear one2 and other types that get the counter-torque thrust by shaping the boom like a wing so the downwash pulls the tail against the direction of torque, or ducting air from the rotor through it, and there are a number of increasingly bizarre set-ups using twin rotors that interleave or are mounted on the same spindle but rotate in opposite directions, but they are rare because they are complicated and hard to maintain
  2. Though there must be stress in the airframe at the midpoint as the rotors are attempting to spin the helicopter in different directions from their individual ends
  3. The blurry thing you see instead of the blades when they are turning and a useful concept to use when discussing helicopter physics
  4. Graupner made a fixed pitch rotor model in 1974 and a year later had a full collective pitch model if memory serves
  5. Literally, given the combustion by-products of these engines in a confined space
  6. They share the same axis or spindle. actually they don't because one spindle is inside the other otherwise the whole thing wouldn't work at all
  7. Go-faster gubbins
  8. Some people swear that if you modify the helicopter so the tail rotor points down it produces a higher forward speed but I have not experimented with this configuration myself
  9. Quality control can sometimes be hit-and-miss in this sort of stupidly cheap technology toy
  10. And a carpetful of little screws and sundry other small parts
  11. The 107G was so much fun I bought a miniature Chinook made by the same company, which is essentially two 107G main rotor mechanisms mounted in one model
  12. A term I use for the problem everyone experiences at least once when a braincell misfires when the model, be it car boat or aircraft, is coming toward you and you steer it from your point of view rather than the models's so it does everything in the reverse sense for a fraction of a moment until your brain turns the picture around again

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Vacation Log II

It is time to speak more of the Canadian Vacation.

I had intended to post each imposition, each mounting level of irritation visited upon me daily from the scene of the crime, but the truth is (and I can barely bring myself to say it) that the entire vacation was annoyingly free of annoyance in general and I was far too busy waiting for the shoe to drop1 to write about it.

I was in a constant state of heightened awareness and observation which, naturally, was very tiring and required me to take power naps for my own good lest I fall prey to hallucinations due to sleep deprivation.

One of the non-nap-related activities that The Steviesis and BiL-the-Canadian3 had planned for us was a trip to Pipestone Creek, a few Kilometers (which are Canadian Miles and are shorter than American Miles unless you are walking) from Grande Prairie, home of the Stevieparents, where so many dinosaurs had been dug up that they were trying to fund a real museum to compliment the Big Shed O' Bones that serves the purpose today.

There were, they said, tours around the proposed site where if stories cold be believed dead macrofauna leered from the ground at every turn. Why every footstep could unearth a rare and never-before-seen genus of dinosauria, it was said, and one would be foolish not to go take a gander before it was all covered in buildings and archeologists with paintbrushes and pointing trowels.

In vain I pled for the sweet embrace of a sofa from which to observe the perfidious universe as it tried some nefarious ambush on my poor battered body and Mrs Stevie put her foot down (on a particularly tender part of my body) and ordered me into the Truck of Merriment for one (1) trip to Pipestone Creek.

"I've seen it already!" I whined, clutching the sofa desperately.

"Idiot! That was twenty years ago, just before The Canoe Trip4..." her voice trailed off and a look of pure horror crossed her face at the memory of that other Canadian Expedition taken in our youth

"Argh!" I screamed reflexively.

"There won't be any canoes. We'll be inland and off-river the entire time." Her words did not carry the conviction they normally do though. With a shake, she rallied. "I'm going to get some clean underwear and when I come back you'd better be ready to go and see some Dinosaurs in-situ".

"Oh alright then!" I snarled and went to get clean underwear of my own.

We all piled into BiL-the-Candian's monstroso truck, a Ford F-something-or-other, an apposite vehicle for seeking the remains of animals so large they fire the imagination of everyone who sees them. As indeed they fired the engine of the truck itself. I gave myself a headache thinking about the recursive nature of our trip, but at least it took my mind away from thoughts of that other trip so very long ago, yet so close it only takes a word to bring back every detail in terrible, er, detail5.

BiL-the-Candian got lost, but got us found again in a maddeningly short time and thus it was that in a trice we were in front of the well-remembered Big Shed O' Bones.

Canadians are so laid back in general that they actually made a small museum of the local finds and put it all in an unattended wooden building open to the unattended public. Somehow this doesn't feel wrong. In America it would be the height of naive stupidity to do such a thing. Within five minutes the exhibits would be stolen or smashed and the shed a smoking ruin, but not in Canada. Maybe it's the threat of the legendary Royal Canadian Mounted Police6, maybe it's just too much effort to come all the way out here just to screw around with the infrastructure, maybe Canadian Yoof has enough to do without pointless vandalism. I dunno. The rioting in Edmonton would suggest otherwise, but even so.

We clambered out of the truck and into the Big Shed O' Bones, and it was exactly how it was ten years before. Big herbivore skull: Check. Small herbivore parts: Check. Mrs Stevie glaring and tapping her foot: Check.

We decided on not much evidence at all that The Trail That Led To Dinosaur Bluffs7 must be that way and so we descended precipitous drops and navigated thorn bushes and poisoned ivy patches until we emerged on the boulder-strewn floodplain of Pipestone Creek, a place of notable stark beauty and even more turned ankles.

"Hey look!" said BiL-the-Candian. "Someone made an Inukshuk!"

"That's not an Inukshuk" I opined. "An Innukshuck needs to be at least nominally man-shaped8. That is more accurately described as a pile of rocks."

BiL-the-Candian decided to go look for Dinosaurs and while The Stevieling and Mrs Stevie hunted in the boulder field for whatever women look for in such plains of random white dots9 I spoke with the Steviesis of our parents, kids, spouses and other annoyances.

The Steviesis is also Kung-Fu expert I should add, having mastered many forms of the martial art with names like Crane-Style, Dragon-Style, Punch-Up-The-Throat style and so on. So it was understandable that I interpreted her sudden leaps, pirouettes, vigorous swatting motions and squeaks as an impromptu demonstration of her skills. I was on the point of applauding when I realized she was trying to avoid the attentions of a brightly coloured but otherwise harmless flying insect about the size of a small World War I aeroplane.

"Harharhar!" I commiserated, then had to duck as she executed a near-perfect spin-swivel kick to the windpipe which would have connected if not for the WW I insect which chose that moment to perform an Immelman turn into the path of her attack, causing her to convert the energy into an impressive back somersault into a patch of stickburs. Then I was treated to a truly impressive display of Canadian Kung-Fu invective.

At that point BiL-The-Canadian re-entered theater and announced he'd found out where the dinosaur trail really was, and led us from the river, back through the poison ivy, thornapple bushes and hornet nests to the truck.

"The Ranger says we have to drive about three hundred meters up the road and then we have to walk about three kilometers" he said. At least, I assume it was he. His voice was actually coming from a dense cloud of mosquitoes that obscured his head entirely, though years in the Canadian Outdoors have tanned his hide to the point that I doubt any of the bugs were getting a decent meal.

So we drove what turned out to be fifty meters (Canadian yards) to a gate and started walking.


I hate starting a hike with a downhill section because that means that later, when my legs feel like sandbags filled with lead shot, I'll be walking uphill. But was this the spirit that made Britain great? I dunno, but after all this messing around plus having to dodge my own sister's homicidal attack I was getting bloody-minded about it and so we set off down the trail for the promised three Kilometer walk. Which was about three quarters of a kilometer.

On the way we passed a sign "[This way to the] River of Death", which seemed a tad insipid to me, and in my humble opinion would have been improved immeasurably by the addition of the word "Certain" between "of" and "Death". We also passed a group of kids on their way back who assured us that the trip to this watery hazard to life and limb would be worthwhile.

Little bastards.

When we finally arrived at the watercourse, gasping and wheezing and begging for the mercy of a bullet10 it turned out that the River of Death where so much herbivorous megafauna had met a watery demise people were spending money trying to get a museum built around it was now The Wadi of Disappointment and Recrimination.

There was a small frame surrounding what had been a display of bones in situ, but it had been vandalized and boarded up in the name of Archeological Peace-of-Mind. So that was that then.

BiL-the-Canadian was disappointed and showed us a fine display of stoic sarcasm at the quality of the display, wondering what the once-a-week tour revealed when it was running, and postulating that all the fossils were over a really big hill, which made the Steviesis swear at him. We held a council of war and resolved that a) all kids were lying gits 2) Dinosaurs were boring, especially dinosaurs so stupid they drowned in that joke of a river and þ) We should immediately abandon this foolish quest for dinosaur viewing and instead instigate a new plan involving going swimming in the new Health Multiplex.

Now those readers who have ascertained a certain lassitude in my stance on life at this time might wonder at my eager agreement to this watery plan, especially as it was in this very town that, during a trip to a swimming pool, I contracted the most virulent and treatment-resistant strain of athlete's foot that occasionally flares up ten years and more later. Well, this wasn't so much a swimming pool as an indoor water park, and I have experience of such things in Canada that have convinced me that water parks are something one should always try in the Land o' Beavers11. The one in the West Edmonton Mall has the most violent and determined wave pool I've ever personally been pounded almost into insensibility in.

The Health Multiplex water complex was, to put it mildly, impressive. Here in a town of about 60,000 people they've build a complex better than anything available in Metropolitan New York. Maybe Americans should shift their focus from Socialized Medicine12 to Socialized Wellness. All the taxpayers who helped build this one were feeling no pain, except possibly for the people who fell too hard while riding a wave on the indoor surfing machine. Contrast with the glum gloominess of the American Taxpayers, who usually get a poke in the eye for paying their taxes.

They had two tube slides, one for riding rubber tubes down, one for shooting down on your skin. They had three pools. They had the surfing machine. And - Yes! They had a lazy river! Only the best water ride ever invented!

While the others dithered I ripped off my clothes, donned trunks and raced through the shower, bound for a rubber tube which was calling to me siren-like.

I probably should have waited until we had finished buying the day-passes and had entered the changing rooms, but the security guards accepted my excuses of being driven mad by the happy splashing sounds and let me off with a stern warning. Then I rode a rubber tube down the slide three times before the other slugs showed up, which meant I had driven the course enough to have memorized the turns.

The Steviesis foolishly demanded we ride down the slide in a two-seater tube, apparently unaware that I like to enjoy waterslide tube rides "to the hilt", and she found my enhancing of the twisting turns by rocking from side to side to be perhaps a little too much to judge by her cries of "Stop that you bleeping idiot!" and "I'm gonna kill you when we get off this bleeping tube!"

I naturally took this for use of irony to urge me on to greater efforts and put my back into it.

When we crashed out of the end of the slide and were catapulted off the tube in a welter of water and truly impressive swear words that served to clear the area of kids the Steviesis pretended to attempt to strangle me but the whole thing fell flat when BiL-the-Canadian came ploughing out of the slide on a single-occupancy tube, crashed into our little tableau and scattered us like ninepins.

We decided to repair to the Lazy River, where I found that the daft Canadians had nerfed it by designing it for kids and only supplying flotation devices sized for them. A lazy river can only be properly experienced while floating on an adult-sized tube that doesn't capsize and dump you off every time a miniscule wavelet hits you.

As it was I was forced to use a noodle - a five-foot long, three-inch thick length of closed-cell foam - which was fine as far as it went. I particularly enjoyed the little oxbow lake they had made off to one side with a respectable whirlpool vortex in it. In one section there were the expected overhead shower heads, and in another there was a quite strong wave effect that would have been more enjoyable had I been on a large tube13. I would have ridden the lazy river for the rest of the day but on the third pass through the wave section I got seasick and had to get out and sit in one of the Jacuzzi to recover. I put down this uncharacteristic lack of manliness in the face of watery entertainments to jet lag, altitude sickness, undiagnosed bitter disappointment over the dinosaur fiasco and the fact I needed a power nap.

The Stevieling rode the surf machine and had great fun, though I was most unhappy about the numbers of young men willing to risk life and limb to "help" her. I would have said something but Mrs Stevie told me to shut up and stop making whining noises.

After this we all went to lunch where I had too much Strongbow Cider to drink and spoke knowledgeably and at length on several subjects about which I had little actual first-hand experience, after which I was returned to my folk's house so I could renew my vigilance from one of their sofas in peace.


  1. Or, as Mrs Stevie would have it, lying around like a slug on any unoccupied chair or sofa snoring fit to wake the dead2
  2. As if that vile harridan would allow me to sleep unmolested once her stumps were stirred into activity if there only hadn't been witnesses to her perfidy in every room
  3. Second husband, genuine nice chap, Ole-time Canadian Outdoorsman, Teacher and Black-Belt-with-Tassles Kung-Fu expert
  4. I'm still not ready to speak of The Canoe Trip in these pages
  5. Still not ready to talk about it though
  6. Who always get their man
  7. Not the real name of the site
  8. I was, of course, dead wrong about this, but I said it with conviction
  9. Several times that day I found myself inadvertently crossing my eyes in an attempt to resolve hidden 3D pictures from the field of rocks that occupied at least a third of my field of vision, which convinced the Steviesis I was having a stroke and made Mrs Stevie do the thin-lipped thing she does when she Doesn't Approve
  10. Well, I was begging etc. Mrs Stevie, The Steviesis and BiL-the-Canadian were pretending that they were having a good time
  11. Hur hur
  12. Urgh. Bad. Grunt.
  13. I was quite disappointed about the tube situation. I would have thought that a Lazy River in Canada would feature not only adult-sized tubes but each tube would come with a small cooler with a six-pack of beer in it. The country is definitely going to the dogs, and the problem is that these are daft ornamental dogs, not ragged-assed Canadian mutts that look like they just went three rounds with a bear and won the fight on a decision

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Vacation Log 1 - Departing NY

Mrs Stevie had planned our travel itinerary down to the last detail, with pre-paid baggage1 and seats pre-allotted the entire length of the route.

These plans were entirely successful right up until the moment we tried to implement them.

The day started badly in the middle of the night as due to the arcane2 rules about passenger arrival times, which now apparently require people to arrive for a flight with two hours to spare. Thus it was I greeted the "day" at 2:45 am, just about the time I am normally hang-gliding naked with a selection of young female film stars of robust yet delightfully pendulous frame. We should have known something was wrong when the limo rolled up. Instead of the Town Car we had requested we were given the use of a stretch limo of rare opulence, fixtures and fittings-wise. It transpired that the Town Car had suffered a minor prang and we had been "upgraded"3.

So it was with great pomp and circumstance that we arrived at La Guardia airport and submitted ourselves to the tender mercies of Air Canada, at which point things began to unravel. And this is not the trivial unraveling of a sock caught on a sharp toenail I am speaking of. This was the altogether more alarming unraveling of the rope on which one is suspended from a vertical rock face of several hundred feet of lethal drop.

The "Bag Drop" line which should have been a matter of walking in, queuing for a few minutes and handing off the one checked bag we had was almost out of the terminal door. The people-needing-to-be-ticketed line was out of the door, and a fight was brewing as we entered the building.

Our flight had been "Delayed" to the point it would now not leave until 7:30 am, an hour or so after it should have done. This had, naturally, triggered a cascade failure of everyone's travel plans and the bag drop line was now the "discuss and reject various different flight plans" line. There was only one person running that line too, with another swamped in the "ticketing" line and a third, a rather snotty one who was channeling an Hispanic Basil Fawlty that day, presumably because some idiot had put him in charge of the "prestige customer" line and he figured the kudos of this frequent flyer club was somehow conferred on him

Which was ironic really because he proved to be the most colossal twbleept it has been my privilege to see in action for Lo! these many years, from his initial refusal to even speak to anyone not "in the club" who had the nerve to approach his royal personage to his breathtaking announcement when things had stalled to the point that planes were in danger of leaving with no passengers ordering the passengers for Montreal to "not form a new line but to come forward when called". This, of course, caused mad races for the honour of being the "next" passenger and not a few arguments.

The guy in front of us was fortunate enough to be the first to be called when a fourth member of staff was eventually added to the roster, but our hopes of finally getting to find out what the fbleep was going on were dashed when it transpired he was trying to fly to Costa Rica and sorting out the mess the delayed flight had caused took almost an hour.

By the time we were called forward by this same agent (all the others were busy trying - and eventually failing - to ticket passengers to Montreal) we had been on line for almost two hours, and our flight plans now called for us to lay over in Calgary for four and a half hours or so.

Now there are definitely worse places to cool your heels while planes arrive to take you wherever you wish to go than Calgary Airport, but it is, when all is said and done, an airport and intended for people to come to in order to leave. Staying in such places is inconvenient, counter to the purpose of the day and expensive whatever your level of investment in the place, be it a hotel room or a meal in the food court.

The one good thing offsetting the sheer stupidity of it all was that our agent gave us an upgrade to first class for the Minas Torontor to Calgary leg of the journey, and that would be a great comfort and a sovereign elixir for whatever outrages would be perpetrated on us in that disgrace to the science of travel, Toronto International Airport.

except it didn't. The flight to Toronto was cramped, but the passage through the various quest levels was surprisingly (and to these old traveler’s eyes, suspiciously) easily.

Flying out was a dream. Mrs Stevie and The Stevieling, who had unfortunately had gotten nauseous, most likely from the truly disgusting food we were served by Au Bon Pain (my muffin had a hair baked in for example) were sitting in one pair of seats and I was forced to share the row across the aisle with a young, sleek, blonde wisp of whom I am certain Mrs Stevie would not approve had she not filled her ears with anti-ear-pop earplugs and had her line-of-sight blocked by the heaving Stevieling. It was all good.

We progressed across the width of Canada in sleek opulence, feasting on Quails Eggs, Venison, Filet Mignon and Unicorn, all washed down with non-screwtop wine made from grapes harvested by hand and trampled by virgins in vats made from rare hardwoods smuggled out of the Amazon rainforest. True, there were the moans of those traveling steerage to contend with, but we were given complimentary mink ear plugs and there was always the luxury sound system should that fail to drown them out - such as at the mid-flight rancid peanut and muddy creek water ration issue.

All too soon the five and a half hour flight was over and we debarked into Calgary Airport for our interminable wait for flight synchronization to reoccur. We passed the time by having me watch the bags while the women went shop-hopping. I was just about dead on my backside by now, so I entangled my limbs in the various bits of luggage entrusted to my care and fell asleep in a lush easy chair. These chairs are dotted around Calgary Airport and I heartily agree with their presence, since it is a foregone conclusion that if you are there you are going to be there for hours.

We also went for a small meal, which was okay I suppose but nothing special4 and then ran the gamut of security for the third time before we boarded our Dash 8 to Grande Prairie.

The Dash 8 is a shoulder wing, twin turbofan aircraft which seats about 100 people in far too close a proximity, and everyone including the wisp5 was fidgeting like mad the entire journey. I tried to alleviate the wisp’s discomfort with some tales of my various triumphs in the field of superior tool usage, but she clearly had been driven to madness by the change in conditions between the Toronto-Calgary and the Calgary-Grande Prairie legs of the journey and she threatened to spray me with mace.

We arrived, retrieved our checked baggage which had not gone to New Orleans as I expected, previous experience at Minas Torontor suggesting that possibility, rendezvoused with my family and were whisked off to Chateau Stevieparents where I drank a small Gin and Tonic and passed out.

Nous sommes arrivé au Canada.

  1. Airlines now charge people for having the brass nerve to ask them to put luggage into the otherwise wasted space of the hold
  2. Or, as I prefer to call it, F-tarded
  3. Which beat the alternative: "abandoned"
  4. I was surprised at the fast-food nature of my burger given that we were in the beef capital of the world
  5. By coincidence she was again seated next to me

Monday, July 30, 2012

Inundation: We Has Some

So we had another wave of thunderstorms cross Long Island on Saturday Morning.

One was so pluvious the water began cascading down the walls of the house, flooding one window to the point it resembled a small aquarium and began leaking prodigiously through the frame.

The Stevieling had mentioned that this window leaked, but notably had not associated the phenomenon with sheets of water falling down the walls of the house like a cataract: a signature indication of blocked gutters.

No we no longer have large trees around the house as we used to, so I hadn't thought to clean the gutters. Now it would have to be done in the rain, rain so heavy I couldn't breathe without covering my mouth. I'd say it was like taking a shower except I haven't had a shower that delivered that much water.

I was loath to erect my aluminum ladder on account of all the celestial electricity zooming around decoratively looking for a convenient Englishman to ground out on, so I got a stepladder and put that up on the kitchen steps, then leaned out a mere thirty degrees off vertical or so and alternated drowning with pulling handfuls of what looked like Maple seeds from the damned gutter.

After about three handfuls of disgusting muck the dam broke, so to speak, and such was the force of the flow from what was not so much a gutter as a thirty foot long, five inch wide, five inch deep "dump" tank1 that the downspout disengaged from the gutter and I was doused with around 9000 cubic inches (or a shade under five and a quarter cubic feet) of filthy, ice-cold rainwater. I hung onto the siding of the house with one hand as a veitable tsunami vomited from the eaves of the house and another fell from the skies.

"Stop messing around! We've got water in the basement" yelled Mrs Stevie

"Arrrrgle bluphghgerth spthuggrphthgh!" I riposted, wittily.

It took forever for me to reconnect the downspout to the bloody gutter. It didn't help that I couldn't see the eight feet to the gutter from he ground on account of all the rain in my eyes.

I realized the other gutters were probably blocked too, but the rearmost gutter would require the Ladder of Lightning Attraction as would the front one, but that one also included the danger of accidental electrocution from brushing up against the service entrance. Not only that, the Alberta spruces fronting the house that for years were three feet tall have sprouted to a majestic and very awkward seven feet or so.

This means that the current gutter access by ladder methodology is to lean the ladder up against the Alberta Spruce, judging the eventual contact point twixt ladder and gutter by eye (there being three feet or more separation between them), then to begin climbing, whimpering for self-reassurance, and to let one's weight bend the tree until the ladder rests against the gutter, at which point the ladder can be fully ascended. One must be careful as too eager a climb rate can induce a tree-assisted bounce in the ladder which in turn can induce unmanly noises in the climber. Once at the top one must not absent-mindedly step onto the roof or the tree will flex, hurling the ladder across the lawn marooning the climber on the roof. It is all very trying.

So for safety reasons the other gutters would have to wait until the storm passed. This meant that the water pouring on the floor at the house foundation caused the local water table to rise to the point that it began seeping into the basement, then pouring in through places where builders had breached the concrete to install gas pipes and the like. It was apparently like a depth-charging scene from a WWII submarine movie or that bit from Master and Commander when the vile French cannon balls are dinging the hull and the brave British jack tars are bracing the timbers from within.

I say apparently because I no longer leap into theater when these events happen. Everything I care about has already been under water at least once even when I've taken steps to make sure several feet of vertical footage exist between the floor and whatever valuable heirloom it is. My once pristine Roland SH101 sat for hours with water pouring through it because I am the only one who can hear the ticking of the water meter and I wasn't home when the pipe in the garden burst to spray up against the basement window. My irreplaceable, mint condition lead line synthesizer was immersed in cold water for hours because there is nowhere in my house for it to be displayed and used (you really ought to see the stuff there is room for though. I digress). All that can be damaged now is, by definition, other people's crap, and these flooding events are a welcome call to tidy it the fbleep up.

Needless to say, the water was everywhere and Mrs Stevie filled the wet-dry vac before it was under control. I went outside and put the ladder up against the rear of the house. Reaching into the gutter, sure enough more of these seeds, which were smaller than the usual Maple seeds. It was very puzzling. The front gutter was the same. I had never seen this sort of seed before.

As I carried the ladder I paused to note the dwarf Japanese Maple - that has been there since we bought the house and had been about eight feet high for 15 years - had taken advantage of the fact that the two venerable Norwegian Maples we used to have had been cut down (due to them dying on us) and had sprouted to around twenty feet. An ugly suspicion formed as to where these bally seeds had come from, and I mentally began reveiwing the take-off checklist for the chainsaw. Since experience shows that it is never a good idea to fire up Mr Chainsaw while gnashing one's teeth in rage, especially when one's vision is tunneling from appoplexy, I refrained from actually declaring "chocks away" until such time as I have calmed down.

I used to have netting on the gutters to prevent crap getting in them but all that happened was the crap piled up on the roof causing moss to grow, yelllowjackets nested in the clean gutters2 and finally squirrels gnawed holes in the netting and stored gutter-blocking crap in them anyway.

I dunno what can be done, but the current design of my gutters is clearly not fit for purpose. There has to be a way of making these thing self-clean, or at least move the cleaning problem to the ground floor so it can be dealt with without balancing on ladders. I mean, we are not talking about a bird's nest or a dead iguana here, it's a bunch of seed pods with a single wing, like an Ash key, about an inch long.

There was just time to siphon off three inches of water from the now-overflowing pool and rebalance the alkalinity levels before the heavens opened again.

On Sunday things got even better when Mrs Stevie announced that the pool water level was very low and the whole garden stank of chlorine. I dashed out to discover the filter pump running dry and therefore overheating. The reason was that the lid of the debris exclusion colander thingy - which doubles as the chlorine dispenser by virtue of the huge slow-dissolving chlorine tabs I put in the basket and had, in fact renewed only the day before - had blown off and allowed all the water to drain from the pool until both the skimmer and the return outlet were above water. The water in the debris exclusion colander thingy was very hot from the heat transmitted from the dry bearings of the pump, and the steam rising off it was loaded with chlorine of course, which is what Mrs Stevie and the rest of the neighbourhood could smell.

It turned out the lid, which is a push down and turn to lock affair, had broken one of the locking tabs and popped open, which allowed the pool to siphon off about 1000 gallons of lovely filtered water into the waterlogged ground, from where it will likely ooze into the basement over the next few days. Better yet, my local pool supply store had relocated, and when I finally tracked them down they no longer carried that brand of filter or spares for it. I ended up having to drive a dozen miles in order to find a replacement lid. Then I just had to refill the pool.

Which overflowed.

It's a toss-up whether the ground will dry up before it freezes solid in the winter.

  1. A device used in Hollywood to simulate stormy weather at sea amongst other things. Go Google it
  2. a nice surprise when I climbed up and discovered them; I never came down a ladder so fast in my life

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A New Era In Commuting Dawns

So I turned 57 on Sunday, which made Monday's commute the first of a new Stevieyear.

And what a commute it was! It started really well when I woke early at 6:00 am o'clock in the morning with my bladder screaming that the two sips of water I had yesterday before bed were a colossally bad idea. I thrashed around for a bit but eventually lost the battle for sleep and went to the bathroom. Returning to my bed I fell into a deep sleep, so deep I did not hear my alarm and so awakened for the second time just as my train was leaving the platform.

"Great Scott" I cried 1 and leapt for the shower, where I spent ten minutes clawing at the packaging to the new bar of soap I needed to replace the soapy smudge on the soapdish. Once liberated, this wonder of modern hygiene science rendered me clean and bereft of certain essential skin oils as per the requirements of modern civilized life as I scrubbed and I was able to languish under the now almost lukewarm water, contemplating the workmen cutting a large hole in my next-door neighbour's roof in the quest for some sort of home improvement. A quick pause to dry off and get some clothes on2 and it was off to work on the 10:02 from Wyandanch 3.

Or not.

Because I had forgotten that the LIRR had finally gotten its collective finger out and started to do essential and long overdue trackwork on the single track segment that runs between Pinelawn and Central Islip (I think). Therefore, it was off to Hicksville on the LIRR-supplied bus, via Pinelawn.

It was with a certain fatalism that I saw that the slip road to the Long Island Expressway crossed a bridge which was being widened that day. Naturally, before one can widen a two-lane bridge, it must first be narrowed with large concrete barriers to a single lane, thereby allowing road users to fully appreciate the way their lives will be improved when the widened bridge opens new vistas of road freedom as they fulminate in the near stationary traffic jam the temporary arrangements have caused. Ten seconds after we set off torrential rain descended from the heavens in order to make everything wet, but I cheered myself up by thinking about the hole in my neighbour's roof and the two workmen on the said roof who were by now having to deal with all the lightning zooming around the sky and crashing into things with the usual flashes, bangs and property damage.

In almost some time at all we pulled into Hickville where the elevators to the elevated platforms were all out of order, allowing me once more to demonstrate the mighty Stevielungs in action as I clung to the railing at the top of the fifty-foot staircase wheezing like one of those antique pumps used to feed life-giving air to someone in a hard-hat diving suit ten fathoms below as they patch rents, stop vents and do whatever else is required to raise the Mary Ellen Carter. Not only that, all that nonsense with the soap was rendered moot by the tropical levels of humidity preventing my sweat from actually cooling my body down and by doing so, shut down the sweating. I couldn't have been wetter if I had walked to Hicksville.

The train arrived and I boarded, but unfortunately so did about twenty bajillion yahoos with their luggage and their feet staking out as much real estate as they can in order not to have to share a bench seat that holds three with one other person. Gits.

I got to work a few minutes before noon, where the day went rapidly downhill. I cheered up for a bit when I was informed my section leader had been hospitalized but it turned out to be just an unsubstantiated rumour and he showed up at my desk to yell at me at around two. Someone should tell that man how dangerous it is to wake someone from a sound sleep like that. As it was he almost lost an eye when I reflexively stabbed for his head with my automatic pencil.

He remonstrated with me for what seemed like hours but was really only about one on the subject of giving 110% (this from a man with a masters degree in Pure Mathematics) and all would have been well had I not had the misfortune to doze off again mid-rant. Even then, my precaution of having drawn realistic "eyes" on my eyelids might have saved the day had I not begin to snore4.

We had a frank exchange of views in which he explained his (new this week) vision for the enterprise and I made inappropriate noises with various body parts indicating vehement rejection of his thesis5 and we parted in bad humor, he to whatever he does when no-one is looking, me to the large conference room where I could be assured of a couple of hours peace and quiet.

Which turned out to be a mistake as one of my colleagues was in a mischievous mood and used the opportunity to sneak into the room while I was deep in contemplation of my boss's plans and draw "humorous" features on my face with a Sharpie. Luckily I visited the bathroom before leaving for the day and spotted the perfidy in the mirror. Unfortunately the wag had used an Overhead Projector pen and the ink was too tenacious for the chemicals I could bring to bear in situ: Soap, scouring paste, dry-erase board cleaner and the spray stuff we use to clean heatsink paste off ciruit boards6. I decided the "Frankenstein" stitching across my forehead, the "Harry Potter" glasses and the two bullet holes in my left temple could be carried off as a fashion statement and set off for home. The blacked-out teeth I could hide by simply not smiling too widely.

Which after the day's events wasn't much of a challenge to be honest.

  1. Or words to that effect
  2. Won't make that mistake again
  3. Pearl of the East
  4. Which it turned out was why he had come over in the first place. Lesson learned. Obtaining proper nostril-sized nylon bushings now Prime Objective Alpha 1 A
  5. Since he never listens to a word I say I no longer waste them on him
  6. Which it turns out is mildly toxic and after a lungful of the fumes I couldn't see blue or pronounce the letter "p" for an hour and a half

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why I Hate Everyone and Everything In The Whole World Today

Yesterday the heavens opened so widely that the windows in Chateau Stevie began leaking, thus the watery assault on my domicile was now coming from two directions: Up through the basement floor as always and down through the kitchen floor.

As a result of all this wet several things happened. First and foremost, the Bloody Long Island Rail Road stopped working as a variety of their electrical equipment proved unequal to the task of being weatherproof. This included the brand new signal system that replaced the old one that caught fire and for which the commuting public paid deep in the purse.

Not only that, various tunnels flooded and stopped being useful for moving trains under rivers. The upshot of this was that I was late out and consequently late home.

This morning I reacted to the late finish yesterday by oversleeping past my good train, my okay train and my safety train. The Bloody Long Island rail Road deleted my no-so-late-it-will-be-a-public-relations-disaster train from the schedule weeks ago in an effort to improve on-time service, so I was set to be over an hour late for work today.

I decided to take a corkboard I had in the garage and bring it to work. I've been threatening to do this for years, ever since I brought it home from work in fact1 and this seemed like the ideal opportunity. The damned thing is just too large to carry comfortable under my arm and the improvised handle I made for it when I brought it home allows it to bang into the floor, an event that can tear the cheap frame into matchwood. By the time I got it from my car to the station my arm was killing me from having to carry stuff while bent. Ruddy thing was heavy too, much heavier than one might think cork would be.

Of course, all the near-the-station car park spaces had been snarfed up by Rich Git Lawyers so I had to park out by the ambulance station, several hundred yards away from where the train would be.

When I got to the platform it was covered in small lakes because it has no drainage. These lakes form right where the people stand for the doors for maximum passenger convenience, and some of them are almost an inch deep. Oh for a hole in the mastic joints so it could all drain away.

I parked myself on the salt bunker, a sort of mini shed about two and a half feet high for storing the ice-melt they need to thaw out the aforementioned lakes in winter lest a lawsuit arise, and within minutes the corkboard had tumbled from it into one of the lakes, soaking the brown paper wrapping completely through. Just when I though things were at an all time low the platform filled with vacuous off-peak on-vacation idiots with their noisy phones and inane chatter.

After what seemed like only eight hours or so a train hoved into view and stopped. We all stood around while the conductor tried to remember what he'd forgotten, and within minutes the doors slid open to let people off and admit the hoi-poloi. The only available seat was now one of the drop-down, abandon in the event of wheelchair ones which offer nil back support but allow one to enjoy the "Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea" locomotion of these bedamned new trains to the fullest. I parked me and my backpack on one and fished for my John LeCarre novel, at which point my bag toppled off the chair to the floor so hard it cause my hibernating laptop to take a stop, forcing me to reboot it to check it was not seriously damaged.

The train passed over various novelty sections of track which serve to magnify the rocking of the trains until they threaten to derail. The inane blither of my fellow travelers was augmented by the moans of those who had drifted off in the window seats and were now sporting concussions and contusions. Is there any feeling so exhilarating as that induced by waking after a good head bang against glass only to realize your head is traveling at speed towards the glass for another go?

We reached Jamaica but put in at a different wharf to that normally used for a transfer to a Brooklyn-bound train, inducing panic in the amateur commuters. The Atlantic terminal train pulled in opposite us, but the train doors once again did not open for a full two minutes. The Bloody Long Island Rail Road wonder why assaults on staff are on the increase. I'd hazard a guess that not opening the bleeping doors once the train has stopped and the connecting train is flashing its 'doors closing" lights is high on the list of assault-inducing stimuli. I mean, how hard is it? The train stops at a station and the doors need to open. That is the entire point of the exercise! Conductors take particular glee in keeping people standing outside in the teeming rain in the winter months. bleepwits.

Eventually I got to Brooklyn, where the improvised handle on my package broke so I was forced to mess around with a very uncomfortable under-the-arm technique that has all but dislocated my shoulder.

I unpacked the thing at the office and discovered that I had sandwiched it with old desk calenders back in 2004 in some brilliant plan to protect the corkboard in transit or smuggle two foot by one foot sheets of cardboard out of the workplace, I'm not sure which now. Had I noticed these and removed them before starting out the wretched corkboard would have been about one-third the weight I carried all the way from Long Island.

And I have to stay late to make up time so I'm a bit grumpy today.

  1. When we shifted from Manhattan to Brooklyn