Thursday, June 28, 2018

Harlan Ellison

So the world lost the Dangerous Visionary this morning.

I had the mixed experience of meeting the great man on several occasions, and he was definitely classifiable as "larger than life". I feel sorry for all the young SF fans who won't get to see him in person. He could be difficult, singling out people for sustained bouts of ridicule and verbal hostility for no apparent reason, but cripes he was a good raconteur. And as Jack McDevitt once said to me: "One thing you have to remember about Harlan; he took part in the Peace Marches".

It's hard to criticize a man who was willing to put himself in harm's way for a principle unpopular with those in power. Perhaps it's a good thing he's gone. I can't think he would be happy with things the way they are today in America, and he paid his dues back in the not-so peace-and-lovey 60s.

But it doesn't feel like a good thing, it feels like another piece of the world broke off.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I Spring Into Carpentery Action

I finally decided to do something about the window in the front bedroom.

Over twenty five years ago I assessed it as a case of "need to replace the windowsill" after a big triangle of plaster of paris was dislodged from that structural feature. I then closed the curtains and forgot about it. Each time I saw the damage I remarked "really must do something about that windowsill and arranged fifty things that needed doing more urgently as a priority.

Recently, fitting a portable A/C1 to the window caused me to look at it briefly and say "must get round to that".

When I finally got round to looking at it it last weekend turned out that the problem was of course much worse than it appeared. It transpired that the bottom left window frame corner was a good 3/4 inch out of line with the rest of the frame - almost as if someone had pushed that corner outward, and that further exploration showed that when the siding was put on the house they did it by installing a false wall on the existing outside wall, but bodged it and got the bottom slightly out of alignment. Then, for reasons that defy, er, reason, the window frame was secured to the new wall geometry. Since the windowsill had been installed "Genaro Fashion"2 it was already not a great fit, having been cut to fit the gap rather than being properly installed in the frame and sheet-rocked around. Playing to their strengths, the builder bodged the resulting triangular gap with plaster of paris3.

Action was Called For.

The correct course of said Action would be to remove the offending wall, uninstall the windows, pull out the frame, make a new one, re-install the windows and re-install the new wall/siding.

I elected to bodge the job instead, going for an estimated two day job4 instead of an estimated four weeks of contractor hell.

I decided I would purchase a length of hardwood wide enough to bridge the gap and make it invisible, mill it into a nifty ogee profile (a lazy "S" recurved shape) and hide the naff under a pretense of "designer mouldings".

Close inspection showed that a proper job would require the removal and replacement of the sheetrock window surround with all the taping and sanding and swearing that that would bring on, and possibly incur a full-room repaint. This was a non-starter on time grounds and so I elected to bash the wall with a fix-it hammer5 until all the botching plaster used for repairs by the previous owner fell out, with the aim of covering it all up with thin sheets of pine paneling. The pine paneling I was sure I had in the basement after the hall paneling job I did some 25 years ago was AWOL, so I elected to use birch plywood instead.

Naturally this was only available in 4x2 foot sheets, and just as naturally the window is 51 inches tall, so there would be a horizontal break somewhere. I picked the middle, and would cover that feature with a decorative moulding.

So Saturday was spent with a heat gun removing 50 years of paint in layers of steadily increasing toxicity from the windowsill and wall moulding, and it was while seated on the floor, working at the underside of the windowsill, that I spotted a small slit where it was seated on the wall, through which I could see the trees in the front garden.

Muttering some protective charms I double-checked and yes, there was an air gap under the frame. That would explain how when the wind blows I get needles from the Alberta Spruces on my windowsill. Another mystery solved. I had suspected the ants were trying to communicate by spelling words with the needles and had become concerned that our mutual lack of understanding would lead to hostilities and infestations of sentient ants a-la "Sandkings"6 bent on ruling the house, but now all was revealed as a hole in the house wall. What a relief.

Once I had all the paint off it was a simple matter to cut the plywood planks and nail and glue them into place. There was a small false start when Mrs Stevie asked if we could use a surround made of stainable laser-etched mouldings, but I finally decided that enough was enough and opted for a simple corner moulding that would be painted.

I settled on a piece of oak as the "designer moulding" for the gap, and filled the hole beforehand with gluey silicone sealant. Milling the oak into an ogee with a rebate on the back to accommodate the existing window-frame woodwork was a nightmare. It took about three hours with set-up, and because I don't have a shaper and only an older router bit set I had to make several passes with a variety of differently shaped bits to achieve almost what I wanted. Sadly the tool left marks that will need to be filled with Plastic Wood because the wings of the cutters were so short the center of one bit hit the inside bend of the ogee I was machining, which caused burning and spontaneous generation of some choice Class Three Words of Power7.

I test fitted the moulding, and it fitted so snugly it wouldn't come out for final trimming, so I span in a couple of sixpenny nails8 and declared 'job done" on account of the light failing to the point I couldn't see properly. That, and the pressing need to get cleaned up for my bi-weekly Dungeons and Dragons manly high-stakes poker game.

I woke on Monday thinking of Jethro Tull's "Aqualung", specifically the bit that goes on about "screaming agony", for my carpal tunnel issues were making themselves felt. I strapped up my hands and went off to enjoy yet another session of inconvenience and suck on the Bloody Long Island Railroad.

Of late the Bloody Long Island Railroad has upped the suckage by decommissioning the platform at the west end of Wyandanch Station and opening the newly-built east end. This means that the good car park, the one by the Ambulance Station, is now about five miles further away on account of the tortured route one must take from there to the trains. It seems that at every turn there is a No Turn sign, a fence, sandbags, trenches and a minefield placed to inconvenience the would-be commuter. To enhance the customer experience even further, the Bloody Long Island Railroad has taken all the newer rolling stock off to a distant place and replaced it with old, worn-out smelly M3 trains. Not only that, enhanced door dithering at every stop means that all trains now run late "due to track work".

On Monday night, after work, I installed the corner mouldings and the decorative bits to cover the joins in the birch plywood. This required using my chop saw to cut mitres. I started things with the traditional mitre cut exactly the wrong way round9, thus appeasing the anti-handyman demons infesting our house, but because I had cut oversize I could just use this on the other side of the window.

Cutting mitres is not my strong suit. It is harder than it looks because no matter how I measure, the line I draw will end up being shaved just a little too much somewhere in the cut profile. I just gritted my teeth and went with it, with the result that only the very last joint was very slightly undercut and it is barely noticeable. Tonight it is filler application and sanding and then we start painting.

The whole house now smells of newly sawn birch, newly router-scorched oak and the faint vinegary tang of uncured silicone sealant.

  1. The through-the-wall unit finally bit the dust. I've tried to remove it so I can use the sleeve to house another new TTW A/C, but it uses some sort of fiendish internal fastener system that defies my understanding. I am currently tending to the opinion that the house was built around the A/C unit
  2. i.e. in the worst possible way envisionable
  3. I fixed an inconvenient gap in the basement floor the same way, as a gift to the next owner of the place
  4. Ha! Three days so far and still no nearer a lick of paint
  5. In this case both a figurative and literal tool
  6. Google it fergoshsakes
  7. And an impromptu demonstration of a short version of The Bonehead Dance
  8. Using a nail spinner, a chuck that fits my drill and takes a nail as the "bit". This stops mouldings splitting when nailed
  9. "Lessee, I need the corner to turn that way so I need to set the saw to cut this way when I flip the moulding so it sits nice and snug against the fence". That last flip reversed the sense of all the dimensions, resulting in a right turn instead of a left one. If you've ever tried to print two-sided documents on a one-sided laser printer by reloading the printed odd-numbered pages you will have experienced a similar problem when the even numbered pages came out upside down or on top of the odd numbered pages