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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How I Nearly Repaired My Airbrush

My airbrush, a twenty year old Badger model 200 that has given sporadically splendid service as a spray gun for quickly turning white primer-coated metal miniatures in my bug-like alien Wonkhammer 401K army into blue-coated metal miniatures (in my bug-like alien Wonkhammer 401K army) had broken down some months ago.

It had developed the habit of blowing air back into the paint container instead of past it1. I had effected a repair, which - it turned out - wasn't and finally, after four or five total strip-downs, and several dismantlings of the airbrush into its component parts into the bargain I was at my wits end. On the one hand I had proved beyond doubt that none of the parts I had dropped on the floor had been caught in my clothing. On the other the bally airbrush was still not working and Mrs Stevie was growling about nudity in the basement.

There was only one thing for it: I would have to refer to the exploded diagram of parts.

After this I could see that I had in fact misplaced a couple of plastic seals. It was the work of an entire afternoon to track down and buy replacements, but afterwards I was consoled by the certain knowledge that the airbrush would once again be squirting paint out of the end like it should. This was essential, since I was halfway through turning a bunch of white bits into a towering blue menace of terrification when the airbrush started to blow3 and the novelty and enthusiasm for the job was wearing off to the point it would all go into a box to languish for years until Goons Wonkshop rewrote the rules of Wonkhammer 401K (again) to make the thing unusable.

The bally airbrush was still not working, now exhibiting a bizarre pulsating spray effect that was not fit even for the rather rudimentary purpose I had in mind for it. Action Was Called For.

A mere four months later, last night in fact, I became enthused again and so I decided to get to the bottom of things. I read the troubleshooting tips and suggestions I could find and dismantled the tip looking for damage to that new seal (a prime reason for pulsing spray, I'm told). It all looked good. I put the seal in a safe place and stripped out the needle seals, but there was no obvious damage there either. I reassembled and tested but the pulsing spray was still annoyingly present. I stripped the nozzle again and dismantled it into its teenytiny component parts. Still nothing obvious. So I reassembled the tip and fitted the seal...where was the seal?

To cut a long, tedious story unsatisfyingly shorter, I hunted for about an hour for the bloody thing but it had apparently evaporated while my eyes were off it. I did not have a spare.

I was on the point of declaring the evening a total bust when I dropped the airbrush and it naturally fell point down, bending the exposed needle into a rather nice "J" shape, proving once again that things have got to get worse before they get really terrible.

I did The Bonehead Dance then extracted the useless needle from the body of the airbrush. I had a spare, which I fitted, but I decided that enough was enough and went upstairs to order a new tip from Amazon along with two of those seals. Naturally, in the intervening years the airbrush design has changed. Not much, but the exploded diagram of my model shows significant differences in the insides of the tip assembly.

I can't wait to see if the new parts will work with the old airbrush.

  1. In order to suck paint out of the container and mix it with the airflow by the so-called Venturi Effect2
  2. OK, OK, if air is blown at high pressure across a narrow pipe one can observe that air is drawn up that pipe towards the passing airflow. If one arranges paint of the right viscosity to be in that pipe, paint gets sucked up and into the airflow. Instant airbrush! The air/paint mix is controlled on my airbrush by adjusting a narrow tapered needle inside a narrow tapered jet in the tip of the airbrush. The adjustment is made by turning a screw at the other end of the airbrush. It's dead clever. When it works.
  3. Instead of suck

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bugger This Buggery-Bastard Buggering Buggery

Life has been particularly trying of late.

The Bloody Long Island Rail Road continues to degrade in performance, with train delays now so frequent that the text message alerts can run my phone battery completely flat overnight as a situation at ten o'clock gradually overwhelms the LIRR in waves of delay, dithering and dimwittery. I am not making that up. A brand-new freshly charged phone battery, dead as a very dead dead thing in less than eight hours of texting. Even better, some of the messages are so long and meandering that they truncate before they actually say what is going on.

The situation on the platform isn't much better, what with that daft sod who announces the times the next train would have arrived at stations more than 45 minutes down the route had it not been still sitting in Ronkonkoma subject to "equipment problems". Seriously stupid to talk to people who won't actually be there for another half hour at the earliest.

Take this last week. I drive to Wyandanch, Pearl of the East to discover that the entire Ronkonkoma line had been switched off thanks to someone in Central Islip who didn't understand that whole thing about not going around the barriers when they are down until he was tumbling down the track in his somersaulting car of fiery death after having been struck by a train that by a million-to-one chance was traveling right down the tracks. I mean, what were the chances of that?

So I turned around and that was when I noticed that my road inspection sticker was out of date by over a week. I drove to the place I got the Mrs Steviedad's car fixed (see below) and told them I needed to make an appointment to get an inspection, new brakes and a service. They could have fitted me in there and then but I couldn't do that because there weren't any trains running locally - I needed to drive to Babylon, nearly ten miles away, to get to work. They said "Tomorrow, then" and I drove off to the little car-park I'd found out about last month.

I parked, and as I was attempting to read the number on my space so I could pay the $2:50 it would cost me to stay there ten hours, an SUV roared into the space next to me, the driver - who was clad for tennis - threw some sort of permit against his windshield so he could avoid the $2:50 charge for parking and we both left. He to the train to the Manhattan tennis club, me to the machine for a five minute quarter-feeding session.

The trains from Babylon at that time are local and take half as long again to arrive at Jamaica as the Ronkonkoma one does, so I was late anyway.

Work is still not what it should be. I joined to be a Unix admin and have been systematically prevented from doing that in preference to working on Project Millstone, which is underfunded, has no training budget and is about as popular with everyone except the person who bought it as a dose of jock-itch. Unmotivated? Moi? I can't be buggered to be unmotivated.

The day passed intolerably and I arrived back at my car to discover I had been served a ticket for not having a current inspection sticker which entitled me to pay a fifty dollar fine. As I was reading this document and practicing some new Words of Power I noticed the ticketless SUV in the next space with its bit of cardboard in the window and I contemplated justice: specifically, the justice that could be served by stabbing all four tires of this git's brickmobile.

I didn't of course.

Oh right, the Mrs Steviedad's car episode. I forgot to blog about that. Or to be more precise, I couldn't lever myself out of the depths of my depression about the whole situation to write about it. It happened like this:
The Mrs Steviemom needs to be driven to the stores so that if she has reaction to her medication she won't crash at high speed and hurt anyone. The Stevieling needs the driving practice. "Two problems with the same answer" I hear you say, and so did we.

Two weeks ago I received a phone call from Mrs Stevie to say that the Stevieling had crashed the Mrs Steviedad's car while reversing out of a parking space by means of the old "select drive instead of reverse and smash into a light pole" error of judgment. No-one was hurt and the car had "some minor damage".
These words should send shivers down the spine of any male.

I had them send me some photos to my phone. How is it possible for women to look at a damaged car and say "That's not bad, a few scratches" and a man look at the same car and scream "Argh! That's gonna cost me at least three grand to fix!". Both have the same experience in getting cars fixed. Yet the man is nearly always right, and if he is wrong it's because he has low-balled the estimate. I gripped my head and moaned for a bit, then told Mrs Stevie to have the car taken to a body shop.

The damage was a bit over two grand to get fixed. What I couldn't understand was how the Stevieling managed to get that 1990 Ford Taurus Estate moving so fast in such a small space. The impact absorbing bumper was a total write-off, insides twisted up like a pretzel. The Mrs Steviedad loves the car, of course, so the job had to be done.

Once the job was done, each sibling and sib-spouse took time to tell me what a waste of time it was to repair a car for a man who shouldn't be driving. I told them that I had no right to remove the old man's car, though they could if they felt up to it (they didn't). I also told them that he doesn't take any notice of me, and that if the sons thought he shouldn't be driving they should visit him and tell him that to his face, then give me first refusal on buying the car. That was the end of that discussion.

There's more stupidness, but to be honest I can't face talking about it now.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Wikipedia - An Encyclopedia For The Masses: NOT

To read the blurb from any Wikipedia promotion you would be led to the conclusion that Wikipedia is in part an attempt to pitch complex material to those who need things presented in their most understandable terms (because the Wikipedia Politburo say as much - "The Encyclopedia for the Rest of Us").

Yet, examine any of the technical subject pages concerning the classical sciences or Mathematics and you will immediately be confronted with the inescapable evidence that this is simply not true.

Take this example, pinched from the Wikipedia page on "Transcendental Numbers".

In mathematics, a transcendental number is a (possibly complex) number that is not algebraic—that is, it is not a root of a non-constant polynomial equation with rational coefficients.

Here we see a problem that plagues all the technical Wikipedia pages I've ever looked at: the introduction is complete and utter gibberish to the non-specialist in whatever subject the page is attempting to address, in this case mathematics i.e. the target audience for such a page since anyone who already is a mathematician will have learned what this is about yonks ago.

It seems to have escaped the page author(s) that the opening sentence and the material that follows it closely should be in everyday language, not bleeding-edge hardsumsspeek.

Here's my version: A transcendental number is a decimal number of the form x.abcd that goes on forever or as long as you care to keep doing the division sums. Most people knock off at 4 or 5 decimal places. It is called a transcendental number because it has properties only mathematicians care about that separate it from sensible numbers like the square root of minus one.

"But Stevie" I hear you say, "surely one need only follow the rich scattering of hyperlinks in the introduction to gain the elucidation and clarity of your rather non-technical and unrigorous definition of the term?"

To which I answer that a) yes indeed you can, but that the pages linked are just as bloody opaque and unfit-for-purpose as the one you started on, 2) by the time you get the answer to the idle question "what's a transcendental number?" you not only don't care any more but have a healthy hatred of mathematicians usually reserved for dentists and income-tax inspectors and ♥) you may never find the answer anyway as a distressing number of these sorts of pages are arranged in loops of unhelpful gobbledegook that bring you full circle after an hour of headache-inducing technobabble.

I picked out a math page to demonstrate this, but in fact you'll find the same stupidity taking place on pages to do with almost everything technical, which totally undermines the whole concept of the Wikipedia's existence as an Encyclopedia for the Masses.