Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Unbearable Tediousness Of Being

Dinner tonight with my mother- and father-in-law.

This in lieu of any sort of real New Year's Eve party. We're not running one this year and no-one we know is admitting to us they are either.

Azathoth's gonads, I'm sick of 2013.

Will this tedious bloody year never end?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Hanging's Too Good For 'Em

Today on NPR: "And tonight, that's New Years Eve Night..."

This from a radio station whose broadcasters belligerently and prominently pronounce the "p" in "exerpt" and who host regular grammar-nazi festivals where the works of people who've become famous for their songs or books are held up to ridicule as linguistic dolts by people We The Listeners have never heard of.

A couple of months ago one smug git who shall remain nameless droned on for nearly a quarter of an hour in an oily voice over the Daily News using the word "Controller" instead of "Comptroller" (it's a public office). Apparently this guardian of language was the only person in New York (including your humble scribe) who didn't know that both forms are in common and acceptable use and have been since mid 1984 when I was first in a position to notice. Eventually he paused to draw breath and his engineer was able to get a word in edgeways to tell him the facts of the matter.

Then he went on for another two minutes of the possible political ramifications of the Daily News picking one form over the other until his phone-in expert commentator told him that he didn't think it was as significant as it might be in the Washington Post - which prides itself in such subtle and therefore largely unnoticed wordplay - and suggested they move on.

Gordon Bennet!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Now Playing

Cloud Atlas.

I'm fascinated by the movie, which does itself no favors with its folded and refolded plotting laced with internal in-jokes and references so that one can only really get an appreciation of it by repeated viewing, which of course means that it cannot really impress the critics with its cleverness because they get to see it once, as a linear experience, before they have to write about it.

The music is quite pleasant, by turns electronic or classical chamber style. The cost of acquisition is a bit on the steep side, but that is par for the course with soundtracks in the post vinyl world (I don't recall soundtrack LPs costing that much more than their popular music counterparts).


That's what I'm listening to on my iPod.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Catching Up

Deck The Halls With Boughs of Meh

It's Boxing Day, and I have posted not of late, so:

The weekend began with the traditional erection of the Self-Illuminated Bush of Festive Merriment and the subsequent discovery of more than half the tree to be what is technically called "dark". A wail rent the air, but it was cut short when Mrs Stevie rammed a cushion over my face before demanding that I "do something about this tree". A plan formed immediately in Mr Brain that involved a dumpster (UK - skip) a can of gasoline (UK - petrol) and a box of Swan Vestas (US - strike anywhere matches) but Mrs Stevie clarified that what she meant was that I should correct the illumination issue and not "get creative".

Well, last year I bought a string of two hundred bulbs for just this tedious fbleeping job. Flashing back to that episode I inquired testily whether or not Mrs Stevie was absolutely sure she had located all the plugs involved in the intra-tree power distribution network, and was assured that there was less than no chance that a repeat of The Not Plugged In Fiasco of Extreme Annoyance was under way, so I swapped out maybe three dozen bulbs with some I had pre-sorted and removed the bases from1 then went to look for the string of bulbs.

I couldn't find it.

Mrs Stevie went out and bought some fairy lights from the local drugstore, and was very proud of the half price offer until it transpired that the bulbs from this set were so fragile that they blew immediately upon being plugged into a "good" string on the tree for a test. So I went out and bought some heavy-duty lights and started swapping in bulbs, checking each pulled bulb in a good string so I didn't replace good bulbs and waste resources.

I've mentioned before that this tree has the only lights that fail in the way they are designed to do, with one bulb usually not taking out the whole string but shorting itself out. This is good because the rest of the lights stay on, but bad because they are now slightly overpowered and will suffer shortened lifetime as a result. What usually happens is that a rapid cascade failure now occurs in which bulb after bulb blows and shorts itself so the rest can have a go.

I replaced three dozen or so bulbs in that lower string I mentioned, but in this one higher up the bulbs seemed good, meaning that one bulb had blown and failed to short out. I tested bulb after bulb, making my way around the tree, sobbing to keep my spirits up, when I encountered the two plugs that were not plugged into the adapter hanging next to them. I plugged them in and was rewarded with singed retinas as the tree lights burst into life.

I may have mentioned out loud some doubt in my mind as to Mrs Stevie's powers of observation and ratiocination but the ensuing frank exchange of views did no one any credit to be honest.

I went down to the basement for a sulk and immediately found the missing string of lights. I decided to shout at them for a bit, wait for the women to disperse, have some tea and retire to bed to avoid any more Christmas prep.

Monday began the least Christmassy week before Christmas I've ever personally lived through3 with a light snowfall. The news channels were bleating about three inches accumulation of snow. My estimate was closer to one flake. Nevertheless the Bloody Long Island Rail Road decided it was enough and enacted Operation Fbleep-up, resulting in me getting to work sometime around noon. Then it was a round of being volunteered to fix some code that was "not working right" and muck around trying to get a balky perl4 installation working and it was eight in the evening, resulting in me getting home around midnight.


Tuesday dawned and we were all looking forward to the informal Xmas lunchtime drink organized by Mr Partytime, a former colleague and right old raver known to run the best parties in the known universe from personal experience. Except the lunchtime enbeveragation attempt failed miserably when the organizer of said event simply didn't bother to come to work. Everyone promptly said "If he can't be bothered, neither can I" and that was that. Like I said, the least Christmassy Christmas was being built here, on a foundation well-laid.

Wednesday began and the Bloody Long Island Rail Road decided to celebrate the Three Wise Men getting stuck in traffic on the Jerusalem by-pass5 by breaking a few rails. Now I wouldn't mind6 but We the Ridership just bought a brand new clever track machine for them that is supposed to detect rails in danger of breaking before it happens so they can do something pro-active to avoid delays. The Bloody Long Island Rail Road is the only organization I know of that can throw such huge amounts of money at a problem and miss. Every fbleeping time.

It's good here innit?

Thursday, and I took a half day so I could Make Merry at yet another unofficial Xmas Cheer Event7 and it turned out to be four Englishmen, one Chinese guy and an American sitting at a bar with one straggly set of Xmas lights (the owner "couldn't find anywhere that sold lights8").

Then there was the music. Nothing says "Christmas" like Bob Dylan trying to see how long he can play the same note on a harmonica without passing out.

One Englishman and the Chinese guy were drinking cola, and they and two of the English guys that were drinking beer went back to work after two pints. Pathetic, really. I decided to just go home at this point rather than keep up the pretense.

Friday was, to be honest, just a long drag of meh as I tackled the Web Page Occasional Generation Or Not issue.

It was a doozy too. The code had been written by a clever consultant engaged in Job Protection coding, using a language in which it is possible to write so-called "obfuscated" code, code which looks like it does one thing while sneakily doing a quite different thing. There are contests to come up with the best tricks, but no-one but the consultant would ever deploy such stuff into the enterprise.

Fortunately, I haven't the usual evangelical stance held by my colleagues when it comes to Unix editors9, and I use a graphical editor with language-triggered color styles. What this means is that when Mr Consultant pulls a clever linguistic fast-one, I can see it coming a mile away and see it for what it really is. So I often get volunteered fixing The Code That Should Not Be.

I was assured that the scripts were running properly, they just needed some adjustment for "something weird" that a better man than I had spent weeks trying to find without success.

The job involved some data capture, the mailing of the report to a central server, the triggering of another script as a result of this and the building of web-page versions of the report as a result. It is, in fact, a fairly straightforward and not at all arcane thing involving well-understood components. But it seemed that some but not all of the web pages weren't being built. Being me I looked for easy and quick fixes but none of them worked by close of business10.

Then the weekend happened. The less said of it the better. The tedium was broken by Mrs Stevie demanding the installation of an inflatable Xmas sculpture sent to use some years before by my Sister and Brother-in-Law - the Canadian Kung-Fu gang - in revenge for something we had perpetrated on them the Christmas before. This is basically a bag of nylon cleverly stitched to make it take seasonal shape with lights inside and a fan unit in the base to keep it puffed-up. Ours had suffered a broken stand leg in transit, which I was always getting around to repairing.

I repaired the broken stand leg on the fan unit by gluing it. I didn't think the glue would result in a lasting bond but had a brainwave. I had some quick-set casting resin in the basement. I would mix a cupful and pour it into a cavity in the leg, thereby conferring great strength. Sadly, the resin hardener had "gone off", a condition I was first alerted to when I realized that the goo in the leg was not as hard as plastic but more resembled warm toffee. Thus another fiasco was enacted. I applied duct tape to keep the goo from getting everywhere and soldiered on by testing the fan unit, plugging it into the wall.

What I expected was the slow formation of a six foot snowman. What I got was the rapid inflation of an eight foot tall Xmas tree sculpture, some four feet across the lower "branches", flanked by two four foot snowmen. Mrs Stevie was alerted by my screams as I was rammed back over the sofa and crushed under this perfidious green balloon of death. As usual she quickly assessed the situation and offered carefully considered advice.

"Stop bleeping around with that thing and get it onto the lawn" she snarled, playfully.

I managed to hook a foot under the cable and yanked out the plug, at which point the whole thing turned into a bag and draped itself artistically over the living room and me, triggering nightmare parachuting flashbacks. I was so overcome with emotion at this turn of events that I refused to have any more to do with the wretched thing and Mrs Stevie was forced to deploy it herself, muttering about "useless lumps" and pondering "how hard could it be anyway?"

Which of course are the Magic Anti-Handiman Demon Summoning Words, aka The Words That Must Never Be Even So Much As Uttered At Any Cost.

The evil spirits struck early. She lost one of the tie-down stakes in the lawn somewhere after putting it down on the ground so she could be distracted. Hopefully this will give her some insight into the nature of life, "small" jobs and the shoals of anti-handiman demons that infest any seemingly simple piece of apparatus, and not complain any more of half hour jobs turning into all day sagas or barbecues assembled with missing bolts or handles.

However, I guyed the wretched thing using three stakes so we could get on with our lives and turned it on to test it again in situ. It inflated into full magnificence, but a problem revealed itself: The snowmen were stitched to the tree to constrain their pose, and the one on the right11 had torn free. I patched the small hole the damage had caused but could not get involved in finding nylon cord and restitching the thing, so we were stuck with a tree flanked by two snowmen, one standing proudly and waving to passers-by, one slumped drunkenly on one side. I offered to find my old inflatable Lowenbrau bottle so we could make it look like a Scotsman making merry in Sauchiehall Street but Mrs Stevie got The Look in her eyes and went thin-lipped so I left her to it.

When I finally reached work on Monday after another needlessly dragged-out commute I went digging in the file system of the web server and discovered the web pages that were "working" hadn't been updated for three months. Now everyone and his dog was telling me this process was working, and Mr Consultant was really very clever when you peeled off all the annoyance, so I entertained the notion he might be doing something unobvious that would put a false-seeming date stamp on the files holding the web pages.

I entertained it for about three hours until common sense re-asserted itself and I went for another look at the logs from the various bits and pieces and discovered a rather boring and straightforward problem that the unhelpful error in the log was obscuring12. It turned out that someone clever had decided to move the software library to a different file and the scripts were pointing at the wrong place. Once that was fixed all the "weird problems" went away. Not only that, the process was now actually working rather than relying on word-of-mouth that it was.

I took Christmas Eve off and used the time to clean what I could reach of the house. More meh, and I pushed the Dyson vacuum cleaner to the very limits of its design by attempting to use the wand attachment.

If you've watched that smug git Dyson on the TV you've no doubt marveled at his cleverness and bought into his "I just think things should work" mantra. We did, which is why we bought the Dyson DC25 cleaner (the original "ball" model). What Mr Dyson has done is rather clever - he's adapted a well-known technology from the grain industry and mated it with modern brushless electric motors to give the world a bagless vacuum cleaner. If only he hadn't made it out of plastic.

What no-one talks about is that emptying that canister in a house with real dirt in it means you get filthy as you struggle to dislodge the clot of hair wound around the central core of the mechanism that blocks particulate the dirt from emptying out. The canister on ours, once a space-age thing of transparent beauty, has been scoured into filthy grey translucence by high speed dirt particles zooming round and round, sandblasting the inside of the cannister. The process took about a month at most.

When I washed out the HEPA filters after three months as directed by the manual, the one in the ball wouldn't reseat properly and whistles every time I use the vac. The high speed carpet beater, without which the cleaner will not clean, "no loss of suction" notwithstanding, gets clogged in an eyeblink with long hair shed by any of the women in the house, requiring the mechanism be field stripped every time it is used. Even then, the high spin speed means that the drum of the beater "blade" has slots melted into it as the hairs act as tiny bandsaws. I once got some nylon cord caught in it. If I hadn't seen it happen and immediately scrammed the motor it would have sawn the beater in two. As it is it has a nice slot milled into it at one end.

But best of all is the hose and wand attachment. The hose is sprung to collapse into itself, yielding a three-foot hose that will "expand to fifteen feet" on our model. Well, you can certainly pull it that far if you have muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the effort is such that cleaning will probably not be happening. Not only that, you'll have to anchor the cleaner itself as it weighs about four pounds and the pull on the hose when extended more than about two feet easily exceeds this.

But even better is that when the hose is blocked enough for a vacuum to form in the hose - as it will when you clean drapes or furniture or suck up anything too wide for the crevice tool's throat - the contractive force in the hose becomes like unto the gravitational pull of the Sun and the cleaner will shrug off the anvils and concrete blocks you have used to hold it down and come running over to see what's going on.

Nor will you have any limbs free to use in self defense or leaping out of the path of the charging appliance as you will have dug both feet into some handy leverage point and be using both hands in a sort of power-lifter's stance in order to fight the spring-in-the-hose's pull. It is all very tiresome and had me shouting "I too think things should just work Mr Dyson, but when I say it I mean it!" as I scrambled to avoid the high-speed onrush of the dastardly machine.

When you factor in that the hose is attached to the locking collar for all the attachments by two thin plastic tabs rather than a steel insert as is actually required for the strain involved it is just a matter of time before the whole thing snaps off. The time involved is, by experiment, two years and one week. I repaired ours with a metal tab and some duct tape rather than spend 50 dollars on a new hose (with the same stupid design problem). Hoover's "stolen13" design14 has a much more sensible but much less clever-looking coiled hose that makes no attempt to collapse itself, because Hoover actually have people who use their products whereas Dyson simply has a lunatic hipster fan base.


In the evening we all rendezvoused at the in-law's place for a family reunion with the New England chapter of the gang and a ritual gift giving that was actually a very pleasant evening and a final letting up of the anti-Xmas gloom that had descended like some sort of psychic smog on the land. The nieces and the Stevieling were having a ball talking about stuff no-one else could understand in a language all their own. I've never felt so old.

There was a bright spot when Mrs Stevie gifted one niece with some comic books graphic novels she had been jonesing for but had said were unobtainable collector's items. The look on the young woman's face was priceless, and Mrs Stevie scored a much-needed win in the kudos column from the Young and Restless lobby.

Some years ago the niece's mother (Bil the Younger's wife) had scored such a hit on me twice in a row by providing an Xmas gifting of the Peter Gabriel "Us" album, which remains a favorite to this day, then, the next year, finding an almost-impossible-to-score copy of the old Peter Gabriel CD-ROM package that included a tour of the studio while they were making "Us". I mentioned to her that I still had the album front and center in my iPod and that the Stevieling and I spent meny happy hours exploring the CD-ROM. Indeed, the memories of having my toddler sitting on my knee demanding (and getting) various videos from the CD-ROM so she could sing along are some of the sweetest I have. Mrs Bil the Younger was visibly pleased that presents she'd given me were such a hit at the time, and was quite surprised to find I was still playing with them instead of doing useful stuff.

Xmas day is all ours. We typically film ourselves opening our prezzies, though I've never actually mixed down the results into a movie for anyone to actually see. This year I had neglected to obtain tape for the camera and although the area drugstores were open they only had VHS-C or the newer subcompact tapes available. I, of course, needed the Sony format 8mm tapes. This sort of thing is what I should have been doing on Xmas eve but I'd been too busy with chores and could have sworn I had a couple of blank tapes in the bag anyway. Pfft.

I gave up looking after my third Drugstore and went home and instructed the family to use the Stevieling's digital camera. Then I couldn't find the tripod. It lives in one place. It has always lived there. It has never lived elsewhere. This day, it was gone and everyone plus dog was denying complicitness. A detailed search didn't turn it up15 so that was that. Double pfft.

I normally wear my Mitsukiku kimono for the gift dispersal and unwrappage ceremony but today I was already dressed for the world and couldn't be bothered. This was a minor disappointment for the ladies of Chateau Stevie because they had decided to get in on the act this year, Mrs Stevie wearing the lilac kimono I haven't seen in years and the Stevieling wearing the floral one I bought her at Epcot last summer.

The haul was a good one, I think. Mrs Stevie got her Doll House tree ornament (I've bought her one every year we've been married under pain of a punch up the throat) and tickets for two Broadway Shakespeare productions in which she'll be sitting on stage as part of the show itself. I also got her the second season of Game of Thrones on DVD, but the Stevieling got her the same thing in a better package so that was a flub.

The Stevieling got mostly stuff to help her in her college life and also cash for a holiday she's taking in Florida in a few days when she goes to stay with The Boyfriend. Her mother is not all together happy with this plan, but I pointed out that the Stevieling is a woman grown and does not need our permission any more. I'm not happy either, but I'm a pragmatist, and maybe this is the long-awaited sign of maturity I've been keeping a weather eye out for. The kid bought her ticket and laid her plans months before she told us anyway, so her sneakiness gland seems to be fully developed. So long as she is safe and happy that is all I care about. The Boyfriend, for all his faults, worships the ground she walks on.

I landed a Shakespearean retelling of Star Wars from the Kung-Fu Canadians, which is a brilliant gift, solidly in the gold, and some DVDs of various movies I've professed a liking for, a really annoying magnetic flashing safety light c/w window hammer and seat belt cutter, and bestest of all, the Stevieling gave me this years Hess Truck and Mrs Stevie gave me a rotary zip saw.

The zip saw is sort of like an angle grinder retasked for mounting small (about three inches or so) cutting blades, with a guard so you can't easily saw off your fingers while using it16. I've seen one advertised on TV and it was claimed it would cut backer board. The regular reader will know I once wrote off many beloved tools attempting to cut backer board, so if this works as advertised it will fill a need. Of course, Mrs Stevie is actually hinting that I should get on with doing the wall in New Bog which I had to pull out after the builder had put it in because it wasn't right and I don't want to talk about it any more.

This year's Hess Truck is bloody marvelous. It is a proper truck for starters rather than a helicopter or space shuttle or fire engine, with lights and sound effects. It comes with a caterpillar-tracked backhoe that also has lights and motive power! The little tractor zooms around climbing obstacles or just pushing them out of the way. Easily the best truck/load pair since the truck with the front-dump quad in the back17. I must get them both out together so I can evaluate which is best and if they look good together and other stuff which is not playing with toy trucks but serious adult evaluation and study.

Santa gave us a couple of games too; one from the Cranium guys which will be good at parties should we ever hold another one, and King of Tokyo which is an easy and enjoyable knock-out game using giant monsters who vie with each other to become King of Tokyo (which then presumably gets stomped flat) using a simple Yahtzee-like dicing mechanic. It's a fun way to kill 15 minutes or so.

So, not a bad end to the Christmas that Never Was, Nearly.

  1. To replace a bulb on the tree one must remove the bad one by flipping up the locking tab and pulling out the bulb, typically shearing the tab off in the process. The bulb must be tested using a known good string (so you must in fact remove two bulbs, which introduces the possibility of misplacing that one) and if it is bad, replaced with a good one. The bad bulb is pulled from the plastic base,2 and discarded. The process is repeated with the string of "spare" bulbs. The wires of the good bulb are straightened and fed into the base from step one, and folded over once the bulb is seated so they run up the sides of the base. This is when you discover you cannot remember where the empty socket is on the tree. It is all very tiresome, especially if you end up somehow replacing the bad bulb with itself, and have to go through the whole process again
  2. which for some reason has been manufactured to some tree-light standard so that no bulb will ever just fit a socket from a different set even if they look like they should when examined with a powerful magnifying glass
  3. Things weren't helped by the fact that although Christmas Day is a Wednesday, I took only the Tuesday off. In my youth in the UK a mid-week Christmas was the excuse for a week off and heavy merry-making with pals. Nowadays I have no pals and can't take strong drink without lying down in great stupor so what was the point?
  4. A scripting language that is standard SOP in the Unix world unless the System Administrator who "owns" the box hasn't bloody installed it yet
  5. Jack-knifed camel train caused tail backs and delays
  6. A lie. I'd mind quite a bit
  7. The official Xmas Cheer Event had somehow contrived to not happen at all, which shows that I was not the only one not feeling the Christmas spirit this year
  8. Another one not feeling Xmas Atmos
  9. Which can be summed-up as "If you don't know EMACS you are a clod, and there is no need to use any editor other than vi anyway"
  10. So not really that quick then, as it turned out
  11. As you view it
  12. Microsoft have a reputation for unhelpful error messages but the ones that come out of the Unix shell are much more horrible at times. It's just that Unix people stick together and stick to the party line almost as rigidly in the face of adversity as Apple people do
  13. Per Dyson
  14. Pot, meet kettle
  15. Though it did turn up my old three-years-lost digital multimeter
  16. Though sawing a leg while holding it is a distinct possibility
  17. Though the price is soaring to compensate. Hess Trucks used to come in at around 16 bux. This one cost almost twice that

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Calling Cthulhu

I'm a big fan of Xmas as you both know.

What one of you may not know is that I've been a big fan of the roleplaying game "The Call of Cthulhu" (and the cosmic horror fiction the game is derived from) since the game was published in 19811 and have luxuriated3 in the tropes of "The Cthulhu Mythos" for decades as a result.


On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me
A statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Five Squamous Thynges
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-ground lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-made lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Nine servile shoggths,
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-made lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Ten Tcho-Tcho rituals
Nine servile shoggths,
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-made lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Eleven cultist henchmen,
Ten Tcho-Tcho rituals
Nine servile shoggths,
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-made lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Twelve Brides of Dagon,
Eleven cultist henchmen,
Ten Tcho-Tcho rituals
Nine servile shoggths,
Eight runes from R'lyeh,
Seven scrolls from Xiccarph,
Six Leng-made lenses,
Five Squamous Thynges,
Four blasph'mous tomes,
Three hellish chants,
Two yellow signs
And a statuette of Thatte Whych Shoulde Notte Bee!

May your senses reel as you confront the ultimate cosmic horror of Christmas.

  1. Actually, I was a fan of the stories of Clark Ashton Smith2 long before that
  2. One of the stable of writers that make up the so-called "mythos canon"
  3. Some unkind souls might say "wallowed"

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Leaves Are Falling

Over the last week the weather has finally decided to become properly Fall-like and make the leaves come off the trees.

This should have happened weeks ago of course, but we've been baking in unseasonably warm weather and the trees have been spraying pollen like it's going out of fashion. Everyone and his dog has alergies and sales of anti-histamines have been through the roof.

But that has now become a thing of the past and as a result of this and the prevailing wind patterns my drive has been ankle deep in leaves for days. Action Was Called For.

So I spent an hour looking for the spout that turns my leaf blower into a leaf vacuum and chopper-upper, then another looking fruitlessly for the special bag needed to catch the leaves. I tried improvising a leaf bag from a plastic leaf bag1 but it proved to be infested with anti-handiman demons and promptly split. So it was back to a rake and stuffing the bags by hand.

I couldn't find the rake but decided to use a yardbroom instead to save another hour's searching

And eventually I ran out of bags so the job came to an end. I piled the bags on my grass verge and went inside to wash and groan in pain.

Overnight Hurricane Zelda blew in, damaged he fence and threw the bags all over the place, whereupon I think one was struck by a car. It looks like that from the humongous split in the bag anyway. I think I mentioned that I had no more leaf bags.

So that's alright then.

  1. A sort of oversized transparent ventilated trash bag left by the town government in the hope the residents will use them to clean up. Fat chance, when all they have to do is leave the leaves and let them blow into my drive or along my fence line

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday Bloody Well Should Be Dead, Cat Stevens Notwithstanding

Looked out the window this morning prior to getting ready for work.

Recently bodge-repaired fence leaning drunkenly after weekend five-minute mini-gale had given it a damn good thrashing.

Plus: Snowing.

So that's alright then.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Yardwork, Chateau Stevie Style

So I decided on Sunday to stop buggering about and start doing the house-maintenance stuff that has needed doing for well over a year.

A Quick list: Paint the ceilings (two years overdue), Retile the upstairs bathroom (one year overdue but with excuse - the need to sort out the wall I let a builder install), tidy all the crap up that is making our house look like a hoarder's dream (ongoing), mow the front lawn and grass verge and put the sprinklers and hoses away.

Clearly, this heavy schedule called for a good breakfast so I went out looking for one. It took me an hour to find a diner that had a breakfast bar - the only option since every diner was so mobbed by inexplicable crowds of people a table or booth was out of the question unless I was willing to kill an hour waiting.

Breakfast had scarcely commenced when I noticed that part of the case of my beloved Casio PAG-40 chronometer c/w compass, barometer, altimeter and sundry other functions had broken away from the watch. So that was all right then.

After breakfast I nipped next door to the AT&T phone store and explained to the teenager manning the store that I was sick of my phone and weary beyond the will to live with the damned thing's informing me while I am listening to voice mail that I have an incoming call and that I need to press "accept" to interrupt my current call, only for it to lock the bloody screen which requires two separate key options to unlock, at which point the "accept" button becomes unresponsive to repeated pressings, resulting in the phone suffering increasing numbers of high-speed impacts with the nearest wall. The sales"man" then showed me the latest version of the very same phone I was attempting to crush in my hand to illustrate my rage. Another win for a company that has been in the business of communication for almost a century in one form or another.

Once home I dug out the weed whacker and attempted to load wire onto the spool. This spool is specially designed so that wire can be loaded without dismantling the spool to do it. One simply cuts a 3 foot length of wire, pushes it into the hole on one side of the spool until it jams inside the reel, at which point one presses the tabs to release the inner spool so the wire can be threaded out of the other hole. The inner spool is refitted and the wire pulled through until it is even on each side of the spool. One then attempts to turn the bump knob to wind the wire onto the spool. Eventually one gives up, removes the inner spool and winds the wire by hand and refits everything together (having found all the parts that got lost in the previous five minute battle to wind wire on a spool in a World Gone Mad) and Hey Pesto! Instant ready-to-whack tool!

Naturally the weed-whacker was feeling recalcitrant in the matter of starting and it took several minutes of pulling the string and chanting the Magic Start Words before the thing burst into ear-splitting life.

And so to the weeds growing from where the curbstones meet the tar, in which can be found many things dropped by my neighbors - beer cans, cigarette cartons, supersized soda cups etc. I simply allow the weed whacker to pick these up and sling them out into the middle of the road. I'd bag such garbage but, hey, I hate the neighbors for dropping it there in the first place. Yes, I know it is them since you ask.

Next up I filled the mower with oil (the kid does something with it that causes it to burn oil - I suspect she loads it too heavily - and I've had to tell her in plain terms that the mower should never "start smoking" (the indicator she uses that it is time to knock off for the day). Once the motor was not in danger of running on dry bearings I ran the mower over the grass and the various other things the neighbors left for me in the grass.

That done, it was time to collect the sprinklers and drain the hoses. Some people blow these out with compressed air but I just throw one end over either the pool deck railing or the kid's old treehouse monkeybars and pull it through until the whole hose has been elevated to about 6 feet or so. Works like a charm and fbleeps up my bad elbow in no time flat. I unbolted the timer and valve assembly from the sillcock, and nothing jammed or required even class one Worlds of Power to loosen. Everything was going well.

Too well, of course

I noted that the pool cover was drooping very low and threatening to tear through the eyelets used to secure it due to the eight of water on top of it. So job one would be to drain the cover, which is done by lobbing a hose into the middle of the pool cover, where the green soup can be reasonably expected to be the deepest, connecting the other end to the sillcock and running water through until no more air is seen bubbling out.

Sounds wrong, I know, but this is science at work and science often sounds wrong, looks unpleasant and smells disgusting.

Once the air is expelled from the hose and a continuous column of water can safely be assumed to exist inside the hosepipe, the sillcock is turned off and the hose disconnected from it, allowing backflow to start. One now has about ten seconds to get the hose end from where it is to the drainage are one has chosen before the clean water currently gushing all over the place (but mostly over oneself) from the hose turns into green or brown tinged reeking filth from the pool cover.

Provided one does not hold the end of the hose too high and allow the drainage to stop the miracle of the syphon will drain the water uphill over the rim of the pool, then down into the hostas and overflow into the neighbors driveway as planned. Gravity pulls the water form the high lagoon of filth to the low garden, and the molecular bonds of the water keep the column whole so that the weight of the water in the lower end is enough to draw the water up over the rim of the pool. The only way this can fail is if the uphill part of the journey exceeds about 36 feet or so, when a phenomenominuminom called Torricelli's Vacuum will stop science from working properly and save the neighbors from paddling through toxic reeking sludge to get to their cars.

The water level in the pool was abnormally low, which I'm hoping was due to evaporation and not a leak in the liner. We didn't open the pool this year and I haven't even looked at the liner in over 12 months. So I decided the best plan was to top off the water to relieve the tension on the tether points of the cover.

A good plan, and one that should have been simple in execution, but was complicated by the fact that the leaky "gun" on the end of the hose had stopped working completely.

I tried unscrewing it, but that was when I remembered that I had not been able to remove it last winter and had put off the job of trying until, well, now apparently.

I deployed Vise Grip pliers combined with Robogrip Pliers to grap the gun and the hose end and twisted with all my might to no effect. I went and got Mr Hacksaw from the basement and sawed a slot carefully in the gun at the point where the screw thread was (being careful not to go too deep for fear of dinging up the end of an expensive Goodyear rubber hose) and tried again, but it was no good. I even used Finesse.

"Finesse" is what I call each and every one of my hammers.

I belted the bejaysus out of that gun and derived much satisfaction thereby but gained no advantage in the removing it from the end of the hose stakes. I used my Leatherman tool to cut away the rubber cladding and by doing so liberate the shattered insides of the gun left by my use of Finesse.

There was nothing for it but to go back to basics and use fire.

I made what seemed like the thirty seventh trip to the basement that day and dug out Old Faithful, my Bernzomatic propane torch. Returning topside I could find no evidence whatsoever of the half dozen barbecue lighters we have that get underfoot at all other times a rummage through the kitchen drawers is called for.

Letting out a manly bleat of resignation I flopped down on the back steps and focused my eyes on Mrs Stevie's Wurlitzer Class Barbecue c/w electronic starter. A plan formed, and for once it didn't result in me running around with my clothing on fire while the neighbors stood round applauding. I lit the torch from the saucepan warmer ring, setting the torch to full roar as a safety measure as soon as it caught.

Since - in the outdoor light - the flame is invisible, I have found it efficacious to have some sort of cue that the torch jet is hot. Many wounds have been painfully suffered in the winning of this knowledge. The roar of the flame works well as an aide-memoire as long as no-one talks to me while I work.

Heating the remains of the gun with the torch eventually made the cheap zinc-based metal expand enough to allow me to unscrew it using the Vice Grips and Robogrip pliers, and to deploy the undamaged hose in topping off the pool again.

Pausing only to grip the still hot jet of the torch in my right hand and to use some carefully picked Class Fours as I hopped around the garden in the traditional Pain Reduction Dance of Non-Utility, I packed up and returned my manly tool might to the basement for the next time I'd need it.

Mrs Stevie returned home as I, glowing in the satisfaction of a Job Finally Done, was checking water levels and demanded to know why I hadn't fixed the loose palings in the cedar fence yet.

Monday, October 28, 2013

So Long, Lou.

Long Lou came from out on the island
Made an album just to be a dbleepbag1.
Then I guess he had to crash
Old Wild Man just ain't the fashion said hey Lou
Take a walk on the wild side
Hey, man, take a walk on the wild side

And the colored girls go do, d'do, d'do, do d'do, do, d'do, d'do, do d'do...

  1. Metal Machine Music

Wikipedia - An Encyclopedia For People Who Already Understand What They Are Looking Up

Let's look at the opening line of the Wikipedia page for Differential Equation: A differential equation is a mathematical equation for an unknown function of one or several variables that relates the values of the function itself and its derivatives of various orders.

My guess is that unless you already know what differential equations are, this is the veriest blither. It offers no value whatsoever to the less-well mathematically versed parent trying to answer a child's "Dad, what's a differential equation do?"

Here's the Stevie version: A differential Equation is one in which the rate of change of something with respect to something else is calculated.

Not rigorous of course. But understandable to just about everyone. The Steviepedia would follow this with: For example, such an equation would let us calculate speed by looking at the rate of change of distance with respect to time.

Later on in the text, once we have covered the extreme basics is the time to start wittering on about functions and derivatives because then the people most likely to be looking this stuff up will be able to follow the fBLEEPing discussion.

I reckon Pea Pod People from Planet Mongo could write better Wikipedia pages than humans do, and they are something I just made up.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Now Listening To...

Vab der Graaf Generator Album Sleeve Art TLWCDIWTEO
The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other by Van der Graaf Generator.

This album first saw the little round rubber mats of the turntables of the UK sometime in early 1970 if I remember right.

The mix features some odd choices, such as putting the vocal in one speaker only and the sax in the other in "Darkness" for example, which emphasized the then-new and novel Stereophonic effect but sounds less than optimal in headphones. I'm surprised the remixer didn't allow just a little bleed into the other channels so the voice and sax would blend properly into the stereo panorama.

What we have here is arty prog rock by people who could play the paint off their instruments, made in a time almost before prog rock was an actual genre.

I saw VdGG at UEA, on the Godbluff tour in 1975 (I think). The image of David Jackson prowling the stage playing two saxophones at the same time (for the hook in "Darkness") is vivid decades later.

Because money was always short in them days the only VdGG album I owned then was a compilation called 68-71, which commands a ridiculous price on Amazon these days - if you can find one - and hasn't at the time of writing been published as a CD.

I caught an article in the press two days ago that led to looking for an actual Van der Graaf generator (a machine for making static electricity) and thence to the Amazon listings for the album above (along with a couple of others.) and a wallow during my commute today in some music history I largely missed the first time around.

I love The Internet.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Computers Get Ugly

Azathoth on a bike I am so tired of the new "app tile" look every sodding computer thing is sprouting of late.

Try as I might I cannot see the purpose of foisting the Windows 8 GUI on anyone not using a touch-screen tablet device. The search for what I want to use is longer, less intuitive and an all-round pain in the arse on a computer fitted with it.

But now idiot programmers are making their individual interfaces look the same, with the result that when I began rebuilding my Laptop on my return from Florida, the already not-very intuitive GUI for the McAffee software was replaced by the new fbleeptarded "tile" look user interface that takes up more screen real estate, delivers less information up front and is harded to navigate.

And it is ugly with a capital ug.

I'm done with McAffee. When the sub runs out in the spring they are down one customer. I'm fed up with the fact I cannot whitelist my favorite programs that get quarantined by false positive hits. I'm fed up with the slowing down of my computer under the monumental load of the various services the damned software starts. I'm fed up to the back teeth with the fact that although I schedule a scan every Monday at 1 am the fbleeping thing starts scanning during my morning commute on Tuesday. And I'm so very, very tired of the scan taking all bloody day to finish even when the system is idle (and I can't get things done when McAffee is running because one of the systems it impacts is the trackpad mouse), when other products can be in and out in less than half that time. I'm terminally tired of having to use those other products to spot the stuff McAffee missed despite crippling my computer in the name of security.

But those fbleeptarded useless tiles are the absolute end.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Don't Stop Her ('Cos She's Havin' A Good Time, Havin' A Good Time)

Saturday morning dawned and we loaded up the Mrs Steviebus with all our crap, said "Fair thee well" to the Villa del Orange Lake and departed for New York.

Well, nearly.

Mrs Stevie had done all the checking out paperwork the night before, but felt moved to try and recoup the cash we had invested in various discount opportunities we had then not availed ourselves of, probably in revenge for my presumptuous payment of locker overages the day before.

I had agreed that we would defer the setting out for New York until noon so we could go and ride Harry Potter again so was a bit puzzled by her lack of enthusiasm for getting the Hogwarts out of Orange Lake Country Club and starting Les Ents de Parque. Not only that, I didn't give much for her chances, and felt she was wasting what little of the fun part of Saturday we had left by this nonsense, but as I have said, there's no arguing with her sometimes (well there is, but the arguments don't go anywhere good from my perspective).

We went from one office to another as the Sun blazed away mercilessly and the clock ticked away enjoyment time, each person she consulted telling her that yes she was due a refund but not here, she'd have to go across the width of the timeshare to there and ask again. I imagine they had a big laugh at her expense, and after a mere hour and a half we were privileged to be witness to a performance of Madame Stevie Enragé, who stomped into the bus and yelled at everyone inside for a good three minutes.

We drove out onto route 192, bound for Interstate 4. It was now getting well into Stupid Traffic hours, but Mrs Stevie was not finished in her mad time-frittering, and she pulled a U-turn to enter a gas station that would require us to drive back the way we had just come a good mile and a half and try and cross four lanes of crazy just-arrived-in-town out-of-state traffic1.

It took forever.

Once back on the road Mrs Stevie pulled the trick I'd been waiting for: the old "What do you mean, noon departure for New York? We agreed 5pm2" ploy.

There followed a frank exchange of views on the subject of her diet of controlled chemicals and sniffing of solvents after which she wisely belted up and we agreed on a compromise of three pm. There are times when I'm not to be trifled with and this was a zero sponge-cake/custard/jelly/chopped fruit content moment and no mistake.

And so we once more entered the hell of Universal Studios Islands of Adventure and made our way to the Harry Potter bit where we took the "Castle Tour", which is a leisurely walk around the scenic queuing area done-up to look like Hogwarts castle, without the need to stand in the bits you don't like for too long and without the annoyance of being hurried out of a bit you want to see more of by impatient fellow merrymakers driven mad by the thought that the ride might be just around the next corner and not still three and a half hours off in the future as it actually is.

We exited and noted that there was a lull in the crowds, so we got on the other line and rode the Quidditch ride again. I'm not a big Harry Potter fan, and I think Quidditch is without doubt the stupidest game ever invented. Even Lancashire Clog Fighting makes more sense. Hell, being hit in the face with a shovel has more structure to it than a game of Quidditch.

Consider: You can play like demons and get 14 goals to nil, and the other team wins outright if some git grabs some flying snooker ball. You have to be 16 - nil up before your team is safe from this mad rule, and you have to maintain that differential score all game. Would you play anything so monumentally unbalanced?

"Well played lads, you ran rings around those Slitherin buggers and made 14 - nil. If only Jones Minor hadn't ended the game you'd have taken the victory you fought so hard and so long for. Still, never mind, eh?"

After that we had lunch, a rather nice affair in the restaurant across from Olivander's Wand Shoppe, and I sat outside that fine but too-small establishment while the Stevieling and Mrs Stevie did some roller coasting and shopping and I don't know what-all else. My legs had just about had it and were mutinying with extreme prejudice, so I opted to curtail that sort of fun in favour of grabbing a rare as hen's teeth seat for an hour or so.

Eventually it was closing on four o' clock and I announced that I was leaving for New York even if I had to call a cab to Orlando Airport and fly home. Mrs Stevie walked us the long way out of the park, attempting to lure me into various attractions every two minutes or so but I was resolute. Besides, the long way back was mostly through Dr Seuss Land and even she found the idea of riding a kiddie ride designed for the under fours for its own sake beyond the pale.

We eventually started our journey home around 4:30 pm, just in time to merge with the Orlando rush hour, which earned Mrs Stevie some well-deserved Class Two words of approbation. Naturally I was elected to drive through this since the womenfolk were variously too tired from enjoyment to drive and too bloody homicidally dangerous to be allowed behind the wheel under any circumstances. I'm all for thrills but no-one needs the excitement of a Stevieling-engineered near death experience while still 1700 miles from home.

I drove on into the black of night, fighting off sleep with determined exhaustion. There's a trick to driving at night under such circumstances, which involves being able to tell the difference between hallucination and dreaming.

Hallucinations are merely the byproduct of family perfidy and lack of faith when it comes to departure times and pre-departure activities, and may be ignored provided one keeps a weather eye out for a sixteen-wheeled fuel tanker hiding under the fairy-light bedecked bright green Wild West steam train approaching head-on or the lack of substantiality of a suspension bridge made of drinking straws that does not have some sort of real bridge under it. Packs of wolves of unreasonable size that pace one and can be seen only out of the corner of the eye may be safely ignored unless in New England for example, while an unlikely Paddle Steamer closing on your right flank cannot if one is in Blackpool (unless one wishes to experience first-hand the full majesty of a sideswipe by an illuminated tram).

When it comes to interpreting the danger posed by hallucinations while driving, context is everything.

Dreaming, on the other hand, is a highly dangerous state of being that will result in an accident in no short order even though you opted for the automatic transmission and cruise control when you bought the vehicle. Indeed, these nifty driving aids will serve to exacerbate the situation by encouraging a relaxed, sleep-friendly driving atmosphere while keeping the speed up even when your feet are propped up on the dashboard well away from any pedals. Rule of thumb: When asleep behind the wheel, a moving vehicle is not your friend and neither are the tools piled on the back parcel shelf, especially the chisels.

How many drivers have woken from an ecstatic dream of flight to discover they are in free-fall because their vehicle mutinously decided to launch itself off a vertical cliff? Who among us hasn't had the bowel-loosening and bladder-emptying experience of stretching and opening our eyes only to see a large tree speeding - against all reason - toward one?

I know I have, and I know from personal experience that valuable insurance-premium-raising fractions of a second can be lost while one's brain tries out various theories to account for sudden-onset scenery. Sadly, the theory one most often arrives at is that one is still dreaming so it will all work out right in the end, resulting in vehicle wreckage, injury, lawsuits and hurtful words used by police called as witnesses for the prosecution.

So as you can see it is vital to be able to tell the difference between hallucinating and dreaming on long journeys, and to ensure I was suffering the former rather than the latter I let out the occasional shriek on the grounds it would wake me if I were sleeping. The only downside to this otherwise fine plan was that it woke everyone else too, and was the cause of some complaints from the freeloading non-drivers. I wrote off such stuff as auditory hallucinations and tuned it out.

Mrs Stevie and I traded the wheel every couple of hours or so, but I pulled most of the early hours of the bloody morning driving on account of everyone else being too asleep to do it. We stopped somewhere for dinner but to be honest I can't remember where. I know Mrs Stevie drove us out of North Carolina and into Virginia (we found ourselves asking fellow diners which state we were dining in on the way down; on the way back I think we didn't on account of it being too depressing). I took over in Virginia and drove us onto the south side of the Beltway3 and we were making good time until I stupidly followed the GPS's sly advice to get off I-95.

My only excuse for this slip of the brain is that I was tired and the GPS had planned its move exquisitely, days in advance, leaving me in a perfect frame of mind to play Theoden to its Grima Wormtongue.

In no time at all I was stopped at a traffic light in what appeared to be downtown Beirut. There were concrete bollards dropped across most of the roads, chain-link fence draped across others, soldiers in digital camouflage walking everywhere and the GPS was insisting I turn the wrong way down a clearly signposted one way street.

I pulled over and did The Bonehead Dance and assessed the chances of backtracking at ... nil. We were now in a maze of twisty streets all the same that looked as though several bombs had hit them. I punched the GPS in the face. Mrs Stevie pretended to be asleep even though I saw her take a good look around when I was explaining how I felt about this turn of events to the world at large with some choice Class Threes.

Pausing only to punch the GPS in the face again, I followed a sign to Greenbelt, in the general direction we wanted to go. It transpired that the GPS had decided that our circular route over unbroken, stop sign and traffic-light free three lane highway was far too long and so what was required was a trip across country that would trim a segment off the great circle we were driving. The fact that plane geometry has only a passing importance in navigating road systems when compared to other factors such as speed limits, traffic congestion, mandatory stops and the impossible routes caused by one-way systems in which the GPS would resolutely refuse to believe was apparently nowhere front and center of the programmer's problem horizon when he or she wrote the "best route" algorithm, and if I ever have the dubious pleasure of meeting him or her, I shall punch them in the face too, for this and other routing outrages perpetrated on me in the past by that never-to-be-sufficiently-damned GPS device.

A mere hour later we were back on the road we would have been on forty minutes earlier had technology not queered the pitch and heading North through Maryland, bound for Delaware, New Jersey and New York. If we didn't hit dense traffic (it was now about 8 am or so Sunday morning) we should be good to trundle into our own driveway around 1pm. I was feeling a bit punchy and so asked Mrs Stevie to drive for a bit.

"Follow I-95 to the Delaware Bridge and wake me when we are in New Jersey. I'll drive the last bit" I said.

About forty five minutes later I woke up and looked blearily at the crash-barriers whisking by. They were of a style I was entirely unfamiliar with even though I spent the first half of 1996 driving the Maryland-Delaware-New Jersey-New York route once a week.

I sat bolt upright and took a look through the windshield. I may not have recognized the hard shoulder but I did recognize the city outlined ahead, about five miles or so in the distance.

There was an off chance I was dreaming, but a quick look at the driver showed no Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader suffering a wardrobe malfunction, just the softly snoring Mrs Stevie in full kit.

"Why in God's name are we driving towards Philadelphia?" I howled. "I turned that bloody GPS off! I know I did!"

"You said to follow I-95. We are on I-95" came the snarled response.

"I said to follow I-95 to the Delaware Bridge! How could you miss something that big?"

The answer was both piquant and completely beside the point. We indulged ourselves in an exchange of accusatory insults for a few minutes to give ourselves time to think.

"Don't just sit there. How do I get back to the New Jersey Turnpike?" demanded Mrs Stevie eventually, signalling a move from Blame Allocation to Endgame.

"How the hell should I know? Head East. We'll hit it eventually." Not perhaps my best rejoinder and I've parried with more elegant wit, but everyone was tired and we'd reached the point where enjoyment of the form was ebbing.

So we headed East and somewhere around Cherry Hill we found the New Jersey Turnpike, and took that North for a considerable time. We traded driving and complaining duties a few miles along this route, and so it was I who had the joy of the exit 13 chicane, the Goethals Bridge Toll Plaza hazard, the Staten Island Grand Prix, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge transit of going the wrong way most times but not this time by thunder4, the Belt Parkway5 annoyance and the Long Island Expressway, fabled route to Chateau Stevie.

We arrived Chez Noose around two pm and, there being no sign of the traditional basement full of water to deal with, dumped all our luggage in a pile in the living room and went to bed for two days or so.

Our vacation was over.

  1. Most new merrymakers arrive in-theater on Saturday
  2. An obvious falsehood; I was specific on enough occasions to trigger rolled eyes and in words not exceeding two syllables about my wish to avoid rush hour traffic at all costs on our return journey, and my absolute refusal to contemplate the Delaware Bridge after dawn since I'd seen what the road works did to the traffic flow on the way down
  3. The road around Washington DC a-la North and South Circular of my youth
  4. A matter of knowing that one needs to be on the upper deck and in the left lane before getting on the lower deck
  5. As in "a way on which you'll spend most of your time parked"

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Universal Studios Annoys Me

Dawn dawned and no-one got up.

Little wonder I was comatose after the hellish events of the past week that had piled inconvenience upon imposition almost beyond reason, but Mrs Stevie is normally up and kicking people out of bed as the first of the Sun's rays lick the horizon in order that no scrap of the day be "wasted". The roses, she reasons, will be there to be smelled tomorrow when "we" aren't in such a hurry to achieve enjoyment.

Of course, the usual course of events calls for the roses to be crushed under the smoking tyres of Mrs Stevie's vehicle du jour as they will undoubtedly be in the way, but it is pointless to try and remonstrate with the woman when her Florida Juices are in full boil. One can only hang on for grim death and hope it all works out for the best.

I cracked an eye open, or tried to. Over the course of the night it had become glued shut either because of the swelling or from the various bodily fluids that had been oozing from my integument thanks to my Safari of the day before.

I groped out for the tumbler of water I put on the bedside table before I retired and one of the paper towels doing duty as emergency tissue I customarily keep under my pillow in case of a sneezing fit or the need to staunch a nosebleed1 and by fumbling around with only my sense of touch and my innate spacial awareness and sense of balance to call upon I managed to spill the water on the floor, side-table and mattress. And break the glass.

I was able to moisten the paper towel in the small lake pooling next to my chest and then bathe my eyes until they unstuck. It took only a matter of minutes. Perhaps twenty of them.

I rolled over and cooed seductively at Mrs Stevie. How beautiful she looked as she lay snarling in her sleep. I kissed her carefully, and she smiled, opened her eyes and let out a scream that fetched the paint off the ceiling.

I leapt back and span around looking for the intruder that had so frightened her, then let out a scream of my own as my feet collected all the broken glass so no-one could stand on it.

This was a trifle unexpected and Mrs Stevie responded with another vocal excursion of the extreme kind. The sound must have carried through the peaceful holiday villa as I distinctly heard the Stevieling join in the fun, and a fraction of a second later the next door neighbours.

I decided not to carry on with this nonsense and instead fell onto the floor clutching my ankles, moaning in the way I've found to be effective in deadening pain, or at least, doing something until it subsides to a bearable level.

"What the hell did you do to your face?" demanded Mrs Stevie.

"Nothing. Why?" I replied as I began the process of digging bits of tumbler out of the Feet Twins.

"It looks horrible! Blotchy, swollen and covered in scratches! Were you with a woman yesterday? Have you been beaten up again? Oh God, please tell me there isn't a court appearance in our future! Not again! My mother was right about you!"

"Silence! If I were to be with a woman she would certainly not beat me up! That business in Maryland was a misunderstanding and it was her sister who attacked me, not the woman herself, and I was holding my own until the police dog got involved, I might add. No, these wounds are the result of my having to walk back from breakfast. I was caught in a freak wolverine stampede. It's nothing. Do we have any Hydrogen Peroxide?"

"Why do you need Hydrogen Peroxide?"

"I'm thinking of building a moon rocket. "

"Your feet are bleeding all over the carpet!"

"You think I should swab them with rocket fuel? Worth a try. Good thinking."

Thus another day in paradise was set in motion.

Mrs Stevie was feeling conflicted. On the one hand we had overslept and now would have to jostle next to the hoi-poloi in our planned trip de merriment to Universal Studios (not the Harry Potter one, the original one). On the other I had cheered her up by sustaining major wounds and alerted her to the danger of broken glass before she had walked on it. She settled for a sort of contented grumbling.

After coffee and toast we set out for the park with about four billion other people. The Florida People's Highway Infrastructure Soviet decided to spice things up by closing large portions of the major arteries on our proposed route, triggering massive traffic jams and impressive bursts of commentary from Mrs Stevie. We eventually gritted our teeth and allowed the GPS out of its lead-lined box and it suggested a new route that went round the side of all the stationary cars. We let out a group bleat of hopelessness and committed ourselves to the horror of GPS-assisted travel.

It is always a voyage of discovery when the GPS system is engaged. The problem is that the typical voyage it comes up with is constructed of discoveries we do not care to make situated in places we would not, given our druthers, care to visit on a bet. I may already have mentioned the demented thing's insistence on routes that transit or failing that at least visit Manhattan, even if numerous waypoints are laboriously programmed in to avoid that nightmarish traffic snarl masquerading as a major city at all costs. It once tried to get us to make a U-Turn off Staten Island so we could make a loop into Manhattan, then come back the way we'd gone and resume our current route across Staten Island2. The damned thing is insane. It's like we somehow got a piece of technology from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy3 or something.

This time the GPS faked us out by taking us where we wanted to go with no attempted side trips to Tampa or Jacksonville. I should have taken note of this deferred perfidy and would later regret not doing so because it left me open to a navigation ambush of the most virulent stripe, but that is a story for another day.

We pulled up to the parking lot entrance and Mrs Stevie wound down the window so we could pay and get a parking pass. There was a small delay when the young woman on duty peered in at us and fainted. Fortunately the security guard who was passing had smelling salts. I opined that she must have skipped breakfast, but the guard also looked pale so perhaps there was something going around. The guard said something about "cosplay" to the hysterical parking booth lady that seemed to calm her, and she returned to duty with many unearned dark looks in my direction. I determined to write a stern letter to the park operators. I have never been scowled at while attempting to pay for parking at Disney.

Once again I forked over for "Preferred Parking" and we parked less than a mile from the moving sidewalks Universal have provided to speed one to the fun of the security bag check and ticket registration.

The Universal Studio park dates from the days when Mrs Stevie had not discovered the mixed blessings of Starbux and the El Grande Maximo Clawhammer Double Espresso Latte5 and we were yet in a state of comparative bliss. Mrs Stevie was about six months pregnant with The Stevieling and the size of a small barrage balloon. Seriously, she would not have looked out of place if someone had written "Goodyear" on her while she was asleep7.

We visited the newly opened Universal Studios park that year. One look at Mrs Stevie over the closed circuit TV convinced the Park Personnel that she was several months further along in the baby-building process and thus a Lawsuit on Legs. This caused Panic in the Park Personnel and we were followed around the entire day by people with walkie talkies and steered to the non-moving seats in the exciting simulator-type rides (which was almost all of them). To this day I have only ever experienced The Jetsons ride, a ride that was in its day something people would exit slapping each other on the back and loudly extolling its awesomeness, as a rather boring movie seen from some very hard seats which if I didn't know better I'd suspect were just wooden boxes with carpet nailed on top. We were also forcéd to take the "static car" in the Back to the Future ride. It was so boring I seriously thought of dumping the buzzkill woman causing all the trouble until I saw her face, which by then wore an expression I've since come to know well but that day was just glad it was aimed at someone else.

The only thing they would let us ride was E.T., possibly the most dangerous precursor to diabetes in the world. If you think the movie is sickly sweet, the ride takes it and makes of it a soft drink even the FDA would not tollerate.

Mrs Stevie loved it and all was well with the World (most notably, the bits of the World occupied by my body).

Years later Mrs Stevie took the, what, four year old Stevieling on the ride. I stayed away from the park that day, but still experienced the ride in all its glory as it made An Impression on the child and she insisted on recapitulating it all week. Ah, the family memories.

Where was I?

The moving sidewalks propelled us past mini golf and lakes and various other diversions not inside the parks. The sidewalks were full of Brazilian merrymakers (and no-one can make merry like teenaged Brazilians let me tell you) but for some reason they gave us a wide berth so we weren't troubled by the usual close encounter issues. We joined a boisterous line of people waiting to enter the park, but as the bag check dragged on they became subdued and quiet, shooting looks back down the line and shuffling nervously. Some even shuffled out of line and joined one of the others. Clearly the bag-check guard was harshing everyone's mellow.

We finally got up to the turnstile and I presented my camera bag for examination. The guard, a short, wide man in his fifties seemed genial and not at all the grumpy anthrophobe the rather churlish behavior of the others in the queue had led me to expect. He finished rooting in my bag, looked up and let out a shriek that could have given me a heart attack if I hadn't been inured to such unexpected screams from a lifetime of making them.

I span round to see what had given the poor sod such a shock but whatever it was had gone. As my hearing began to return I heard Mrs Stevie engaged in a shouting competition with the gate security, who were gesturing toward me and saying something about only official staff being allowed in the park in makeup. Why they were pointing at me I have no idea. The only one in our family not wearing makeup was me, and as for that "staff only" law, well, I saw dozens of women wearing makeup and not one of them was wearing the matching staff ID badge.

One of the gate security came over to me and peered into my face, then asked if I needed the services of the first aid station. I thanked the man and told him my eardrums were already 80% scar tissue and could not be permanently damaged by the shrieking of the bag security guy who surely needed medical help more than I. He spoke briefly into a walkie-talkie, then looked at me and said in a hoarse voice "please enjoy your day at Universal Studios".

Heartened by this show of concern (however misplaced) we made our way into the park and headed to the one new attraction I was interested in: The Despicable Me 2 3D extravaganza and all-round good time for all the family. By all accounts it was not to be missed, and we would not have elected to miss it had the line not been already measured using line-length calculus8 as "three hours if nothing breaks down".

Mrs Stevie demanded we try the Shrek 3D thing so we did. It was a way of getting an air-conditioned seat at least, and the kids enjoyed it so much some of the joy leaked into the rest of us.

Thence to the Roller Coaster.

This edifice to conspicuous thrill-seeking was not only a twisted maze of vertical climbs to improbable heights followed by vertical drops into the former contents of your own stomach, corkscrew twists and loop-de-heart-attacks, it was the only roller coaster in this particular park, indeed, one of only two rides that went anywhere at a speed of more than walking pace. Mrs Stevie flatly refused to believe it was in this park until we were standing before the turnstile, reading the notice that it was out of commission for the foreseeable future.

I caught sight of the Transformers thing, which I had no wish to experience but which had a line even longer than that for Despicable Me, and began to discern a pattern. It seemed that if I hadn't seen the ride/attraction before it was either broken or full to bursting point with annoying people. SIghing I suggested we visit some old favorites from the days when the Stevieling had been knee high to, well, us.

First up was Twister, in which clever American Fungeneers9 bring the full majesty of a tornado to a captive audience with no danger of them being sucked into the vortex or impaled by wind-liberated bits of house. It is not bad, especially when you can get in without four hours of queuing. There is a set of bleachers on which the audience stands in a darkened theater looking out over a small town street. There is a roof over their heads, but only a sort of foreshortened porch-like affair. To one side a gas station sits, promising mayhem to come, on the other a farm house. On the horizon, the screen of a drive-in theater is showing a film. Clouds bedeck the night sky. A cow stands peacefully at the back of the stage. The audience leans on the rails provided for such lounging, and it starts to rain.

The wind picks up and things start rocking10. The drive-in theater screen disintegrates as thunder crashes and lightning rends the sky in twain. The vortex forms right before the audience's eyes! The unfortunate cow flies past, a truck skids. Gasoline squirts everywhere. The gas station sign falls over, hitting the electric cables and faWhoosh! goes the gasoline. Thunder peals. Houses disintegrate noisily. It is all very terrifying to small children and not unentertaining to those facing a day with small children. Just when everyone thinks the climax has arrived and nothing else could possibly happen, the floor that everyone is standing on drops about three inches or so, eliciting screams from the womenfolk.

The fun in coming back is to watch for the things you know are going to happen. My favorite is probably the flying cow which cracks me up. Possibly favorite for small children is watching the cow reset, proving that no cows were actually hurt in the production.

We emerged into the inevitable gift shop (all the rides and attractions at Universal Studios are simply complex foyers for themed gift shops and the sooner you understand this the happier your visit to Universal Studios will be) and headed out into the sun to do it all again so we could watch the bits we'd missed and I could get a second dose of the Flying Stuffed Cow of Hilarity.

After that we walked into the scenic part of the park. The back part of the park is carved into areas dressed as New York, San Francisco and other great American metropolises metropopli cities. I was told when the park was new that they actually used these places in films, but the back lot was shuttered years ago so I doubt that is true today.

New York used to have a wonderful recreation of the Roosevelt Island tramway station that housed the King Kong Encounter, but that had been replaced with a long queuing hut leading to a an indoor roller coaster themed for The Mummy. We committed our valuables into the questionable care of some fingerprint-secured lockers and raced through the miles of mostly empty queuing space and managed to secure a place in the front car by the cunning ploy of telling the attendant we wanted to do that and agreeing to wait while a few others took a turn.

It was a most agreeable experience with lots of zooming around in the dark augmented by back projected mayhem and animatronics in the Ancient Egypt-themed set dressing. The bit where the roof is engulfed in a sheet of flame is particularly effective, as is the scene where the car stops and one is confronted by the sight of a bajillion scarab beetles scuttling out of the wall in front of one. I made a note that next time we came on this ride to smuggle a bag of plasic bugs to toss over my shoulder at this point, to enable the other riders to properly immerse in the experience.

This was another twice around the block ride that had to be immediately had to be repeated, and I recommend it to all.

When we emerged from the gift shop I was surrounded by a number of young Brazilian women who for some reason wished to be photographed with me beside the entrance to the ride and the life-size mummy standing next to it. I would have obliged, but they were chased off by park officials and once again I was embroiled in a stupid misunderstanding with people accusing me of unlicensed activity on Studio property. A passing Brazilian lady spritzed herself with some sort of perfume and caught me in her sternwash as I protested my innocence, eliciting a scream from me as some of my wounds from the day before let me know they were still there and did not appreciate alcohol-based preparations thank you very much.

This brought an indignant Mrs Stevie into theater and there was a frank exchange of views that would have gone splendidly my way if one of the park staff had not mentioned the Brazilian ladies. I may have mentioned that Mrs Stevie strongly disapproves of Brazilian ladies, and things went rapidly downhill from that point as she visited the usual topics of debate in such strong and unequivocal terms that the park employees decided to retire from the scene while the getting was good.

I remonstrated with the demented woman pointing out that there were no Brazillian women anywhere near me, but she insisted that I must have been getting "up close and personal" wih at least one of them because she could still smell her perfume on me. I tried to explain this innocent misunderstanding but she was in no mood to listen to "any more fantastic lies" so I gave up.

We then went to the lockers where I put myself further up a certain apocryphal creek sans propulsion by paying the three dollar overage charge on our locker while Mrs Stevie was enjoying arguing the locker opener-upperer into waiving the "unreasonable" charge.

The way these lockers work is that the first however many minutes are free, where however many is the estimated time it will take for you to finish the ride from the time you asked for the locker. This time does not include goesy-roundies-for-another-turn or arguments-with-staff-over-bogus-license-and-copyright-issues time, for which a three dollar charge is levied. The Stevieling and I elected to pay so we could get on with our lives, for miserable as they are they are worth more than 3 bux per quarter hour during leisure time. Mrs Stevie believes arguing with people is leisure time, but won't use a separate locker which - it seems to me - would have addressed the problem of my "stupidly" paying up instead of standing around while Mrs Stevie made the locker opener-upperer earn his or her pitiful wage.

Mrs Stevie was just finishing her peroration. She span triumphantly to lead the poor, browbeaten locker opener-upperer to the scene of the financial outrage only to find me standing there with all her stuff, which I handed to her. The locker opener-upperer immediately assessed the situation and fled while Mrs Stevie selected exactly which terms of endearment to use on me, then - sensing the absence of the locker opener-upperer - span round enabling me to quickly absent myself from her rage by dodging behind a bank of lockers, where I was joined by the Stevieling.

Mrs Stevie span back around but I was gone. She span back but could not see me or the hapless locker opener-upperer. She might have simply gone off the boil in the target poor environment we had engineered had not the group of Brazilian ladies reappeared in theater after having experienced the ride and spotting me cowering behind the lockers loudly exclaimed and pointed while waving their cameras.

The Stevieling and I decided to move as quickly as possible on to the next attraction, and by the time Mrs Stevie had caught up with us tempers had cooled.

This attraction was the old Earthquake Disaster Ride which used to feature Charleton Heston, but has been retooled for some years with a "you are appearing in a cheap movie made by Christopher Walken" theme, which actually works very well and is quite clever. The show part of the attraction requires ten volunteers, and when the presenter asked for someone who could do an evil laugh Mrs Stevie tried to volunteer me, but was herself selected for her 15 minutes in the limelight.

Things got even better when the presenter asked for her very best evil laugh and then tagged her as "crazy lady". He played this up and I was agog to see how long he could get away with it before copping a size nine in the hurtybits, but Mrs Stevie had been bitten by the stardom bug and was, for once, pliable and cooperative even at the expense of her own image.

And I have to say she was quite good, cast as she was with two other women as "evil scientists". True, every time she lifted her face to the light her Evil Scientist hard hat fell off. Even so, I felt she was the best Evil Scientist ever and told her so, which cheered her up for most of the rest of the day.

Then it was on to the Men in Black ride, in which you ride in whirling cars while you shoot various targets of opportunity with a "laser" pistol. It transpires that winning an inordinate number of points on this idiotic ride is a personal strength, and so I was able to rack up 10,000 points and more to the womenfolk's aggregate score of 203. Mrs Stevie was driven to new heights of jealousy over this when I mentioned it a few times in passing, but I had to stop when we went to get our stuff back from the lockers.

There I found a French lady and her daughter in tears because they had locked up their valuables and the locker had refused to acknowledge them as them thirty minutes later. I became the hero of the hour by flagging down a locker opener-upperer for them, which was when I found out that Mrs Stevie does not approve of French ladies either.

We then moved on into the rather over-the-top Springfield area of the park and the Simpsons ride, which turned out to be the old Back To The Future ride with some plywood shapes screwed over the original fiberglass stuff and painted in Krusty the Klown colors. I was enchanted by the naffness of this half-arsed "renovation" and felt it stood a good chance of being the best ride in the park as a result. It was easy to see the provenance of the ride, and the old DeLorien cars were clearly visible behind the plywood sides.

The ride became even more brilliant when I realized that in all likelihood the hydraulic motion of the cars hadn't even been reprogrammed, and a new movie had simply been scripted to the existing motion scheme. This is a simulator-type ride with hydraulic cars suspended in front of a hemispherical screen on which is projected a wrap-around movie, producing a nauseatingly convincing illusion of chaotic movement - in the original a flight in the DeLorien time machine from Back to the Future but now a high speed ride in a derailed roller-coaster car in the Krusty theme park. There were and are certain key points in which recognizable and memorable things happen, and they happen the same way now as they did in the early 1990s.

For all that I have to say the new Simpsons movie uses the motion to better effect than the original ride did, and I almost threw up at several points. We had been forced to queue for about 30 minutes for this one but I think it was worth it.

We had lunch which was, wonder of wonders not the terrible, nasty and horrible experience it had been in the Islands of Adventure park at the start of the week where we despared of finding anything edible, and moved on at the womenfolks' insistence to the E.T. ride. I protested to no effect; the ride was closing at the end of the year, they said, and it was part of family history, they said, and shut up that moaning Mrs Stevie said so that was that.

Umpteen years ago Mrs Stevie and the four year old Stevieling had a girls only day at this park and The Stevieling rode the E.T. ride for the first time. She returned home wide-eyed and full of the backstory in which "E.T. must go home". In fact, she nearly drove me stark staring mad with this mantra over the next 24 hours, to the point I started to tease her by saying stuff like "E.T. must go to the store" or "E.T. must go to bed", which would drive her into a rage-filled correction. She was, and is, her mother's daughter in every way.

The ride itself is beyond lame from an adult perspective, and I was astounded at how many adults were on line sans children to experience it. It consists of an extremely sedate suspended coaster-like mechanism fashioned to look like ranks of bicycles (of course). Each "car" houses about 16 people in ranks of four and everyone "flies" over various scenes that tell whatever daft story has been going on until at the very end E.T. says goodbye to everyone by name as they coast past.

This miracle of technology is achieved by making everyone register their name and carry an ID card during the queue stage (which takes place in a giant "wood" somehow relevant to the backstory but which I've never understood despite having spent several hours in the bloody thing) and which gets taken just before boarding. The names get recorded in a computer and get played back as those seats pass the sensor at the end of the ride.

Actually, I've ridden this one a couple of times before, once when Mrs Stevie was pregnant when this was the only ride they'd let her on, and once a few years later with a young Stevieling, and on both occasions E.T. got our names wrong because the order everyone gives in their ID cards is not always the order in whch they are seated due to last second dithering in the line, and once E.T. is out of step, he stays out of step. It was the only redeeming feature of the ride in my opinion.

But this time he got everyone right, ruining the ride for me.

We wandered back to the roller coaster, which rumor had it had actually restarted, but it turned out that after running one train they had closed it down again.

We revisited Despicable Me 2 but the line was now a day and a half long.

So we rode The Mummy again a couple of times (I'm voting this as my new best ride in the park) and made our way toward the exit.

Mrs Stevie asked if we could perhaps take a look at the aging Terminator T2 show and I said okay, since it was a sit-down 3D and live action thing in air conditioned darkness and did not suck if memory was not playing me false. It also demanded no audience participation, so I was in no danger of being volunteered for public humiliation in the name of mass entertainment.

The show was quite good, not at all naff, and we nailed seats on the wide aisle about halfway down the theater so part of the live action took place a few feet from us, though I'd forgotten that happened (in my defense I hadn't seen the show in over a decade). Mrs Stevie swears that they used to ride a motorcycle down this aisle but I don't remember that myself.

We exited into the gift shop and I was confronted by a life-sized model of the skeletal robot from the original Terminator movie, the equivalent of a cigar store indian and made to serve much the same purpose. What caught my eye was the sign hung on it announcing that it was for sale (with no price on it). I speculated for a few minutes on where one would put such a thing - it stood over six feet high - and how one would transport it.

Then I took a long look at the collectible figures in the cabinet next to it, statuettes of Arnie as The Terminator. The sculpts were not spectacular (since the '90s a revolution in realism in facial sculpts has overtaken the collectible figures market and I've come to expect almost photographic realism in such items) but the poses and settings were nice. If I'd had anywhere to display one I'd have been tempted by one of the smaller ones.

As I walked toward the exit I saw that the floor was littered with souvenir leather jackets, so, not being a clod and wanting to look I picked them up and re-hung them on the hook. America can be such a land of clods, with people stepping around or even on merchandise dropped by other clods instead of replacing it where it came from. As I say, it was also an excuse to have a look.

Which is how I came to leave the park the proud owner of a souvenir Arnie motorcycle jacket branded for T2, something I'd never in the past have bought. It was real leather, decently made if a little heavy, at an attractive price. I have a leather jacket but it is far too nice to wear every day, and I'd been noodling with the idea of getting one I could screw up without worrying too much.

All I need now is a motorcycle and a lever-action shotgun.

  1. Mrs Stevie has been known to have dreams in which the dream-me indulges in various acts of perfidy, and upon waking hold me responsible for the imaginary transgressions her twisted psyche conjured in what passes for her mind, often exacting swift justice in a brutal attack while I am still asleep and in the arms of the Dallas Cowboys' cheerleader A squad
  2. While smugly announcing that we were to pay tolls twice for the privilege of doing so
  3. By a curious coincidence I had purchased a copy of The Ultimate Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy4 to read on my Kindle, but hadn't found time to do so. That should be read in Simon Jones' voice of course
  4. I have since found time. Would that I hadn't. Avoid this highly edited edition
  5. I have alluded in the past to the fact that I attribute her foul temper to overindulgence in this and similar beverages, which she developed a taste for in the third year of our marriage around the time I inadvertently killed the front lawn by applying too much Lorn Fude™, shortly after the Tree Felling Misunderstanding and about a month before the Heirloom Dining Table Fire Incident6
  6. This last the impetus behind the totally unreasonable "No More Steam Engines In The House" Snap Decision
  7. Although her reaction to finding that someone had indeed done this in indelible laundry marker was a harbinger of her coffee-fueled rages and then some
  8. δLine Length/δt
  9. A Stevie-invented term I'm sure is just waiting in the wings before appearing in some piece of park literature
  10. Moving laterally back and forth as opposed to becoming highly entertaining, though in this case both senses of the word apply if you enjoy such things