Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rong Agen

Well, that didn't take long.

I recently detailed how two nitwits pulled into the hard shoulder behind a tractor-trailer rig under the impression they were in a turning lane, and I explained how no truck driver would have been so monumentally dimwitted as to use the hard shoulder as a turning lane because their vehicles have such a wide turning circle.

This morning I observed a tractor trailer rig do just that at the turn before the railway bridge, the one with the doughnut shop on the corner. In order not to mount the curb he had to pull so far ahead of the turn that he came this close to clipping someone trying to turn left out of the road he wanted to enter.

So once again my "I'm an unlauded genius" theory has gone down under the wheels of Mrs Stevie's "You're A Nidiot" premise.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Goodnight Pool

It is that time of year again.

More precisely, it is weeks before that time of year has taken place in years gone by, because come hell and high water I wasn't going to be attempting to shut down the swimming pool in a force ten October gale while the womenfolk stretched out in the house and watched TV.

Accordingly, I raced out of the house on Saturday, pulled off the solar cover and vacuumed up all the crap the Maple tree had dumped in it over the week. I cleaned up all the air pillows with a scrubbing brush, and got the crud off the solar cover while I was at it. Curse that aerial plague on mankind known as "birds".

Conventional wisdom says you should tether a 4-foot diameter balloon in the middle of a pool our size before covering it with a winter cover. This allows the cover to fill with rainwater that holds the cover down in gales. Over the course of the winter months the trees, birds and insects conspire to convert this "water" into a soup of such disgusting olefactoriness that it defies description. Steviewisdom says "sod that for a game of soldiers". Last year I augmented the 4 foot pillow with three 4x8 foot blimps, and apart from some teething troubles when it rained so much the cover almost burst with the pooled weight of water it went rather well.

Well enough that I decided to up the oomph, blue vinyl balloon count wise, and purchased another 4x8 foot pillow and a 4x15 foot one that I envisaged forming a sort of ridge pole for the tented cover.

Inflating these things is a bit tiresome to be honest. They do not have a standard fitting such as one might find on a vinyl dolphin, inner tube with a pillow, fancy airbed or other non-life-preserving swimming pool fun-enhancer. They have instead a one-inch plug that has a sort of inexpensive one-way valve underneath it when you pull it out. This means that standard fittings on compressors or hand-pumps will not work, a decision that was no-doubt taken for consumer convenience reasons.

The proper method for inflating an air pillow is as follows:

Go down into the basement and retrieve shop-vac.

Spend fifteen minutes locating the hose which you removed three months ago, the last time you used it, when the damned thing attempted to snag you with its tentacle as you walked by it. Twice.

Wrestle shop-vac up basement stairs, dislodging carrier bags of crap hung on walls at shoulder height by spouse and child so that the contents form a satisfactory hazard the next time you descend those same stairs.

Bang head on door at top of stairs and come this close to going arse-over-tip down them.

Emerge into light of day clutching shop-vac and hurl it onto living room floor so the power cord can unspool.

Wrestle the shop-vac out of back door and tangle power cord on screen-door handle, slamming said door on left elbow punching a hole in screen.

Disentangle power cord from screen door, pick up shop-vac and stumble over hose.

Fall down short flight of concrete steps, twisting right ankle and give siding of house a good banging with head.

Once shop-vac is successfully situated on the patio, deploy hose in "blow" configuration.

IMPORTANT - connect vacuum to power supply and switch on while pointing hose away from anything you care about, own body, windows, car etc, so as to avoid a repeat of the Low Compression Air-Powered Sawn-Off Shrapnel Gun Fiasco.

Lay out air pillow on clean lawn furniture so as to not pick up crud from the floor and thereby transfer it to the pool - once was enough for that oversight.

Unplug air hole and poke finger in to bend back flap of valve otherwise it will take all day.

Grasp air hole fitting by making a ring from your index finger and thumb underneath the plastic valve.

Switch on vacuum.

Leaping smartly aside to avoid flailing hose, switch vacuum off again.

Grasp hose under right armpit wile grasping valve of air pillow as described before with left hand.

Switch on vacuum.

Flail about for ten seconds attempting to get right radius and ulna to spontaneously develop extra joint.

Turn off vacuum.

Grip hose between manly thighs, ignoring unseemly comments by family members, neighbours and other onlookers, grip air pillow valve as described before in left hand and switch on vacuum. By pressing vacuum on the ring formed by your finger and thumb you will eventually persuade the air pillow to inflate.

Wash blue vinyl blimp with hose to get all the stuff off that stuck to it anyway, and transfer pillow to pool, fighting sudden gale-force wind gusts, and lash at each diagonal with ratty clothesline.

Repeat.

The process became much more fun with the 4x15 foot pillow, which in only half an hour went from being an unwieldy, unmaneuverable, heavy blue vinyl tarpaulin to an extremely unwieldy, unmaneuverable, unaccountably even heavier blue one-inch-to-the-foot scale model of The Hindenburg. With perfect timing a small gale blew up just as I was getting a proper hold on the damned thing and I was swept around the garden from pillar to post, augmenting my manly grip with that of my manly teeth and, on one occasion, one of my legs too, all the while chanting the most powerful charms against the forces arrayed against me in a World Gone Mad. My vocabulary came into its own when I was slammed up against the razor-sharp corners of Mrs Stevie's four-burner barbecue which had decided to join the fun and become just mobile enough in the windy chaos to intercept me as I was pushed backwards and cushion what could have been a nasty collision with something not sharp at all.

Well, to cut a long story shorter, I finally had all these pillows inflated and resting in the water, ready for me to apply the pool cover. Which was when I realised that I had never gotten around to cleaning the crud of it last spring. I had no time to do it now. The topside was clean because I had managed, in typical a moment of genius, to lash the damned thing on upside-down last autumn. But I emphatically did not want the dirty side anywhere near my pristine clean pool what I had spent lo! These Many Hours that morning cleaning out. So I once again mounted the cover on the pool in inverted configuration. This wasn’t optimal because the seams are tucked under and form places where filth can be washed to form colonies of Azathoth-knows what if they point up and out but I was at the end of Mr Tether by then and speaking in tongues. It is my hope that the tented arrangement will allow the dirt to rinse off in the coming fall monsoons.

I had no more ratty clothesline for temporary cover securage, so I cut up one of my nice sheathed ropes. Normally, this would have been unthinkable, but it was getting late, the wind was getting up and I was getting fed up. With the cover on I set the pump to run for twelve hours and dropped in a “winterizing orb”, which is basically a way of adding copper sulphate to the water as an anti-fungal/algaecide. It didn’t work last year, but I noticed they’d changed the instructions and so gave it one more go. Worse comes to worse, I’ll just eat one load of diatomaceous earth next season by vacuuming up the crud at the start of the season. This new filter is so good I was tempted to not bother winterizing at all to tell the truth. The D.E. is so cheap it won’t matter if I have to completely clean out and rebuild the filter after the first cleaning next year, and the water stays clean.

Once the pool was down for the count I dismantled the tent gazebo and packed it into the garage, then called it a day. Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling are off to see Hamlet on Broadway tomorrow so I can get on with productive stuff then. I retired inside to staunch my wounds, shower and mess around with what Mrs Stevie is pleased to call "pointless crap".

I’d earned my supper this day.

All Aboard The Good Train Seaview

Today1 I could not, under an circumstances, be late for work.

I had one of those interminable "Meet the Teacher" nights at the Stevieling's school and had to be there at 7 pm. Why they insist on doing this is beyond me since almost everyone with a kid in that school has at least one parent who works in the city and who probably cannot get there under normal circumstances until 7:30pm without taking time off work.

Not only that, the way they do it means that you only get about ten minutes with each teacher to ask about the whole business of education from their point of view as it applies to your child.

Of course, the whole point is actually so the teacher can harangue parents about getting the kids to do their homework. Naturally, no-one is allowed to point out that most teachers today rarely do more than glance at said homework, let alone do anything so outré as mark the stuff with a grade, so the message is lost on the kids anyway. I often feel like yelling "you treat the homework seriously and so will we!" at these people. I digress.

As I say, I could not be late and so had little of my customary short patience to spare for the particular brand of idiot that infested the roads this morning. Traffic light dawdling was about usual2 with a nice variation when someone in a Ford Behemoth stopped at the green light to converse with the crossing guard. But pride of place has to go with the two dimwits who followed a semi into the hard shoulder just before the turn onto the main route to the station, then realised it wasn't going to turn, causing them to foul the now-moving traffic with their attempts to pull around the truck and make the turn.

Mistaking the hard shoulder for a "turning lane" is a common error in these parts. Almost everyone uses the shoulder as a turning lane, and few realise that it really isn't legal to do that. But what takes le Grand Prix Des Idiot Blithering in this case is that anyone familiar with the turn (the one just after going under the railway bridge) could not possibly have expected the truck to make the turn from the hard shoulder since it would have had trouble making the turn from the outside lane of Deer Park Avenue. American tractor-trailer rigs are long. The bloody thing would have demolished a car park wall if it had tried anything so monumentally stupid and the people in those cars should have been able to figure that out and factor it into their decision to pull in behind it.

I made the turn (around the truck) and in no time at all was sitting at the light where the right-turn immediately crosses the LIRR tracks a few yards west of Wyandanch LIRR station. This light is especially challenging for the L. I. driver because a natural tendency to treat "No turn on red" signs as optional, the crossing route being a major truck route and an innate lack-of-mental-oomph when it comes to who has right-of-way in a train vs. truck situation4. The light turns green, the crossing alarm goes off, the gate comes down and that is the signal for trucks turning right to enter battle with oncoming trucks turning left for the small area in front of the gate with no regard for the poor sods trying to go straight on. Massive traffic jams result if the poor sods don't get a clue and zig-zag between the turning trucks.

I eventually made it to a parking spot in a side street (all the parking spots in the LIRR lot are now taken by rich-git lawyers5 newly returned from their summer vacations) and leapt from my car to begin the sprint for the train. I could not be late.

Which was when, of course, I discovered I had left my wallet at home.

Pausing only to curse everyone and everything in the entire universe across all time while simultaneously doing the Rage Dance, I returned to the Steviemobile and drove home to get the wretched thing. Doing this made me miss the train, lose my parking space and be late. Thus was the day off to a rip-roaring start. One could only hold one's breath in anticipation of what the day might hold in store afterwards.

I lightened my journey by reading a book on Object Oriented Perl, a computer language that is many things to many people but is singularly unsuited to the rather arcane business of being Object Oriented6. That one can do the Object Oriented Programming thing at all in perl is a wonderment to be sure, but a first choice for the job it ain't, and the book reads rather like a primer in tax instructions written in Linear B. Unfortunately I was in a noisy car, liberally salted with cell phone louts and Typhoid Marys7 so I couldn't escape the book in the arms of Lethe8. Well, I might have done so if the bloody train hadn't been imitating that damned submarine from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and lurching unpredictably from side to side by a couple of feet every few seconds as we crossed yet another section of precision trackwork laid by the experts of the LIRR Permanent Way department. My brains felt like they were in a cocktail shaker. It's a wonder I didn't get a concussion.

I arrived at work, spent several fruitless hours trying to be productive, then made ready to leave early for the parent-teacher froofaraw. I decided to simply record my time in a spreadsheet rather than do battle with the official time collection system. For that I would need a clearer head.

The timesheet system is a piece of unadulterated crap which was designed around the central idea that the workforce was stealing time by not allowing an (unpaid) hour for lunch when doing the sums. Consequently, the bloody thing wants to deduct an hour from the recorded time once a given number of hours have been worked. I won't get into the arguments that have arisen as a result of someone working exactly that number of hours, but let's just say the process is ill-understood by the administrative assistants charged with collecting consultant timesheets. I am no longer a consultant so I just have to do battle with the machine.

And what a work of genius it is.

The interface provides no short cuts like an "I will be out all day" checkbox or an "I will be out all week" option. It is easy to enter the times absolutely honestly and find out two weeks later that you've been docked an hour's leave without pay because you factored in the lunch hour when you entered the times, then the machine factored it in again because it assumed you were trying to cheat the system. It also wants you to slide your start time to the end of your one hour "flex-time" window. This means if you book a week's vacation and start it at the earlier time, you'll get docked an hour because the software can't work out that you just took a bloody week off and slides the start times of the second and subsequent days but not the end time of the last day because you put that in when you booked the vacation under the assumption, like the dolt you are, the stupid thing was an actual, real timekeeping system, and your return from a week's well-earned rest (or a hospital: it does it for sick time too) is marked by the arrival in the mail of an LWOP notification. Getting that first LWOP notification in the mail is a Rite of Passage in this place. Everyone has fallen for it at least once, and we all keep an ear open for the anguished howls of the consultant-turned-salaried-employee figuring out that his/her first LWOP is not the result of mistaken timekeeping on their part, but lack of familiarity with the idiot logic it uses to "verify" the figures.

I long ago wrote a spreadsheet to figure it all out, and use it to record my time, transferring the figures to the official system when I'm properly alert.

Once I got home and then to the school I was forced to wait half an hour in the foyer, then I had to listen to administration staff lecture me for almost half an hour, leaving approximately eight minutes allocated for each teacher to talk to us and invite questions once we had actually located them in their classrooms. This meant a detailed examination of curriculum issues - such as why the Chemistry class, already three years late in the scheme of things, is dwelling on Physics rather than Acid + Base = Salt + Water, what valency means and how it works, and when are they going to get down to brass tacks and do some chemistry - is out of the question. I started doing this stuff at eleven. My kid hasn't so much as done a litmus test and she's sixteen. She did spend three school years studying plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanism though. No wonder the Americans compare so badly with the rest of the educating world9 when it comes to the after effects of their schooling.

We decided to decamp to Five Guys burgers afterwards for some much-needed comfort food while each of us pondered the meat-grinding education system and what it meant to us. The food was good, the conclusions weren't.

I can't fault The Stevieling on this one: School most decidedly Sucks.

  1. Thursday last. I'm a little backed up on these posts. Actually, that's like saying the economy is a little out of sorts right now. I might explain the why of the blog thing if I decide that I have reached the absolute nadir of my humiliation. I couldn't tell you the why of the economy, and neither, apparently, can anyone else.
  2. I sometimes lighten the3 mood by pretending to be the driver at the head of the line when the light changes by screaming in a falsetto voice" It's changed colour! What do I do? Why doesn't someone tell us what to do?". It wiles away the delay while the moron in question finally Gets A Clue and their vehicle starts rolling forward. The Stevieling thinks this is hilarious. Mrs Stevie, not so much
  3. i.e. my
  4. And what idiot puts a boom-gate right where a truck would need to stop when it illegally turns just when a train hoves into view only to find another red light? Who could predict that this would end with a busted gate, a dinged-up truck and a massive traffic jam, armed only with the knowledge of several years driving the same route?
  5. Please don't contest this on the grounds that you are a lawyer and you aren't rich: I share trains with these dolts and have to listen to their loud conversations and phone calls. If you are a lawyer who isn't rich, you’re doing it wrong
  6. Computer programs can be written in many ways. Doing so in a structured manner that provides clarity to the maintenance team, simplicity to the designer and efficient use of low-level resources when running has been a nirvana in the business since the advent of high-level computer languages. Object Oriented Programming is the latest and arguably most successful idea along these lines to come down the pike since Babbage started drawing axles and cogs. Like all the other stylistic fads that came before it, it is controversial and widely misunderstood. Funnily enough, most of the arguments about it center on how unobject oriented this or that language is, while failing to grasp the essential detail that if the bloody software doesn't work it doesn't matter how itis written
  7. Nothing says "sick day" like a ride on public transport in NY
  8. Couldn't get to sleep either
  9. Everyone looks good when comparing themselves to places that base their education system on extremist religious doctrine of course

Come Uppance

Sometimes life gives you a little pat on the back to make up for all the aggravation it puts you through on a day-to-day basis.

Case in point: A week last Saturday I was running errands and had joined a line of traffic waiting for a light so we could all turn left. As I pulled into line a large white panel truck1 a few cars ahead of me pulled out of line and onto the sidewalk. I drew level with a power pole and stopped. Suddenly, my attention was wrested from the gripping story I had been listening to on the radio by the even more gripping sight of the truck reversing at some speed towards me.

I looked around quickly and took what the military call a "sitrep". I was boxed by traffic. There was a narrow space between me and the power pole. The truck still had two wheels on the sidewalk and was approaching fast.

Mr Brain ran a couple of hi-speed simulations for my benefit. Three options seemed most likely:

a) the van would hit the power pole

2) the van would hit The Steviemobile a glancing blow all down the passenger side

♥) the van driver would see the pole, swerve at the last minute and drive the rear-end of his truck directly into me.

Since none of these options were good, the van was still on course for the pole and I was unable to maneuver The Steviemobile to avoid the whole business, I sounded my horn in a couple of short, polite beeps

The truck driver, hearing my warning, chose not to re-appraise his situation and actions, but to go with the standard New York Driver reaction to being informed he might not be cognisant of all the facts of his environment by cursing me loudly through his open window, while adjusting his speed and course by zero mph and zero degrees.

as he shot by my open passenger side window, his loud curses and pontifications of my parents sexual practises and marital status at the time of my birth were punctuated by the sweet sound of tearing metal and crushing glass as his passenger side door mirror was smashed to flinders on the power pole.

I waited, smiling sweetly until the light changed, and let him go before me so that I could luxuriate in the sight of all that twisted, mashed and above all expensive wreckage dangling from his door.

  1. For the UK reader, this is a ubiquitous animal on Long Island, used by any sort of mobile business that doesn't do landscaping, and is about the size and shape of the old long-wheelbase Ford Transit van