Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Word For World Is "Suck"

Yesterday, Wednesday, I awoke to find that the entire water content of the sky had been dropped on Long Island.

Islip, about 15 minutes drive from Chateau Stevie, recorded 13 inches over the course of Tuesday night. This is the normal amount of downward-happening wet for the months of June through August combined.

This heavenly largesse has served to point out two important facets of Life on Long Island: Uphill Drains and Downhill Drains That Never Get Cleaned.

The various Suffolk County1 towns surrounding Chateau Stevie this morning are actually a bunch of houses and car-roofs poking out of a collection of freshwater (euphemistically speaking) inland seas.

Remember: this state once provided the manpower and brains that build the machine in which six men rode down to the Moon's surface and in which they flew back up to their spaceship afterwards. One might expect that in the intervening forty-five years The Great Drain Secret might have succumbed to the same mighty intellects. One would be wrong.

Wyandanch was now a wonderful new Great Lake thanks in part to Uphill Drains, carefully planned and installed a couple of years ago in the face of modern ideas on the Laws of Physics, and partly because the one drain that would have provided the semblance of urban civil engineering of the 21st century at work was blocked, I imagine by an amalgamation of garbage, leaves and road salt left over from winter. I don't have to work my imagination hard when I make that judgment, because I used to have a drain that got blocked every fall in the same manner.

I've written about that drain elsewhere, but for the lazy the problem was that sometime in the past a passing Brontosaurus had trodden on the cast-iron grid and cracked it, then the road crews had built up the road to about six inches above the drain so all the crap would accumulate there. Street sweepers, somewhat rarer these days than Brontosauruses in my neck of the woods, only made matters worse as they carefully collected as much superannuated crap as possible and swept it into the drain.

The drain was also a hazard to traffic in that a car wheel could easily buckle if the vehicle wandered too close to the curb and crossed it. I tried to get the town to do something about it, but my complaints fell on deaf ears until a cyclist drove down it and was injured. After I explained to the nice but clueless cop who was waiting to chew my ear when I got home that day that the drain was not my responsibility and that I was sick to the back teeth of complaining to the town about it, it was replaced.

The drain across the road gets blocked too, and until my drain was replaced we had our own Great Lake every year. I would unblock the drains with my trusty sidewalk scraper as idiots would drive into the foot-deep water to splash me while I worked, abruptly lose control of their vehicle and come close to hitting me3. Now the lake forms only on the other side of the road and the people who bought the house from the elderly lady who lived there for years have two kids who can bloody well stir their stumps and unblock their own drains.

Where was I?

Oh right. The Lake at Wyandanch made getting from the car4 to the platform a challenge, especially as wuckfits would deliberately try and splash passing pedestrians. It was quite fun listening to the funny noises the engines made after the unexpectedly deep water sluiced up into the works of those cars I can tell you.

Some of the fun might not have been deliberate sadism. There is a tree branch obscuring the view of the drivers who make the corner and when in leaf it completely blocks the sidewalk. In winter, when the leaves fall off, it presents hard, sharp twigs at eye-level to make the morning commute that more exciting.

This reflects back on the secondary problem of the drains (the primary problem being their often not being put in the same place the water will want to go), which can be stated as nothing gets done in New York until something bad happens. The concept of preventative maintenance is completely alien to the NY Psyche.

Trees overhang powerlines and the railroad, begging someone to cut them down before the high winds of the Fall blow them down, but every November we have power outages and LIRR delays and those in charge of the infrastructure have the nerve to act surprised, as though no-one could have predicted the inevitable chaos. Drains do not get cleaned until property is under water and insurance claims are coming in thick and fast.

The sheer amount this idiocy costs the taxpayer in settling lawsuits and service costs is breathtaking. When the Metrocard was introduced for real5 nothing was budgeted for cleaning the card swipes, with the result the turnstiles stopped working after about 6 months. In the late 80s we had an important and heavily-used bridge that was part of the New York State Thruway fall into the river because not one penny had been spent on maintenance in decades. That made the buggers sit up and take notice, all right. Of course, now there was the problem that we needed a new bridge and some way of getting the old one out of the way of the boats.

My train was delayed twenty minutes that day, but since that was a train to Atlantic Terminal I didn't care. When I have to change trains the problem of a ten minute or greater delay is really brought into sharp focus as the missed connection typically introduces a twenty-five minute wait for the next train, time in which the LIRR infrastructure can fail some more. I've had days that got so bad I've got on a train back to Wyandanch and written off the three plus hours wasted and tried to salvage the rest of the day doing something fun if not productive.

In any event, the rain didn't stop falling until about one minute before the train arrived, ensuring that everyone was soaked through. In my case I had an umbrella, but the rain sluiced off that onto my backpack which was so wet it was still damp when I got home that night. I was in a training course for most of the day (I managed to swing an in-house C# course I've been trying to get for months) so I kicked off my wringing wet sneakers so my feet could dry out while I became conversant in various topics of the New Paradigm.

When I got back to Wyandanch and opened my car door I was hit in the face by a miasma composed of superheated air, water vapor and stench of something dead. The air was obviously because after raining the day had become hellish hot, the water vapor was from what had run off me during the drive to the station that morning, but search the vehicle as I might I could not find a cause for The Stench. I drove home with the windows down, thinking maybe I'd forgotten to lock the doors and the car had been used as a lounge by some passing homeless person, but I know I did lock up.

Best I can come up with is that something had washed up under the car and rotted for a few hours, though I didn't see any evidence for that when I pulled away. Could have been something dead snagged on the various hooked doodads under the car now I come to think on it. Perhaps The Steviemobile was haunted by some long dead revenant, bent on exacting vengeance on the living for whatever reasons such things usually harbor. I dunno.

Either way, The Stench was gone this morning so either the dead animal caught up under the car fell off as I drove around last night or The Revenant caught sight of Mrs Stevie on her way out to work and decided the competition was too stiff.

  1. Long Island is broken up into several administrative bits. From west to east: Queens and Brooklyn, which belong to NYC and don't count as Long Island, Nassau County, famous for its method of calculating property taxes and for it's periodic public wars over how and when to change its method of calculating property taxes2, and Suffolk County which runs east to the Sea. And north and south to the sea if we are being absolutely accurate, but that is true for all the bits of Long Island except for Queens where you can hit Brooklyn by going south and Brooklyn where you end up in Queens by going North which is why we don't include them in the general geography of Long Island - it's too confusing when giving directions to the beach.
  2. Essentially they work out what your property is worth using a formula written in 1933, fudge the figure for bits of property that are taxable but weren't invented or in common household deployage in 1933 like central air conditioning, swimming pools and hot tubs, then refigure for 2014 dollars using another formula
  3. I finally got a clue and would park my old Excel in the middle of my side of the road with the hazard flashers on. Would-be splashers were forced to stop and pull around at slow speed and those coming from the other direction would always stop and rubberneck. Kamikaze idiot problem solved
  4. Which I parked on a slope so the engine would survive any more inundation - others were not so fortunate and the scrapyards are full this day of waterlogged cars and manly pickup trucks
  5. There was a false start a couple of years before

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Suck Goes Ever On And On

Unbelievable numbers of outrages were perpetrated at my expense in the last month and a bit, so many that I could not put fingers to keyboard for the angst.

To start with: Another birthday. The less said about that the better, except to note in passing that the high spot was a hibachi dinner avec les In-Laws.

They did not enjoy the experience. Not sure why.

Work then; source of many Outrages Served over the years. I was cornered by my boss, who demanded "Are you going to retire soon?"

After a rather confusing back and forth it turned out I wasn't being fired in an overly circuitous fashion, but seconded to the database department "for half my time" because I already knew a bit about database administration. Training in the finer points of the technology that have happened in the intervening decade since I last took DA seriously will be made available ... later.

Mentoring in the finer points of New Age DBA-ism was promised but has yet to appear in favor of an alternate plan implemented by the middle management of the department in question: I take over the script management duties of a now-retired staff member and don't bother anyone else with questions.

Questions to said staff member on the subject of what, where, how and who (when it isn't working like it should), were met with "dunno" and "I just type yes". He then left a week earlier than planned so I was flung into the deep end of what turned out to be largely manual drudge-work.

I found one task so monumentally pointless I simply rewrote the code1 to make a best-guess stab at whether the task should run and proceed without the need for me to mindlessly wade through it all typing 'y' or occasionally 'n' - because I like to think that if nothing else I at least added informed decisions to the process based on solid knowledge of how the cogs turn.

As for the mentoring - to date it has manifested in a determined and utterly bewildering drive to make getting a proper toolset, defined as "what the bloke who left had", as difficult as possible. I am not joking when I say that the process has born a striking resemblance to that described by Douglas Adams as the SOP of Vogon bureaucrats. I'm eight weeks into this galling nonsense and to date no progress has been made.

So we can all see how this is going to play out. My guess is that I'm being used as a stick for each side of a hidden management struggle to hit the other with. Winner gets to decide whether or not we hire another consultant to replace the retiree.

So anyway, I stayed late off the books a few nights to get educated on my own dime2 and in the fine tradition of no good deed doer being left without his hands being given a good going over with a coal-hammer, by doing so left myself open to further Outrage Perpetration at the hands of the Bloody Long Island Rail Road.

It went like this:

I left work extremely late, much later than I like to do on account of being parked in a known haunt of footpads and tow-trucks after 11pm. On the principle that I do not like to attempt boarding already full trains at Jamaica3 I rode to Penn Station via the Subway's fine A train service, disembarked to find a Ronkonkoma-bound train in-station with he driver nerving himself up to go.

Huzzah! I shouted. "No cooling my heels for half an hour wondering how much time this bloody job has wasted in such manner over the course of my life", and I leaped aboard.

The train pulled out of the station and entered the tunnel under the East River in a businesslike fashion. Passengers were in good spirits. Then the train abruptly ground to a halt and the Air Conditioning quit.

"This not look good" said Mr Brain, and he turned out to be understating the case quite severely.

The crew bustled about, and I overheard conversations that told an ugly tale of either the third rail power being out or the train having completely shorted out something vital for its use of said power. Such was the complete and utter collapse of the train infrastructure that they couldn't tell which situation was pertaining.

And so the air grew warmer and damper and the passengers rather less happy with their lot.

"Never fear!" cried a young voice over the PA. "A rescue train4 is being dispatched which will tow us back into Penn Station. We will keep you informed"

It was bad, then. No-one believed a word of this drivel of course, we were all too long in the commuting tooth for such subterfuges to be accepted at face value. But the chap who had been volunteered to speak to us had used The Phrase.

Any time the Bloody Long Island Rail Road says "we will keep you informed" they are a) lying and 2) sending the clear message that there is no possible way the situation can be remedied by the crew.

No sooner had The Phrase been uttered than a complete collapse of morale overtook the passengers. Widespread moaning of the most pitiful kind was augmented with the clutching of heads and cries of "Why me?"

We sat in the growing damp heat, only the periodic "updates" on "the situation" to raise our spirits, but those of us in the rear car who could clearly see the platform of the station no more than 300 feet behind us were not easily buoyed by tales of "rescue trains". Indeed, we formed an entirely reasonable and workable plan in which a second train be run up behind us and the end doors opened so we could use it as a drawbridge to the station. It took us about five minutes to iron out all objections to it on technical grounds, but the Bloody Long Island Railroad has a long history of "passengers last" and our plan was brutally rejected out of hand.

After about 20 minutes the hot, sweaty air was filled with choking diesel fumes as a "rescue train" was run up to a few feet from us (neatly blocking access so our eminently sensible and extremely workable - and fume-less electric - "bridge train" plan was rendered moot). It sat there for almost an hour.

Eventually something go the various crews moving. I can't say whether it was the end of the tea break, the signing of some vital overtime agreement or what, but they started moving through the train and pretending to do stuff. However, they could only do stuff in sequence. There was no multitasking despite a multitude of boots-on-train.

I finally moved onto the "bunch of incompetents" side of the passenger dialogue when the team stood in the rear car arguing that someone needed to walk 12 cars up to the front of the train and push a switch. Understand, there was no counter argument. Everyone agreed the switch needed pushing. But no-one actually began walking switchward. They just all talked about doing that.

Morale hit a low point when a nice lady walked through the train distributing Emergency Water in what looked like juice boxes. These were apparently issued by the Coastguard, which made about as much sense as anything else that night. Until then I never knew water had an expiration date. I refused to drink any on the grounds that I couldn't see what I was drinking and was by then paranoid anyway from all the diesel fumes I was breathing.

Eventually someone did walk up and push the switch, which was the signal for the driver of the "rescue diesel" to go from standing still while polluting the barely breathable as it was air to Ramming Attack Speed and we were all tossed around while the delicate business of coupling took place. This involved more ramming and a complicated drawbar assembly. One might wonder why a "Rescue Diesel" wasn't fitted with a compatible coupler to start with. One is doomed to wonder forever.

We pulled back into the station to see the next Ronkonkoma train leaving on-time, about half full of passengers. Realizing that there was about to be a riot of indignant passengers who had been promised a rise in ticket prices as a result of an agreement struck only three days before5 and realizing also that no judge in the world would contemplate punitive sentencing under the circumstances, the Bloody Long Island Rail Road fished a new train out of their yards and, an hour and twenty minutes late, we left for home.

I got home sometime around 11:30pm, where I got a good nagging from Mrs Stevie on the subject of not coming home in a timely manner.

  1. That never in a million years originated anywhere but in a browser window in answer to a google query or my name isn't Tarquin J. Fimbletwonk
  2. Literally in this case, as I invested in copies of the Software Vendor publications concerning the relevant parts of the product I've been told I'll be dealing with
  3. Not the good one, the one where you can freeze to death in winter trying to catch a train to Wyandanch that has enough room for one more passenger in it when the doors open.
  4. The unwary reader is probably conjuring visions of some real-world International Rescue-like operation, a model of quiet efficiency and a beacon of hope. That reader is about to be brutally disillusioned
  5. Narrowly avoiding a threatened strike