Monday, December 28, 2015

Post Xmas Status Report 2015

Ho! Ho! Ho!
Look At This Visa Bill!

Life has been possessed of a particularly piquant bouquet of suck of late.

Item 1) Chateau Stevie Dilapidation Study.

Subsection 1): Ceilings - all showing critical levels of paint leprosy. Urgent repainting required sometime around the summer. Of 2013.

Subsection 2): Upstairs Bathroom - Bathing facility still waiting any sort of action. Now almost two years sans shower or bath up there. Tiles piled in garage along with cement and grout. Management beginning to suspect talk of carpal tunnel woes are variation of lead swinging.

Actuality is hands really hurt and I'm dithering over the matter of needing a new valve body for new taps that don't stick and do other annoying stuff. Also, walls too far out or pipes too far in. Tiles will result in taps being behind wall. This judged to be sub-optimal for actual bathing use in simulations. Action is called for, but not in title case.

Subsection 3): Downstairs Bathroom - Wallpaper peeling and mouldy. Metal "temporary" drop ceiling fixtures rusting. Metal door jambs1 rusting. Fixtures and fittings banged up and in urgent need of replacement. Recently re-grouted tiles now falling from wall and in urgent need of being glued back again before they fall out during Mrs Stevie's ablutions. Basically, if it isn't mouldy it's rusty. Crisis imminent. Awooga!

Subsection 4): Living Room Hardwood Floor - in urgent need of either sanding and re-varnishing or covering up with a carpet and never being spoken of again. Action is called for.

Subsection 5): Kitchen - Not falling down or rusting2. Can be left for another year.

Subsection 6): Office - cannot be entered owing to amounts of crap littering the place. Needs emptying and stripping pending being converted into something useful for Azathoth's sake. Can be left indefinitely

Subsection 7): Upstairs bedrooms - Source of constant arguments between me and Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling. Nothing gets done and the women don't take my threats seriously, which is a strategic mistake on their part, as they are about to find out. Action pending receipt of Amazon order for pitchfork, barbecue starter fluid and long-reach strike anywhere fireplace matches.

Subsection 8): Exterior - not too bad if you don't count the garage door3 or the fence4.

Item 2) The Incompetence Of The Long Island Rail Road.

Subsection 1): Timeliness - They haven't got any. Late trains are now the norm on the Ronkonkoma branch.

Subsection 2): Common Sense - They haven't got any of this either. They continue to prioritize eastbound trains through the single track chicane that runs from Pinelawn through Wyandanch to Deer Park even when peak traffic is competing for the route in the westbound direction. Late eastbound trains in the morning inconvenience very few off-peak travelers. Late westbound trains in the morning disrupt the peak traffic patterns for not only the Ronkonkoma branch but also the extremely popular Huntington Branch and the Oyster Bay branch too. This situation is blamed on "congestion in the single track section" but is actually more accurately attributed to congestion in whatever passes for a brain in the LIRR's dispatcher's office.

Subsection 3): Chutzpah - they have plenty of this, proudly proclaiming that trains are running "on or close to schedule" on the P.A. System as if that were something that needed to be waved about on a working rail transit system.

Item 3): Xmas.

Subsection 1): The Stevieling - made out like a bandit this year despite my announcing that because I'd forked over for yet another extremely expensive unexpected job on her car5 I would not be going crazy buying presents. Mrs Stevie compensated for this - and I quote - "Scrooge-like behavior" by showering her with gifts from Santa6. The kid seemed happy. Anyway, she deserved some reward for being put in charge of making the dead sections of Mrs Stevie's indoor shrub of festive merriment light up. I let her quit after five hours and seventy replaced bulbs, and just turned the tree around so the dark bit faced the wall.

Subsection 2): Mrs Stevie - got theater tickets for shows all so popular the tickets must be paid for with human limbs, wireless headphones for the TV so that she can watch while I'm trying to sleep in the front bedroom and the Hallmark dolls house tree ornament for this year, part of a collection I've been contributing to for 28 years. The Stevieling contributed some really neat stuff, combining store bought items with artistic presentation in a stunningly original way. She won Xmas this year by sneakily adding talent to the competition, which I think you'll agree was a low blow.

I got both of them T-Shirts from The Chipshop (a UK-style pub in Brooklyn) and placed giant musical singing bows7 on the boxes that jiggled about and sang of the delights inside the gift wrapping they were attached to, but her box of roses that was really candy and tissue paper beat me to the Oscar this year.

Subsection 3): Me - I got Hess Trucks even though Hess doesn't have many gas stations hereabouts since the Speedway merger and you couldn't buy the trucks at the one Hess gas station I know of anyway, since they were an Internet Only deal8.

I also got a kite I had ordered and handed to the Stevieling upon receipt instructing her to wrap it as her Xmas gift to me, thereby saving herself some much-needed cash. This she did, pausing only to cut the paracord drawstring of the storage bag in about six places in the process. I reassured her that it didn't matter and moved on.

Mrs Stevie gave everyone books about wildlife that have "polarized glass" motion pictures9 which show animations of each animal - cheetahs running, octopuses squishing in and out in that fascinating yet disgusting way they do, polar bears leaping into water in order to bite chunks out of sea lions and so forth. Very spiffing indeed.

We also all got English-style Cadbury's chocolate cookies, chocolate fingers and so on from Santa, so the results of my blood work this quarter should throw Doc Rubberglove into a tizzy.

The Stevieling gave me the Lego Movie Wii game, but it turned out that it only works on the Wii U. Nothing would suffice but that I immediately order a Wii U from Amazon so that the child would not be devastated, a selfless act on my part that was the proximate cause of some hurtful words at my expense from Mrs Stevie insinuating a hidden agenda. I pointed out that I had only expected the kite and that would have sufficed, but that now I had the game I could not break the Stevieling's heart by returning it. Mrs Stevie harrumphed a lot but couldn't come up with a counter-argument and so I won and Everything Is Awesome.

Mrs Stevie gave me an aviator's watch, saying it would be better for when we went out than my Casio PAG24010.

It is dead neat, with a flyback 12 hour stopwatch for doing fancy navigation work in the old Electra while traversing the rainforest canopy above Brazil in search of this or that lost city, and a sliderule bezel that not only lets one calculate square roots when the whim strikes but can convert many everyday amounts – European Kg to proper Lbs and so forth - and should one be aloft in a Sopwith Camel with only a sight-glass fuel gauge it allows one to figure out how many gallons of gas one has left given the fuel weight in lbs one started with and the duration of the flight.

The bezel is a bit stiff, but I suspect the silicone grease in the o-ring has dried up. I shall have the bezel removed and the o-ring re-greased as a priority so that I may be ready for any aviation-related adventures that crop up.

Item 4): General health.

Subsection 1): Me - my hands hurt all the time and I can't get a decent night's sleep because of it. Doc Rubberglove says I need access to prescription drugs my insurance plan doesn't cover. So much for "the best health care system in the world" (although that is a Republican mantra I haven't heard in a while - maybe they've figured out that a healthcare system no-one can afford can't possibly be labeled "the best in the world" or maybe they read my post about their having Taxpayer-Funded Healthcare For Life and are afraid that catchphrase might get picked up by the media11).

All the shenanigans with parents this year meant I never got round to scheduling the surgery I need. Doc Rubberglove has offered a shot in the wrist that he says will relieve the problem for a bit. I will find out on January 4th. In the meantime I have to reduce my intake of the drug he gave me as an experimental treatment because although I do get a good night's sleep when I take it I am loopy all day from the side effects. Good 'ere, innit?

Subsection 2): The Stevieling - Had three of her wisdom teeth removed last month and was very poorly for days. Her head swelled up to twice its normal size, and the extra mass was all around the jowls. Her head went pear-shaped. The dentist wouldn't take out the fourth wisdom tooth for some reason, which I must pursue now I think of it. The Stevieling's explanation of it didn't make sense, though in fairness to her she was told why while coming around from the general anesthetic.

Subsection 3): Mrs Stevie - has presented me with a bill for 12 thousand dollars to replace her teeth with bionic equivalents. It seems her own teeth have all died as a consequence of her radiation treatments.

Truth to tell this is something of a relief. I was worrying what the savings-decimator would look like this time, and now the waiting is over and the uncertainty gone12. Still, I suppose she needs teeth so she can gnash them at me. I asked the dentist to tell her the teeth had been worn out by lethally strong coffee but he refused, so I will still have to endure her coffee-fueled rages and the facial twitches that make conversing with the woman such an adventure. Any inadvertent but understandable sniggering during one of her variable-facial-expression-augmented perorations can result in a reaction of the most violent stripe.

Subsection 4): Everyone else - My parents are in assisted living due to events rather than decisions, and not doing so well. My father is wheelchair bound and can only move his left arm. My mother has issues with her hips, knees and feet. Both are very depressed about leaving the house they had lived in for so many years and being so far away from Grande Prairie. My Father-in-law has developed Advanced Altzheimer's and requires a full-time nurse. My Mother-in-law is going deaf. So much for the elders of the family. Nothing good to report. Golden years my arse.

The young family members are doing well, though some of them are pointedly ignoring us. I approve of this snottiness, and return their indifference tenfold. Fbleep 'em. I'm ignoring all of my distant family, and have done for years. Dunno why. I just feel no real connection to people I haven't seen in decades. Then again, looking back I always was a selfish bastard when it came to family.So fbleep me as well. I totally deserve it.

Conclusion: I made it through another year. Not sure there are any lessons to be learned other than:

1) Don't get cancer.

2) Fix up the house before it falls over and sinks in the swamp.

3) Make sure the drawstring is out of the way before you start hacking away with the scissors.

4) Don't get old.

5) Clean out the upstairs bedroom for fbleep's sake woman! How many fbleeping sets of clothes that don't fit do you need anyway?

That about covers it.

  1. a feature of the Chateau Stevie architecture that are a large part of its "charm" and which add many opportunities for exercising one's command of Words of Power to any job involving replacing walls
  2. if you don't count the hole in the ceiling over the cabinets by the fridge caused by damp
  3. paint leprosy
  4. falling down thanks to ants, termites, hurricanes super storms and dry rot
  5. A loaner from a relative who knows an easy touch when she sees it
  6. All probably purchased on my visa card
  7. The Stevieling and Mrs Stevie go crazy trying to save old bows from Xmas gifts despite our house having at least three large bags of colored bows gifts for the tarting up of in it. Any gift bearing a bow is unwrapped to the Shrieking Shrikes of Xmas Wrapping howling about saving the bows. I react badly to this nonsense by deliberately destroying any bow beyond salvation as the first act upon receiving a present. This year none of my presents from the Shrieking Shrikes had any bows on them, which suits me just fine
  8. And now command idiotic prices on Amazon from cynical and opportunistic vendors who took advantage of the limited number of toy trucks made to come up with a scheme whereby others will pay for their children's college education
  9. That is what we called them when I was a kid but as far as I can tell they have no polarized glass in them, and are engineered using a variation of Fresnel lens technology
  10. A replacement for the better-in-certain-ways PAG40 that Mrs Stevie gave me and which I managed to terminaly break while changing the batteries in a spectacular demonstration of incompetence
  11. Which would be neat
  12. Every time I get a decent-sized float put by something comes along out of the blue and wipes me out to the last cent. One year I managed to put away four thousand dollars, only to be presented with a bill for a replacement driveway that fell in and some fencing that fell down: $4000 exactly. This year, having paid off the house, I had a little under 12K stashed in the vaults. The bill for the work Mrs Stevie needs doing is almost 12000 dollars to the penny. The front wall falling off event also cost exactly what I had in the bank at that time to put right too. I'm at the point where I want to get builders in to do the bathrooms just so whatever cosmic cash-triggered smiteostat is involved gets triggered and saves me the angst and worry of uncertainty in 2016

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shall I Compare Thee LIRR To A Rotting Cabbage?

So once again my train is ten minutes late because some bleeptard at LIRR Dispatching Central has made the rule that Eastbound trains have priority at all times (even when they are the Off-Peak traffic), and must be sent through the single track chicane between Pinelawn and Deer Park even if that means holding the peak train to let it through first because the bleeping Off-Peak train is ten minutes late again.

This post explains why that is a decision only someone with the brains granted a cowpat could think was a good idea, and how it maximises damage and minimises Mass Transit Goal Achieval.

The LIRR dispatchers could not find its collective arse with both hands, a map and a big sign reading "This Way To Your Own Arse".

"Idiots" doesn't even scratch the surface. It is hard when confronted with such monumental levels of upfuck to remember that this country once put six men on the Moon, and did it using a machine built in a factory the Ronkonkoma-New York train dawdles past every day in accordance with the Victorian wisdom on the lethality of train speed1.

  1. The story is that when trains were becoming a reality, some vocal opponents felt that at 30 mph2 all the air would be sucked out of the carriages and the passengers would suffocate (as opposed to dying of apoplexy at having to suffer yet another manufactured system-wide delay)
  2. A speed that the LIRR can sometimes only dream of achieving

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Unbelievable Tediousness Of Life Is Tedious

So much happened, so little of it pleasant to dwell on or repeat, so you get the Reader's Digest version.

The women went to Florida for a week so I regrouted the downstairs bathroom tile. My right hand has been numb ever since as a result. I just noticed today that the grout has failed in several places and will need doing over. So that was a worthwhile use of my time and health.

Mr Stevie and I had a wedding anniversary which we decided would be best used for an argument of continent-moving proportions. Just another day in paradise.

I went to open the garage door a couple of weeks ago and discovered it weighed much more than it should after my replacing the badly frayed and useless wire of death. Eventually I deployed some class four Words of Power and a rupture to prise it open by sheer manliness and discovered that the left hand spring had broken off.

Once I had the door propped open with the Anti-Guillotine Two-By-four of Life Preservage I was able to check the flight path of the spring, which had taken full advantage of the laws of physics to use the pulley system to achieve maximum warp before slamming into the door itself, unhooking the wire from every component it had been involved with as it went.

The mechanism is somewhat like a medieval catapult in that closing the door uses the pulleys to magnify effort, so the spring could use them to magnify velocity once it was freed from the confines of the eyebolt.

My immediate concern was for the fabric and windows of the cab fitted to Troll, the Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness, as it had been directly under the trajectory of the mutinous spring. Fortunately they had been completely spared, so I was able to clear away some of the crap in the garage and deploy the ladder in order to conduct a close inspection of the eyebolt. It was clear that the same thing had happened a few times before in this spring's history because there were two more small rings of spring-stuff left from previous snappage incidents.

It was too late to go looking for a new spring so I just used my trusty Leatherman Crunch vise-grip pliers to prise open the coil of the broken end of the spring enabling me to wind a few turns of it over the eyebolt in the same way one feeds a front door key into a car key ring1.

After that it was the matter of only a few miserable hours to re-thread the wire over the various pulleys in pitch darkness2 and re-hook it onto the button on the door before I could stomp off to bed.

I have been waiting for the leaves to fall off the tree overhanging the pool so I can cover it with the new winter cover, but the blasted tree has been standing there in glorious green leaf for the entire length of October and looks to be set for November too.

The reason for waiting is that before the pool can be mothballed the water has to be clean, and as soon as I pull off the leaf net3 and solar cover leaves will start to flutter down in what the tree has always assumed to be a charming rustic accompaniment to the whole process but is in reality a never-ending pain in the fundament.

On Saturday I declared Enough to be Enough and tore off the leaf net and the solar cover in a frenzy of activity. I deployed one (1) inflatable air pillow, needed to keep the pool supply people in Scotch and winter vacations in Hawaii, and secured it in the middle of the pool by means of rope which - for a wonder - I had to hand.

And no leaves fell.

A bit of vacuuming to get out the last vestiges of rotting Maple keys (they look like Sycamore helicopters and are just as annoying) and I was able to deploy the brand new cover bought some years ago before I decided not to bother with a pool for a bit. It was hard getting it unfolded because I couldn't do what the idiots who folded it up had in mind - put it on the ground - owning to the place having wet mud and leaves all over it (from where is still a mystery as the tree was standing smugly enleafed this morning) so I was forced to use the water as an unfolding surface.

This was a problem because a) the cover had been folded by idiots who assumed a team of seven to get it open and I had me, and 2) although the day itself was blisteringly hot the water was only just above freezing and caused the plastic of the cover to be very stiff and uncooperative. It was all very trying, but I had determination and a plan going for me.

Once I had the cover arranged to that the remaining folds would come open if the edges were tugged (the mysterious Folders had cunningly used "short-sheet/apple-pie" folds to prevent this very contingency but I persevered until their insidious work was rendered moot) I attached two lengths of rope to the edge, took up station on the deck used to enter the pool, and carefully pulled the cover open and over the pillow to the other side of the pool.

For once The Plan was a complete success. I know, you could have knocked me down with a feather. I fully expected to have a torn cover or leaves in the water or to have taken a mis-step and ended up in the near freezing water myself, but none of those things happened. I checked the sky for avian bacon, but saw no formations of porkers. It was worrying, but I had no time to pontificate. The wind was coming up and the tree was rustling its leafy branches threateningly.

I got the cover laced down after the usual nonsense with the plastic-coated steel hawser tangling itself for no good reason, deployed the leaf net again after shaking it clean of debris, and started the process of draining the water, which is where I got several soakings of refreshing cold wet as hoses mutinied as to which direction they would point and bits of the filter pump proved to have hidden reserves of water lurking in them. But it was done eventually and well done too as far as I could tell. No leaves sitting smugly on the bottom of the pool to form the nucleus of a black algae infection requiring military grade chemicals to defeat next spring. We'll see ion a few months, I guess.

At a Halloween party on Saturday I managed to drop my nifty Dragon Staff and put a ding in the hardwood, pissing me off royally.

And I just noticed that the pool cover is on upside-down.

  1. Except that the garage spring was slightly easier to wrangle than the average car key ring, requiring only the pliers and some Words of Power to persuade the coiled steel to open up enough to get started, whereas a key ring typically requires that hydraulic thing firemen use to rip holes in car wrecks to separate the coils enough to feed in a front door key
  2. I keep meaning to rewire the garage and install some lights
  3. Bought and deployed to keep leaf litter on the top and not in the water

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How To Use An Old Thing I Know About (That Isn't Used Any More And Is Hard To Find)

The Words-On-Paper Making Thing.

The bit with the keys with letters on them is the front. You put paper in the top and roll it around the long round black thing and behind the blue-black thing until it comes out the top a bit. The paper needs to be shorter at the front than the back at first.

You press the little keys to make sticks with letters on them hit the blue-black thing and make the letter on the paper so you can write stuff like letters and books and stuff.

Sometimes the sticks get stuck if you press too many keys too fast.

Written using only the ten hundred most used words by means of this spiffy utility as per this.

You should have a go at explaining something you know about to the OMG generation.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Immutable Nature Of The New York - Grande Prairie Flight Delay

At the end of August I managed to suffer the worst delay ever on the New York to Grande Prairie, Alberta trip despite having planned it specifically to minimize the chances of that very contingency 1.

I had the "surprise visit to the parents" Canada trip planned for days in advance. I would pack light, with seven sets of shirts, underwear & socks, a pair of jeans, a denim jacket and a pair of sneakers. I would only take my iPad as my media consumption and non-phone communication device. Lightness and lack of mass would be my watchwords.

My plan also called for me to take a Grand Strumstick as a gift for my beleaguered sister to whom the entire business of looking after, then resettling my parents in a managed care facility has fallen. Her parties often feature camp-fire singalongs (her husband and all his pals play guitar well) and she has been trying to pick up the guitar but, like me, has found it a challenge to get beyond buzzing and swear words. I reasoned that if I can play a Strumstick (and I can, sorta), so should she be able to do so and in so doing join in the smoke, shrapnel and song musical fun.

The intent was to pack the instrument in a soft "gig bag"and to talk it onto the plane in addition to my other hand baggage using my reserves of charm. A brilliant plan with no obvious downside.

A day later the obvious flaw in this plan dawned in Mr Brain, and a new plan was made in which I leveraged the need to take an empty checked-bag anyway (I was expecting to be lugging stuff back that I didn't take in). I would attempt plan "Hornswoggle Desk Staff Into Letting Me Enplane Enstrumsticked", but cunningly have plan "Put Strumstick In Sturdy Box In Suitcase When The Other Plan Is Nixed". The gig bag/Strumstick package would be turned into a long shredded nylon bag of matchwood otherwise. This was a brilliant backup plan with no downside I could see.

That night a flaw developed in the backup plan, in that no suitcase in the Basement of I Know We Have One Here Somewhere But Do You Think I Can Find It or listed on any website I cared to look at2 was long enough for the Strumstick's magnificent 33 inch neck.

An auxiliary plan involving a hacksaw was briefly considered then discarded as an obvious ambush ploy by Mr Brain, then a sigh was heaved and the splendid (but pricey) Strumstick Hardshell Case was ordered so that "Plan Hornswoggle Etc" could proceed sans the bit that required a suitcase. A reel of wide masking tape would be added to the plan so that in the event the Strumstick was consigned to the Luggage Masher the nice snap latches could be protected from being opened and torn off. Got that from observing what various guitarists had done or suffered over the years.

The observant among you will have detected the slow intrusion of Mr Cock-Up, but be assured the best is yet to come.

The trip called for me to get to Grande Prairie as per usual, but this time hire a car and drive north for a few more hours to a town called Grimshaw, which is where the assisted living facility my parents are residing at is located. I had planned to start on the Friday because the hire car booth closes at 11 on a weekday, leaving me plenty of slack time in which to absorb the inevitable delay in Minas Torontor or perhaps a La Guardia special like unto that suffered last year which had us taxiing for an hour.

An idea formed painfully the day before I was due to set off while I was discussing the British show Top Gear: I would obtain a low-cost GoPro camera and film my drive to Grimshaw! A brilliant plan with no conceivable downside! So I raced to Best Buy and obtained one camera, a suction-cup mount so I could attach it to the side-window pointing through the windshield and two 64 gigabyte cards suggested by the salesdrone3.

In retrospect I suppose I should have detected the screw-up in progress when it dawned that I would have to take my laptop with me to unload the camera's chip(s) at some point, or I would have to buy more chips. Since these came in at 40 Bux on sale I wasn't keen on the second option.

The laptop would require the power supply for it. A wrinkle was that the battery for the laptop had only days before been declared by Windows to be on its last legs and, by sheer coincidence, had then begun only giving two hours of use 4. No doubt some sort of coincidence and not a collusive scam with Dell to boost sales.

So my bags would be a bit heavier. No biggie. And I'd have that much more hassle at the check-in. No biggie. well, some biggie. Medium-sizie.

I set the camera charging and went to bed around 11pm, setting my phone alarm for 5 am. At 12:30 am my phone went off because the LIRR decided to have a last minute fuckup and wanted to tell the world about it. I leapt up and put the phone on "silent" but then became concerned that the alarm wouldn't sound if I did that so I heaved a sigh, deployed the laptop and went about learning how to un-sign-up for alerts. That done I was wide awake so I thought I'd set up the camera and test it.

Which was when I discovered that the chips I'd paid 80 bux for were in fact too big for the GoPro Hero, which could only cope with 32 gigabyte cards.

Using a few class fours (quietly, Mrs Stevie was sleeping next door) I connected my phone to my laptop and downloaded all the content from the micro SD card in that, then I undocked the chip from my phone and exchanged it for the one in the camera.

And spent half an hour trying to figure out how to make the camera stop displaying "error" and reformat the bloody card so I could go back to sleep. It is hard to see that teenytiny screen in low light and although I could figure out in general terms how the two buttons that comprise the entire control suite of the camera were to be used I could not reason the exact pattern of pressing that would coax the ruddy thing into just doing it already.

Eventually it was done and I made a test video and successfully downloaded it to the laptop and so could go to bed (after redistributing all the already packed clothes to make space for the laptop etc of course).

The flight was not at 0:sweetazathothonnabike, but the more civilized 8:25. There was plenty of time for connections even if I had my usual problems with Toronto International AKA Minas Torontor. I even had my soundtracks planned out.

Mrs Stevie drove me to La Guardia - which Vice-President Biden has astutely termed a national disgrace in the press - and left me at the arrival deck so I could experience the true joy of attempting to get all my luggage up one flight of stairs to the departure deck. On the way we made sure to stop at the ATM so I could fill my wallet with cash. All the way there Mrs Stevie was obsessing about not getting caught in traffic on the way back, and was mad that I had made us a little late.

Once at the airport I got on line at Air Canada (an annoyance, considering I'd checked in on-line hours before and should have only needed to drop off my baggage). It was on that line, after about five minutes, I discovered that I did not have my wallet any more.

I called Mrs Stevie and told her I thought my wallet was in her car. She used harsh words and returned to La Guardia, whereupon we discovered the wallet was not in the car either. Nor was it on the floor anywhere I'd been. None of the lost and found places were open at that time of day, so we returned home and I cancelled all my credit cards and my debit card as we drove, and formulated a New Plan as I endlessly navigated various unhelpful voice-activate menus that couldn't understand me over the ambient noise of the vehicle.

Once home I ran to my bank to get a new debit card made "while I waited", which thanks to some sort of systemic problem with the computers took two hours rather than the 15 minutes I was assured it would take.

Not long after returning to Chateau Stevie I got a phone call from my auto insurance company saying that an airport police officer wanted to speak to me and was it okay to connect him. I said it was and so I was told that my wallet had been found and that my driver's license was still in it. Better yet, the officer lived only a stone's throw from Chateau Stevie and was willing to drop off the wallet when he finished his shift at La Guardia airport.

I could make no plans for sure until I had the wallet in my hands so I sat and fulminated for a few hours over my lack of acumen with the wallet5 until the officer dropped by, with the wallet now streamlined by the removal of all that unwieldy cash I had wedged in it only hours before.

So I had a Debit Card, a Driver's License and a bolloxed-up ticket to Canada. Last job, sort out the missed flight fiasco.

The problem was the rental car. As I mentioned before, the rental agency service booth in Grande Prairie airport stays open til 11pm on weekdays, but closes 6pm sharp on a Saturday. Were I to reschedule the chain of connecting flights to begin to take place at 6:whenever am, the delays that always occur would have me taxiing toward the Grande Prairie airport terminal as the rental agency locked up.

So, once I found that my travel costs had risen by more than 750 Bux6 whenever I went, I opted for a sprint to La Guardia now so I could catch the 7:00 pm flight to Minas Torontor, overnight somewhere yet to be decided and continue the journey on Saturday morning.

The Stevieling dragooned two of her galpals into this scheme and so we drove to La Guardia as a party of four, me being the oldest, tiredness and grumpiest. Also, the testosteronest.

Surprisingly, I arrived at La Guardia in good time despite the rush-hour traffic, and so had plenty of time in which to grab a seat, locate the local pay-to-play WiFi and persuade it to talk to my iPad, seek out some hotel phone numbers and get busy finding a crib for to lay down my head and like that.

Why not use their websites you ask? No credit cards sezzeye. Yes, my debit card could be used like a credit card, but Canadian ones can't and no-one's website would cooperate. On board the plane I persuaded a cabin staff member to run my card to see if it worked like a credit card in Canada, and it did. Huzzah.

Eventually I was in Toronto and able to observe my fellow travelers kicking and biting and screaming at each other in their vain attempts to make their connecting flights. I, on the other hand was able to take my time and come to the surprising conclusion that Toronto International Airport is not so bad after all. If you aren't trying to leave it in a hurry.

At Canadian Immigration the agent on duty asked me the purpose of my visit. "It started out as pleasure, but now I think it's sheer bloody-mindedness to be honest" I replied. He frowned, but must've seen something in my eyes that told of the tribulations endured that day for he simply shuddered, stamped my passport and allowed me to pass into Canada without let or hindrance.

My hotel was achievable by shuttle bus, and my debit card worked just fine after some trepidation on the part of the desk clerk. I shrugged fatalistically at the room rate - costs for this junket had already doubled and more - and dropped off my bags in my room and went for the most expensive cheeseburger I've eaten in a very long time, washing it down with two beers that put me simultaneously in the mood for sleep and in the poor house.

I set my alarm for 5:00 am though I seriously doubted my ability to get up at that hour and went to sleep. I woke up at 4:30 am and decided not to roll over for some power snoozing but to get up, catch an early bus back to the airport and get started on the process of checking back into the airline.

Back at Minas Torontor very insistent man made me attempt to use one of the increasingly ubiquitous check-in ATMs, ignoring my stated preference for a human being. He would not listen to me, and walked me through the process until we had a screen demanding a credit card, at which point I was able to derail this enforced automation and get on the now-lengthy line for a human.

After that it was just a matter of clearing the tedious security clearance and body scan, in which I was made to endure an ankle-fondling due to a "positive trace" shown by the idiot machine, and I was able to take the three hundred yard walk past sundry tat vendors to my gate. There I engaged the staff in witty banter until they were all mysteriously called away, and drank a cup of weak tea until my flight was called.

The Toronto-Calgary leg was the longest, and I whiled away the time watching yet another in the exciting "Avengers" film franchise. It certainly was loud, which drowned out the cries of distressed children, with which I was surrounded. Unfortunately, the film was not produced in Stencharound, or if it was Air Canada had not deployed the necessary Smellovision on which to show it, and at about the three and a half hour mark the miasma of fully-processed baby food was eye-watering, providing quite a distraction to the action unfolding three inches from my face. The joys of economy class flying.

We deplaned at Calgary, coughing and gasping as we sucked down volumes of fresh airport air to the amusement of those waiting to get on the plane for the ride to somewhere in British Columbia. Once I had managed to regain control of my breath reflex I had a good laugh. The smell of Jet-A in the companionway would mask the parfum de ordure the plane itself now sported. Only after they were trapped by other boarding passengers and unable to retreat would the laughing Canadian bastards become all-too aware of the reek of the economy class cabin. I'm sure I saw the pilots deploying their oxygen masks as I was deplaning.

I grabbed a puddle-jumper to Grande Prairie, got my rental car and headed out for Grimshaw, getting so thoroughly lost in Grande Prairie that I had to stop and deploy the GPS I'd brought with me. To understand how lame this was you need to look up a map for Grande Prairie, Alberta. However, it is bigger and more confusing than it looks and that is why I brought a GPS with me even though I was going north up highway 2 for the entire trip. I wasn't even sure it would work in Canada, though I couldn't think of a technical reason why it shouldn't.

As soon as this demented device was connected to power it began calculating a route to somewhere despite having no satellite signal. I watched, bemused as a map of North America sprang into being in such small scale the little red line of the route was almost stationary as it picked out the Road to Somewhere Unasked. Once it was done it announced it had plotted a 4200 mile route and began issuing orders to turn right.

A light dawned.

I had last used the GPS to steer me home, not because I needed directions from the local store I was leaving at the time but to charge the unit's battery. It was trying to take me back where I had just spent a day and a half trying to leave.

I tried to tell it about Grimshaw, but the directory of place names only had those beginning with "O", which was puzzling and annoying in equal measure as I hadn't been anywhere beginning with "O" as far as I can remember, certainly not at the behest of the GPS. All of a sudden it agreed to accept places starting with the letter "A", and shortly after that, places in Alberta. Yazoo!

And so I spent ten minutes trying to figure out how the GoPro suction cup windscreen mount worked and which of the thirty seven pieces in the kit I actually needed to mount the camera on it, then I set off north up highway 2.

It was the usual northern Alberta experience; roads that ran so straight that it looked like I was driving into the sky. Out of Grande Prairie, past Sexsmith 7. Through Rycroft, across the magnificent suspension bridge at Dunvegan and on to Fairview where the sullen and sulking GPS, silent for hours, suddenly burst into life and started howling about needing to turn right despite the road apparently continuing straight.

I'd been warned by my sister though and didn't follow my first instinct - to punch the GPS in the screen and ignore its advice while telling it in no uncertain terms who was in charge - and followed its directions, which seemed to make it happier and it got chatty again, which almost made me wish I'd punched it. The road swung north again and on and on I drove until I hit Grimshaw, new home of the Stevieparents, where I stopped off for a couple of hours visit. After that I drove on to the point where highway 2 takes another abrupt disguised right turn towards Peace River, where my hotel room was waiting for me.

I have to hand it to the Albertan road engineers and surveyors. They make the most concerted and professional effort I've ever seen to get you to take the wrong road so you end up in the Northwest Territory or Yukon instead of where you actually wanted to go. If you google "Grimshaw Alberta", switch to the maps view and zoom slowly out you'll be able to see the demonic path taken by highway 2 and the ease with which one can take the wrong road (by doing nothing) at two places.

Eventually I found the hotel in the middle of a boulder field (the road having petered-out about 100 yards before the hotel car park) and was able to check in and fall into bed for a well-deserved rest.

  1. I get delayed every time I do the trip from NY to Grande Prairie and was determined not to this time around. I must remember to ask Alanis Morrisette if that is ironic or not
  2. And I looked at plenty of them
  3. May his head fall from his shoulders at an embarrasing moment
  4. It had been good for just over three hours of heavy use moments before
  5. In my defense I was under quite a bit of duress when I lost it
  6. The original ticket price was a shade under 600 Bux making for a 125% cost escalation. Never before have so many class four Words of Power been used so righteously
  7. Scene of so many shrill and vitriolic exchanges between me and the thankfully absent this time Mrs Stevie

Thursday, August 20, 2015

WTF Amazon?

Amazon offers people shopping for music the chance to preview short - about 30 second long or so - samples of tracks, so that those unfamiliar with an artist or their work can sample and (hopefully) buy.

Now I buy quite a lot of music, most on CD these days because I like the fiction that I own the recording rather than rent it from some digi-warehouse. Call me old-fashioned. But I am getting a tad racked-off by useless samples that do nothing to demonstrate the general character of the track in question.

In the early days of digital music vending this most often was represented by samples that encompassed only the seemingly never-ending self-indulgent introductions of some of the more flamboyant "progressive rock" tracks. Think "Bat Out Of Hell" or "Heart of the Sunrise".

I find a lot of my "new" discoveries by doing Wikipedia lateral link walks. After one that started with a favorite album of mine, Judith by Judy Collins and one of my favorite tracks from that recording City of New Orleans", I ended up trying to sample the composer's version of that song.

I offer this link to Steve Goodman's live performance of City of New Orleans so you may all share in the jaw-droppingly stupid sample lying under it. Scroll down the page and click on the round button to the left of the track name after the Amazon page loads to experience 30 seconds or so of teh stoopids.

I can only come up with one explanation: that Amazon had to license the download priced by the chord changes experienced by the listener.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Google tells me that under EC laws my blog has to warn you about cookies and let you press clickies to say you understand the "risk".

I checked the UK version of TOS and the bug-ugly cookie-heading is there. I will assume it is there for Das Occasionallenstevie, Le Stevie Occasionalle, Las Stevie Occasioñalles et al. But I think I need to make something clear.

Cookies are important for adding state-awareness to the stateless protocol intended for scientific paper sharing that is the World Wide Web. Essentially, every time you click to send something once you have "logged in" to a bank or a forum or whatever, the browser has to append something that effectively logs you in again because the WuhWuhWuh cannot remember from one click to the next what you are doing and who you are.

Because of the way cookies get implemented, they can also be used to tell one site that you have visited another. This is why is is essential to erase your cookie cache after booking your session at Mistress Alexa's House of Executive Correction and before you try and browse Amazon or Google or

TO BE CLEAR: Google uses cookies to spy on you, I do not because, when you get down to it, I don't give a flying bleep where you've been, who you went with or what type of rubber you were dressed in1.

Disable your browser's ability to deal with cookies and you won't bother me at all. The blog might not display properly, it should but who the bleep knows what Google do with those insidious cookies? The comments probably won't work, but I doubt that will worry anyone. It has been about fifteen years since anyone left a comment because the CAPCHA thing that prevents bots from getting into the comments also prevents humans from doing so, I'm told. Something to do with JavaScript2 or not having it or something. Again, who gives a bleep?

So: If you hate cookie use, tell your browser you don't want to use them when you view The Occasional Stevie.

See if I care.

  1. This is not the case if you are female and were clad in very small amounts of well-ventilated PVC, revealingly cut. Such garb is relevant to my interests on scientific grounds
  2. That festering boil on the backside of the interwebs

Friday, July 24, 2015

Now That's A Pretty Song

On Wednesday I was dashing through Penn Station to catch my train home when I heard the most beautiful finger-style guitar playing.

In Penn Station they have a program for musicians to work legally, busking in a little niche out of the direct path of rushing commuters, and I've caught many worthwhile acts playing there. This time it was Glenn Roth playing "I can see clearly now" fingerstyle sans lyrics with great skill. I honestly wished I could wait for another train so I could hear his whole set.

I settled for scraping my pockets for the ten bux he wanted for his CD Into The Unknown, and it was ten bux well spent. So often I'm captivated by a solo guitarist in that venue and I buy their CD offerings only to discover their recorded work includes vocals or a full backing band, neither of which are features I was looking for when I bought.

The music on Into The Unknown is all original compositions of unaccompanied guitar works, and I recommend them to all.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chateau Stevie Becomes Woodstock

This morning I unwrapped The Gift, gave it a couple of test strums to see if it was in tune (it was) and before Mrs Stevie could seek cover I launched into a mostly successfull rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle LIttle Star (Hot Sex Mix)".

I'm pretty sure Mrs Stevie missed the four or five notes that were near misses, and that the expression on her face was awe at mi' prowess in all things diatonic rather than rage (it's hard to tell before she's had two or three cups of Martillo Gigante de Orejas brand espresso to be honest and I hit the fretboard while she was frantically rattling the controls on the Keurig trying to alter the laws of physics in the quest for stimulants ASAP).

The McNally Strumstick is the best musical instrument ever invented. I recommend you buy one so you can play it at people who have laughed outright at your perhaps less-than-Clapton complicated string instrument wrangling abilities as they have done mine.

I can't wait to get home and expand mi' repetoire

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Age Happens Tomorrow

Tomorrow I become old, entering the halcyon days of my 6th decade on this planet1.
Mrs Stevie has agreed to give me a McNally Strumstick, a three-stringed thing that looks like a cross between a dulcimer and a balilika that went through the wash in a pants pocket. This despite the fact that having owned a guitar since my 50th birthday I have yet to persuade it to produce music in any way, shape or form2
I haven't been this excited since I asked for a train set for Christmas when I was two and a half and reportedly made myself so ill worrying about it the parents seriously considered holding Christmas early that year.
  1. I just deleted the scathing rant on how so-called scientists had failed to deliver on any of the promise of my single-digit years on account of it being too bleeping depressing
  2. I recently discovered a firm that makes nylon strings with steel string terminators on them so I restrung the beast. I can now report that I can play for longer3 and can make "F" with a barre4, albeit slowly. I've even managed a passable "C". Accordingly, I have hopes of producing an actual tune before the decade is out
  3. In spite of the begging of family that I cease and desist
  4. Which means I can make "G" the same way

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

And Then I Fix Something, Then Break Something Else

So, after the Garage Door Repair Triumph I guess it was inevitable there would need to be some sort of cosmic scales-balancing.

It came to pass that on the following Saturday I decided to do some yard work (pygmies having taken up residence in the shoulder-high grass of the front lawn1).

I broke out the mower, last used by The Stevieling and did a quick check. No gas, no oil, all as expected. The Stevieling once admitted to me that she "worked the mower until it started puffing out blue smoke as usual ..." and was appalled to be interrupted by my outraged screams of outrage to the point that she refused to pay attention during my lecture on how in all the years I had used the mower it had never smoked blue and that when it did it was a bad sign that the engine was overworking and overheating and about to commit suicide.

I plan on letting her pick the new mower when (not if) she explodes the crankcase. The sticker-shock should be good for some remorse after the fact and fingers-crossed for some behavior modification, mower-usage-wise.

I cut the front lawn down to size and did the grass verges. As is my usual practice I did not collect all the rubbish my thoughtful neighbors leave on my property line, but drove the mower over it all to mash it up and spit it all over the road so it can blow into their driveways and shred their tires. They must hate this trailer-trash nonsense and the shredded 16 ounce drink cups, beverage cans, liquor bottles and cigarette packs it scatters about, but since it is their garbage in the first place they can bite me, the bleepers.

Overcome with exhaustion and ennui I went groaning from a dozen small aches and pains for a lie down and that was that, until Mrs Stevie insisted I take her out for ice-cream. I tried appealing to her sympathy for my aches and pains but I forgot in my distress that she doesn't have one.

The next day I replaced a board in the deck at the front of the house. The old one had become "punked2" due to the combined actions of damp and ants. I got a new cedar plank with no real trouble from Home Despot and deployed Mr Chopsaw and Mr Drilldriver for a largely trouble-free install.

True, I did peel back the nail of my left big toe and true it did bleed profusely until my skillful use of medicinal linguistics cauterized the wound, but that doesn't count and I don't want to talk about it any more. It's not my fault that an outbreak of Ultra-Virulent Alberta Foot Rot means I must wear sandals as much as possible - even when stout boots would be more appropriate - until the cream works and the skin on my feet stops dissolving. If the American medical system is so much better than the Canadian one, how come it can't cure a rural Canadian foot fungus permanently? Eh? Eh? You think I like going through this Cannuck horseshirt every year? You think it is good for sneakers to put them through an extreme bleaching every few days? And how do you bleach dress shoes or stout boots? You can't, so they cannot be worn until the fat lady sings!

Where was I?

I tackled the back lawns and the mower made short work of them. Unfortunately, the last season of mowing had been left to The Stevieling, who won't use the weed whacker3, and so there were a bunch of weeds growing, some with stems as thick as my thumb4. Also, a lot of hardy-looking growth - maple tree seedlings for the most part - had taken root in the joint between the foundation and the driveway and was threatening the infrastructure of the Steveiemanse. Action Was Called For.

So I deployed Mr Weedwhacker. and in no time at all I had removed the weeds except the ones at the side of the house. Undaunted, nay, emboldened by the epic levels of weed wastage I was dealing out with the weedwhacker I stepped forward, adjusted my stance, tripped over the old fencepost lying behind me, recovered by standing on the large diameter pipe that is the post for the Stevieling's basketball net, lost my footing completely and wiped the screaming hurtybits of the weedwhacker up the vinyl siding that replaced the aluminum stuff used everywhere else after the events related here had been rectified.

Now I wasn't too worried since I'd hit the house occasionally with the old McCullough weedwhacker once or twice, but the Ryobi weedwhacker is obviously made of sterner stuff and the vinyl siding isn't because in a trice I'd managed to cut two nice, wide, ragged slots in the siding.

I paused a moment to kick the clutter out of theater, reflecting that I should have done that before attempting weed whackage, and shut down the treacherous Weedwhacker of House Mutilation

Then I took a few moments to do The Bonehead Dance, mostly to give the neighbors something to watch as I chanted the ritual Words of Power such situations demand in order to drive away the evil anti-handyman demons.

That task completed, I departed stage left to locate one of the two dozen rolls of duct tape we have in the archives of Chateau Stevie, because it looked like rain and the siding doesn't do what it is supposed to do in such weather if it has huge gouges down to the framing in it.

Naturally I searched in vain for a single reel of said tape. I know for a fact that we have a reel of white, one of green and one of pink because who in heck uses such colors outside of certain adult-themed live-action damsel-in-distress websites where the color contrast with skin tones is deemed desirable5?

I eventually turned up a roll of black duct tape I used to repair something black years ago, but of course it was about to become a cardboard cylinder. My experienced eye said there was about enough to almost do the patching job but not enough to do it properly, and so it proved. I got the biggest holes covered but had to leave a pinhole and small crack open to the elements until we could find someone to come and fix the siding properly.

Such are the joys of home ownership.

  1. And something worse, something I never saw and for which I only have the pygmy name: "Fuggarwei". It must be a fearsome beast indeed to throw such fear into such indomitable warrior-hunters. All day long I could here the pygmy point guards leaping up to peer over the grass screaming "Ware the Fuggarwei!"
  2. So rotten it feels like a damp sponge
  3. Very wise, in my opinion. The most mutinous tool in my garage, that
  4. True, not a word of a lie. Actual thumb used for comparison. It is incredible what ordinary dandelions can become when left in peace to do their worst.
  5. Or so I'm led to believe

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

I Fix Something Without Breaking Anything For Once

After a week's aggravation doing battle with the Bloody Long Island Railroad it was time to get the rubbery mud out of the pool1.

The new plan called for all that stuff to come out and be replaced by something else, the exact nature of the something to be decided after I had had a good look at the landscaping cloth to see what was what. I'd soon have this pesky pool problem under complete control. Friday was July 3rd, a holiday2 and since I was on forced downtime I set aside that day for rubbery mud removal operations. I sent the Stevieling, ordered by Mrs Stevie to remain in-theater and to help, to get the shovel out of the garage and she returned complaining that the door was stuck again.

For some reason, the Stevieling has an unerring knack of getting the cables of our beaten-up garage door to jump off their pulleys by just looking at them, though I should mention that the right hand side cable was not functioning properly owing to some loose strands getting jammed in the spring pulley works some years ago. The cable needed replacing yonks ago, but I couldn't get the U-shackle that secures it to the frame off and at that time was uninspired on how to cut the cable - a number of attempts having come to naught due to lack of space for hacksawing etc. - so I was putting it off. The door had gradually become harder to open as the cable deteriorated3 but my natural laziness and other problems forced the issue from my mind.

I heaved a sigh4 and climbed back out of the pool to see what was going on this time.

What was going on was that the right-side cable had frayed to the point it would not feed through the static pulley so the right hand spring was unavailable for door-counterweighting duty. It was also now made of so few actual strands that the lethality had swung up to Castle Bravo levels, and the proximity of the Stevieling triggered some sort of hitherto latent parenting hormone which sharpened my perception and brought that aspect into strong relief, clearing the buffers of all other concerns and excuses. Action Was Called For™.

For those not familiar with the standard garage up and over roller door, the way it all works is that the door is segmented rather like a roller-top desk lid is. At the very bottom of the door, on either side, there are buttons like those used on guitars to mount a strap. In this case they are used to mount the loop end of a steel hawser about an eighth of an inch thick made of braided steel wire.

The door has little wheels that run in curved tracks on either side to guide the door up and overhead as it is raised. To assist in lifting the door two steel cables, one either side of the door, run up alongside the frame the track is mounted to, over pulleys mounted to the frame and then horizontally alongside the track to pulleys mounted on the end of two-foot long springs. Each spring is tied to the end of the track with a length of threaded rod in order to present the illusion that one can adjust the tension thereby.

Having passed through the pulley attached to the top the spring, each hawser runs back down its own length to the top of the frame where it is attached by feeding it through a small hole carefully positioned out of any possible sight-line and back once again down its own length for a short while, where it is secured using U-shackles to bind the end to the return length of cable.

So, to sum up, each cable runs vertically from the bottom of the door, around a pulley and then horizontally for about ten feet, around another pulley attached to a spring and back towards the door frame, through a little hole and is strapped to itself to stop the spring pulling it out of the hole and towards the back of the garage at great speed. Got that?

When it is working properly the door is pulled down, stretching the springs half the distance the door has to move5. When opening the door the springs offer a counterweight-like assistance, negating part of the door weight.

Modern garage doors are made of lightweight materials and offer no real problem if the springs are not adjusted properly or if one of the two block-and-tackle arrangements fails in some way to help lift (though they still get stuck if the problem occurs when the door is open and the wires fall off the pulleys).

The door of the mighty Steviegarage is made of sterner (and much heavier) stuff, being of sheet steel construction. Indeed, I believe the individual hinged panels once did duty as blast doors on a battleship, so sturdy are they. I was once almost killed one summer when the lift mechanism failed because I raised the door too high causing both cables to come off their respective buttons, and the door dropped sans springs, cables etc to crash mere millimeters from my anxiously wiggling toes, showering my unprotected shins and thighs with pulverized concrete shrapnel from the force of the impact.

It was what my father calls "a bloody job" jacking the door open so I could fix it too. Since that refreshing event I always prop a two-by-three in the right-hand track so that in the event the anti-handyman demons strike the door's lowest guide wheel will be arrested before things get interesting.

Now I had been putting off fixing that cable for months. I'd tried to undo the damned thing at the end of last September when it first started to fray in earnest, but the U-shackle securing it to the frame would not come loose. Now I could see the cable was demanding attention. I briefly considered simply clipping off the loose strands, then realized I was looking at a death trap and heaved another sigh. I didn't want this damned thing guillotining the Stevieling the same way it had tried to do me. She doesn't have the life experience to know when to deploy a Two-by-Three of Safety. Also, I saw I had a replacement cable hanging on the garage wall ready to be installed, so I levered the door wide open and propped it with my trusty two-by-three.

I grabbed my socket set, my Dremel tool and a set of snap-on cutting wheels and set to work. First job was to cut the old cable away. Using Mr Dremel and a cutting wheel and operating mostly by The Force in the absence of an available point-of-view to the work area I cut the cable where it doubled back from the frame to the U-shackle.

The cable cutting went surprisingly quickly, though the spray of sparks produced made the Stevieling think I was about to burn the house down and I was obliged to demonstrate that there was little heat in the sparks to calm her. This I did by taking a piece of the cable and cutting it such that the stream of sparks was directed against my T-shirt.

"See?" I said. "No danger at all."

"Then why is your shirt smoldering?" she asked.

"Global warming" I answered. "It's a little understood scourge but we must be ever-vigilant for its symptoms. Well done. Now hand daddy that bottle of water would you sweetheart?"

The cable remained stubbornly attached to the door frame even though I had cut the bit just frameward of the shackle. This was because the cable had been bent in a U-shape since Brontosaurs6 walked the Earth and was less bendy than the new one I had slowly unwinding and tangling around my feet on the garage floor. No problem. I simply reached up and located the thing by feel (no sight-line, remember) and gave it a series of carefully considered and scientifically proper mighty twisty pulls to reintroduce the cable to the idea of flexibility all the time making appropriate manly whimpering noises to encourage it. I kept my face close to the safety of the steel door, using it as a shield should the spring decide to get in on the fun and give the cable some help.

Which is, of course, exactly what happened.

The cable suddenly ripped out from between my fingers and went screaming back toward the garage's rear wall, taking time from its busy schedule to catch me a glancing blow on the right wrist as it did so7. Naturally, since the Stevieling was nearby, I eschewed my usual store of class three Words of Power set by for such occasions and contented myself with some manly howls of pain and thirty seconds or so bent double, jumping up and down while clutching the bleeding wrist and begging for death's sweet embrace. Then I went and put a Band Aid on the wound and got back to work.

Once I had the old cable unhooked from the door I could remove the fittings so I could begin what might be a fruitless search for an open hardware store with the right bits in stock. I cut the loop end off the cable and the U-shackle from the rest of the cable and cleaned up the ends with Mr Dremel so I wouldn't poke holes in the car or me. I set the Stevieling to guarding the contents of the garage (chiefly Troll, The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness, the lawnmower and the genny) and dashed to Arse Hardware to buy two new U-shackles and the soft lead thingy needed to form the loop at one end.

All of which went without a hitch even though this was the day set aside to observe the July 4th holiday (which fell on a Saturday this year) and which I expected might make for me running hither and yon in the fabulous Steviemobile in a vain attempt to find a hardware store that was open. Returning home I took the figure-of-eight shaped lead thingy, fed the cable through one hole and back through the other to form a loop (using the original cut-off loop as a guide) and using a combination of mighty blows with Finesse8 and mighty Words of Power I crushed the fitting so that the loop was firmly secured. I grasped the finished job in my hand so I could make a close examination of the work.

Important tip: When hammering ductile metal aggressively heat is generated, often in disconcertingly large amounts that stay around in the workpiece for a bit.

After that it was a relatively easy task to hook up the new cable and run it through the various pulleys etc. and anchor it to itself with the new U-shackles, especially easy when I realized that if the door were retracted all the way to the end of the track I could actually see where I was working. This required some inventive work with levers and blocks but no limbs were lost so it is hardly worth going into in depth. I soon had the cable secured with lots to spare should it need slackening.

The first test involved me standing inside the garage while the Stevieling closed the door but not far enough for the latch to engage. I observed everything working smoothly as I attempted to keep all the newly adjusted parts in view in case they made a bid for freedom. Even with Troll and the lawnmower removed there isn't much room for evasive maneuvers in there owing to the large amounts of crap stacked everywhere, so a keen eye was essential lest it be gouged out by a high-speed ballistic U-shackle or a pulley making a run for the border, but it all looked good.

The second test involved opening the door, which was so easy compared to the titanic effort it had required for the last few months9 that the Stevieling ended up throwing it back against the stops. This was a tense moment because the loop end hasn't had time to become teardrop-shaped from time under tension, and can escape the button on the door if the cable slackens, which then means the door is not properly counterbalanced and will come crashing down in a re-enactment of Murphy and The Bricks10, so we made a note to tell everyone not to do that any more.

The third test was to close the door fully and check it would stay closed and not inch open, which is what happened the last time I adjusted the other side cable to tension it a few months ago.

It all went very well so I used Mr Dremel to cut off the excess cable, we repacked the garage with the crap we'd removed so I could work and decamped for showers and lunch.
Nothing got done on the pool.

  1. According to the increasingly strident Mrs Stevie
  2. Something to do with a celebration of a treacherous mutiny by a bunch of colonial ingrates not recognizing the inherent benefits of benevolent British rule
  3. Engendering a potentially lethal situation, but I'm getting ahead of the story
  4. Pulling several muscles as I did so
  5. High school physics. Set up is like a block and tackle with a rope hanging from an eyebolt passing down and through a pulley in a block with a hook and back up to a ceiling-mounted pulley, thence to the floor. You reel in twice as much rope to lift twice as much weight through a given distance. Velocity ratio is 2:1 - the door travels twice as far as the spring stretches
  6. We are allowed to have them again it turns out
  7. Energy stored in spring was released. Spring retracted distance A. Thanks to velocity ratio (2:1) end of hawser moved distance 2A in the same time frame. Moving a given distance in half the time means that whatever it is is going twice as fast. The spring collapsed very quickly indeed so the hawser sped past at "better not get in the way" speed, shedding Cherenkov radiation as it went by my nose
  8. My claw-hammer
  9. Seriously. It required both hands and a powerlifter stance to get the thing open
  10. Also depicted in the second Babe movie in the incident at the well

Fun In The Pool

So we1 decided that eighteen months lying fallow was enough for the swimming pool and once again I would do battle with the elements, the Long Island Power Authority and backyard chemistry in the search for the life aquatic.

I actually spend more time in the pool when it is in commission than anyone else in the family, but that is mostly because I'm the only bugger who vacuums the sodding thing (which involves getting in and Mrs Stevie won't do that unless the water is warm enough to brew tea with). The solar cover produces an effect that sometimes fools her into believing that all the water is as warm as the top four inches, which is almost worth all the screeching when she rolls in from off her airbed or whatever flotation device du jour she is perched upon. I have been forced to point out that I did not invent physics, nor did I decree that warm water should rise, thus giving birth to the Solar Cover Hoodwinking Effect2.

The pool had sat for two seasons, one with water, one without, which had done for the liner. The Stevieling had offered to have a go removing the debris and scrubbing it clean as a father's day gift, but hadn't actually done so, so it was me who discovered after cleaning out the now soaking and reeking debris (it rained after father's day) that the pool liner was holed, so we went out to buy a new one the week before July 4th, visions of floating away the holiday dancing in our heads.

The young guy who sold us the liner was surprised we didn't want a team of young, strong people to fit it for us, but I'd done the job (admittedly, not perfectly) the last time and didn't see any issues, and they couldn't deploy their people in less than two weeks anyway. The liner was obtained for a reasonable sum3 and we returned home as it began to rain again. The next day I pulled out the old socket set and the drill-driver with the batteries that won't hold a charge any more 4 and began stripping off the top rail of the pool. It went surprisingly quickly. Then came the removal of the liner retaining ring.

For those who have never seen an above-ground steel pool - an increasingly rare beast in this age of inflatable and resin-framed pools - they consist of a ring fabricated from sections screwed together (sometimes simply clipped together) which has a groove set into it to hold the wall. Ours has plates that clip the curved sections together and provide the place to mount the vertical pillar pieces. The wall is in turn a cylinder of steel you make from a long, rolled-up sheet by fastening the ends to each other with bolts. This is the bit you need help for since the steel has absolutely no strength in it until it is cylinder-shaped and can easily be badly damaged by the wind, or people falling on it. The ring goes on the floor, slot uppermost and the sheet of steel is fitted into the groove until it is a cylinder, then the ends are secured to each other with the bolts, and good quality duct tape is applied so the sharp bits are kept away from the liner.

At this point an earth berm is built against the inside wall of the cylinder to act as an easement for the liner as it transitions from flat (hopefully) floor to vertical wall. This stops the liner's seams popping. Then the liner is unfolded and gradually pulled free of folds and wrinkles5 and draped over the steel at the top to form a sort of vinyl cup with a steel outer. This process takes forever and can drive one to the very brink of madness as wrinkle after wrinkle is chased down and eliminated, only to cause more somewhere else.

The liner is secured to the steel using long flexible clips made of plastic, and over them a second ring of slotted steel is snapped, at which point the steel wall becomes very much more rigid. The second ring is made from the same components as the first, and on our pool has joiners that must be aligned with those in the base ring so that fake pillars made of folded steel can be screwed to them. This acts to make the top ring more secure and prevents the steel cylinder from popping out of the retaining ring at the base. Then the flat coping is attached and the skimmer fitted and so on and so forth until it is a mighty open-topped tank of watery amusement.

Things began to go wrong at the point I had the top ring completely removed and pulled out the liner so I could cut it up and throw the pieces to the waiting womenfolk for disposal. Under the liner, we had been persuaded to install what looked like rubber cat litter. This was, we were assured at the time, a great idea. It turned out to be the worst idea since Hannibal said "Get the elephants saddled. Let's go punch some Romans". No matter how carefully I worked it shifted underfoot as I installed the liner so I ended up with a pool floor that closely mimicked that of the natural seabed, with humps and pits that accumulated dirt. I was expecting to have the same sort of nonsense happen this time, but when I pulled up the liner I found that water had leaked into the under-liner space and turned this rubber madness into mud.

I need to digress a bit here to explain why the water was accumulating under the pool rather than simply draining away. A previous bad experience in which a pinhole leak in the liner of an older pool had caused a Sumac tree to throw out a root that grew up into the chlorinated water - and thrive therein. I'd had to junk the pool as a result and I vowed not to have the same thing happen with pool number three. So I cleaned out all the biomass I could find, then killed the ground stone dead with a formulation I bought from Home Despot6 and then I covered the ground with several taped layers of thick poly sheet used by groundsmen to keep weeds at bay. When It came time to add the earth berm I added a skirt of the same sheet to keep the rust-inducing earth off the steel. It turns out I did a really good job because water inside this arrangement does not drain away, no matter how much I want it to. It was over this that the rubber cat litter was carefully poured and spread.

Such was the scale of the out-of-project excursion this represented, Mr Brain shut down completely and refused to have any more to do with things. I did what I usually do in these situations and walked around in small circles doing facial impressions of a fish and waving my hands around cabalistically but Mr Brain would not re-engage gears so that was that.

I looked ruefully at the mess and suggested that I could re-assemble the tarp tent I'd used to keep the rain off during the winter7 and we could talk over matters over dinner at a local diner. Of course, the purpose of having other people around at such times is for them to supply the common sense missing during Brain Treachery, but naturally they missed the opportunity to do so.

So that's what we did. I attached the individual pieces of top ring to the pool edge to provide some rigidity, but didn't clip them together as that would involve struggling with the last clip, which has to be walked into place with the adjacent ring sections only half-attached owing to the fact that the whole thing is a sliding fit so the ring ends up being bigger than the pool until the clips are slid fully into place and I foresaw a mighty struggle of Man Vs Pool Parts In A World Gone Mad At Night In The Rain. Frankly, I wasn't up to all that by then. So I just clipped the ring segments onto the pool and slung a tarp over it to keep the dusting of light drizzle off the already wet-compromised inner gubbins

A sad mistake.

For while we were at dinner in the diner, the light sprinkles of rain apparently became a thunderstorm of epic proportions, and when I got home the tarp had trapped four metric tons of water in it and had collapsed again, this time taking the wall of the pool down with it, bending it in several places. Long and mighty were the charms I cast that night to drive away the evil spirits I can tell you. Luckily the rain made the chances of young children overhearing them minimal and saved the paint on the back door from blistering.

I disentangled the tarp, now full of cold rainwater thank you, from the bent and twisted steel and went about unbending and straightening the metal. The damage was surprisingly minor, a couple of nasty bends that would require me hitting them with Finesse8 for a bit, but nothing that a few class two Words of Power couldn't take care of.

Or so I thought.

The next day was a Sunday, so I got up and wandered outside to survey the damage again. I wandered up onto the deck I put up so I could service the skimmer with relatively dry feet and stared glumly at the shallow lake in the tarp. Well, I already had the submersible pump deployed from the liner draining operations, so I reached over to grab the hose so I could swing it to where I needed it and lost my footing rather spectacularly on the wet, slimy wood.

I grabbed for the safety of the mighty pool wall and all the curved slotted steel ring segments on either side pinged off the steel and span through the air to Azathoth-knows where (I was too busy to notice). The steel wall folded like an alibi witness confronted by Mrs Stevie and I went headfirst into the pool with a cry of distress worthy of Inspector Clouseau at his best. Luckily my body landed for the most part on the sharp bolt-ends poking out of the seam in the now-collapsed steel wall, but I could have been badly injured around the face had I not had the great good fortune of having it land in the tarp's two inches or so of freezing cold rainwater, backed by slimy rubber mud.

I only had time for one rushed class three before impact, but I made up for it with a stream of extemporized class fours as I attempted to get up. I pondered a bit as to how to get out of the pool without inflicting more damage, then came to the conclusion that the pool had not afforded me the same consideration, damage wise, so I simply stalked back over the flattened section of steel to the mostly illusory firm footing of the mutinous deck.

I realized that I was going to have to reconstruct the upper ring with the clips or the same sort of embarrassing nonsense would likely happen again and again until the steel wasn't worth salvaging, so that's what I did. Once the top ring was re-installed I went around with the pillars, thinking to reattach maybe half of them to add more rigidity. That's when I discovered some of the holes no longer lined up properly. It was as if the pillars were too short or the wall too high. How could that be? The steel had bends in it where the worst offenders were - I could understand there being a problem with the walls being too short on account of that, but too tall?

Then I troubled to look down and realized that everywhere the steel had folded flat it had jumped out of the slot of the base ring, because it was no longer held in place by the pillars and top ring. I took a few minutes from my busy schedule of screws-up to do The Bonehead Dance, then, using a two-by-four to apply force from inside the pool and my foot I gently but firmly kicked the bleeping bleepery bleeptard back into place.

However, at the point by the skimmer, the place I'd fallen in, the problem was much worse. Not only had the steel popped inside rather than outside the restraining ring, when I removed the tarp and earth berm and the vinyl landscaper's cloth I found that the place where the steel seam was had been damaged so that the ends had spread in different directions. It would not seat in the groove until they were hammered back into profile. Not only that but I had no room for the two-by-four as an outside "foot" to apply force - the four foot high walls precluded me just reaching over with my hand and thumping it - owning to the snug fit of the deck to the pool wall. Fortunately I found a thinner piece of wood That would fit and that I could also use as an anvil to hammer against and in far too much time at all I had the blasted thing the right shape and properly seated with a few class fours to spare.

And so to bed after a shower to get all the flakes of rubber off my body.

  1. ie Mrs Stevie
  2. In which the top four inches of water are very warm indeed and right under that layer the water is just above freezing, with no transitional temperature gradient. It is a real wonder, science-wise but, hell on the eardrums
  3. Around $100, which doesn't sound at all reasonable for what amounts to some heavy duty vinyl sheet with some trimming and welding work done to it until you start looking around and pricing that sort of stuff
  4. And some of those batteries are reasonably new dammit
  5. Ha!
  6. Which I've vowed never to use ever again owing to the stench which I remember as having all the worst olfactory nuances of fermenting raw sewage and crude oil
  7. But which had collapsed when we left the house in the charge of the Stevieling and she neglected to notice the four foot of snow accumulating on the tarp
  8. My claw hammer

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Rainy Day Lawnmowers Numbers 12 and 35

There's only one thing that I know:
No matter how often I mow
The front garden's scenery
Will be obscured by greenery
If the grass just continues to grow.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

More Fun and Games On The Bloody LIRR

It has been a very bad week commute-wise so far.

Monday I was excused the need to deal with the Bloody Long Island Railroad on account of being asked to be a pall-bearer at the funeral mass for the father of a very close friend.

Tuesday I arrived in reasonable time with a good connection at Jamaica (not the good one) but had to leave at 1:30 to dash to Doc Rubberglove's House Of Pain so I could get an injection of whatever it is he gives me to stop these blasted allergies1 in their tracks2. I also spent ten minutes sucking on Doc Rubberglove's Patent Electric Fog Bong which did for the wheezing and coughing and increased the billability of my visit.

The Bloody Long Island Railroad missed the opportunity to deliver me late to this jab'n'bong fest, something in which they have been assiduous since I've been riding the wretched thing. Such was my discomfort that I didn't take note of this at the time.

But on Wednesday they more than made up for the inadvertent delivery of acceptable service.

I was forced to miss the earlier rush-hour trains on account of needing to send the taxes on Chateau Stevie to the Receiver of Blood Squeezed From Stones by registered mail, which in turn required the Post Office to be open for business. This was an almost painless operation and so it was with the usual trepidation I found myself standing on the platform a few minutes before the 9:33 am train, my so-called "safety train", was due to arrive.

At 9:38 am, with no announcement of incompetence underway, I began to suspect a major problem was at hand.

The alacrity with which the Bloody Long Island Railroad offers information varies inversely with the scale of the disaster. Delays because the on-board staff cannot get a grip and anticipate scheduled stops at long-existent stations require that they open the bleeping doors will be five-minute diatribes on the PA system. Announcement of "equipment problems" - trains not starting when the Go Button was pressed because the veeblefetzer fell off (again) - will be delivered when the train is in sight by someone emulating Rod McKuen's vocal technique while crumpling cellophane next to the microphone. Derailed trains will be announced four or five days after the train has been re-railed as a parenthetical addendum to an advertisement for train "service" to some baseball game. No announcement means Big Trouble.

So I fired up the Stevie Portable Interwebs and the iSlab of Usefulness3 and pulled up the Bloody Long Island Railroad schedule for Wyandanch (Pearl of the East). Yep. Okay. There was my problem.

the bleeping Long Island Railroad had removed my "Safety Train" from the schedule. No doubt this was another attempt to improve the rider experience by reducing the opportunities to be stuck riding a Bloody Long Island Railroad train. It sort of jibes with the usual levels of smart deployed by the Bloody Long Island Railroad. So I boarded the 10:02 in high dudgeon, now facing arrival at work sometime around 11am. Magic.

But the Bloody Long Island Railroad were not done enhancing my rider experience yet.

By the breathtaking strategy of taking almost a full hour to do the 40 minute journey to Jamaica (still not the good one) the Bloody Long Island Railroad managed to strand me there for half an hour waiting for a connection to replace the one I'd missed on account of an excess of rider experience enhancementations.

There are worse places to pointlessly kill half an hour of your life I suppose, but when you need to get where you are going I'd be hard pressed to name one that has to do with mass transit. I usually ride into Penn and take the subway back to Metrotech in Brooklyn when this happens. The magnitude of the resulting lateness is the same but at least I can use my laptop or my iSlab or read a copy of Analog or a book while sitting down as the lateness is being larded upon me.

But this time I stupidly assumed that the Bloody Long Island Railroad would hold the connecting train. I mean, they canceled half the trains going to Atlantic Terminal the day they reopened it after the refurbishment so as to avoid wearing out all the new granite and marble by having taxpaying commuters walk on them, so it's not like the traffic patterns are overloaded in and out of that monument to overspent taxpayer monies. No doubt there are reasons to do with not wanting to un-enhance the rider experience of the people on the connecting train.

That doesn't explain why when I am sitting on the bloody thing it often gets held for five minutes waiting for another connecting Penn-bound train to catch up, but no doubt there is a good reason for that which cannot be spoken of for reasons of National Security.

I eventually managed to catch a train to Atlantic Terminal which delivered me to the subway station, where I was greeted by a seven minute delay in catching a train to take me the two stops to Hoyt Street. From there 'twas but a five minute lope through the building site that was once the network of streets between the subway station and Metrotech and I was at work.

At noon.

  1. Which left untreated leave me wheezing and coughing, blind from the ooze from my eyelids and trying to claw out my own sinuses in a desperate quest for relief from the itching
  2. I tell people I'm off for my "allergy shot" and am told there is no such thing. Doc Rubberglove confessed last year that it is a "slow release steroid". Is there such a thing? I have no idea and I don't care. As I tell the would-be medical experts leaning in to advise me, it could be sugar water for all I care. All I know is that whatever it is it works like a charm. I tell a lie: I know that it usually hurts just like a steroid shot does - i.e. it is a completely painless affair until I am safely out of the doctor's office and walking back to my car, whereupon I get kicked in the wherever-I-was-injected by an invisible horse
  3. Still trying to work out how to do actual productive work - like writing for this blog - on it, but I'm sure it's just a matter of my finding the right "app" rather than the fundamental inability of the iSlab to provide the levels of productivity support all those famous people4 claim it can
  4. Such as early adopter and famous author Charles Stross

Monday, April 13, 2015


Yesterday was nice, in weather terms, no vertical wetness, howling gales etc as per since Xmas, so I thought I'd get some stuff done around the yard.

First order of business would be to pump out the meltwater in the swimming pool, which would entail me unplugging the remaining Xmas lights still deployed, a job normally done by now but delayed pending the snow piled up between me and the plugs melting. The pump would need the same outdoor circuit as the lights, which I had disabled by tripping the ground fault interrupt so we wouldn't look like trailer trash at night1, so before I could re-activate the electrickery I'd need to remove the three dozen extension cords and adaptors plugged into the wall, necessitating a trip behind the Alberta Spruce Wall o' Green that screens off the wall and window of the front bedroom in a spiky hedge of noise abatement.

Which was when I found that the brick wall that runs from the corner of the house to the front door was leaning out precariously from the alleged sheathing of the house and had begun turning into individual bricks stacked on top of each other rather than a wall, a happenstance that elicited a barrage of improvised Class Four Words of Power and one Class Five when I figured out that the sheathing underneath was probably wringing wet and rotted out2.

Did I mention I just paid the last mortgage installment on this house?

Let the regretting commence.

  1. I can't do anything about that during the day, but I am not there most days so I don't have to look at the house. Up yours, neighbors
  2. The bricks are essentially siding built over a chipboard inner wall, or possibly a sheetrock inner wall. This house is partially what is called by builders a "shiplap house" which means the original builder cheaped-out and used gypsum sheetock instead of plywood or chipboard as is more usual