Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Just When It Can't Get Any Worse, It Does

Just when I am at a low point, with the damage to my left shoulder proving unsusceptible to physiotherapy and a cough I caught last weekend ripping my throat apart, life deals me a joker.


For the last two nights, at around 2am, I have been woken up from my agonised dreams of being pursued by gangs of crazed football referees with whistle-mania by an insistent chirping.

A cricket has moved into my bedroom heating baseboard.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Tapping Into My Inner Rage

I decided on Friday evening that I would have to do something about the leaky bath taps in our upstairs bathroom, since the steady drip I had grown to loathe had now turned into a most healthy (and costly ) dribble.

I couldn't remember how the taps came apart even though I could vaguely recall replacing the hot tap mechanism some years ago. The taps in question are decades-old "Delta" type remote faucets, an interesting design that puts the actual internal workings of the taps inside the wall, typically just out of reach of the typical human finger. I was also concerned, for reasons I won't go into now, about mould forming in the walls and so I though I'd remove one wall tile by cutting the wallboard behind it with my Dremel Tool configured as a rotary saw, and e-acquaint myself with the wheres and whyfores of the taps mechanism with a quick eyeballing. I was confident that I would be able to replace this tile-shaped section of wall with reasonable ease.

Since this would be a relatively quick job1 I turned off the water to the whole house using my Stevie-installed nifty ball-valve shut-offs. Then I removed the tap handles, the little square lead adapter blocks that allow one to fit taps handles with splines to faucet stems with a flat key, unscrewed the chromed cylinders that encase the remote faucet internal mechanism, pulled out the remote extender spindles and grabbed the Dremel for some quick and easy wall segment removal.

Naturally the Dremel tool bit was wider than the inter-tile gap and thus couldn't be used.

Nor could I find my large razor saw, my backup tool of choice2 and so I came up with the Other Other Plan, in which I would employ my scroll-saw to do the job.

It turns out that a scroll saw is manifestly unsuited to the job of removing a section of tile-encrusted wall without damaging the tile, and it cracked in two places and chipped in two more before I had the thing in my left hand while I swore into the hole in the wall.

It was then a simple matter to divine the tap-innard removal technique: Re-insert the 3 inch screw that holds the tap handles to the mechanism and pull.

I went out to Arse Hardware and got a "replacement" fitting that looked similar3 for both the hot and cold taps and returned home for the final fitting.

I pushed the new fitting into place but it wouldn't seat. I removed it and compared the length, diameter and outline with the old fitting, and re-fit the old fitting just to check I wasn't going mad. The old one slipped in easily. The new one couldn't be persuaded to seat down no matter how hard or with what I belted it.

I felt around inside the bronze fitting, which was when a little cap of rubber and a small spring fell out. Here was another piece of the puzzle, a spring-loaded seat for the faucet mechanism I was unaware of, but for which I had replacement parts for in the new mechanism's packaging. Bonus!

I carefully assembled the little spring and rubber cap from the new pieces I had, and attempted to fit them into the tiny hole set into the back of the bronze fitting. It turned out to be nigh-impossible to do without some fourth-level Words of Power delivered in a loud, high-pitched shriek of rage. Extinguishing the small fires my language had started in the wall insulation - some sort of asbestos-wool/sheep's hide composite from the look of it that probably dated from around the time plains apes were belting each other round the head with antelope thigh bones in front of a giant oblong monolith - I again attempted to fit the mechanism into the housing, but it would not cooperate.

Realising that Mrs Stevie was about to reappear in theater, I dashed downstairs and attempted to isolate the upstairs plumbing from the rest of the house using two pre-Stevie installed handwheels. If Mrs Stevie came home to no water there would be hell to pay.

The reason I didn't use these handwheels to shut off only the upstairs water is that they are situated in an awkward place and are difficult to activate. The cold one is easily reached by entering the two-foot space between the laundry room and the basement wall and reaching up and around some piping - the handwheel is in an access space in the laundry room wall itself. The hot line is controlled by a handwheel that is situated right over the laundry room wall in that same access space, but due to some bizarre design ethic employed by the original plumber, points directly towards a large iron wastepipe and is thus most difficult to turn in any way, shape or form without a Stillson's pipewrench. Not only that, the pipewrench is needed to cinch down the wheels of both taps because they don't make good seals (and I don't have the room to take them apart and make them work properly) and the pipewrench is quite difficult to maneuver in that tight space. It is all very tiresome.

However, I did get the wheels cinched closed and turned the water back on just as Mrs Stevie came home.

Pausing only to drink twice my weight in orange juice and ginger ale I then removed another section of wall over the hot tap since if I was going to replace the little spring and cap in that tap I would need to be able to get my finger down inside the fitting and I couldn't do that with the wall in the way. This naturally cracked another tile, and the struggle to get the replacement bits in the tiny hole they were "designed" for was, if anything, even more protracted than with the cold tap. Just for giggles I tried to fit the mechanism that would not go into the cold tap fitting into the hot side.

It fit perfectly.

This caused me to waste another 15 minutes attempting to fit the second replacement mechanism into the cold fitting, but to no avail. I pulled it out and carefully catalogued the differences between it and the one that came out earlier that day. There were some, but nothing I could see that would cause the thing to not fit at all.

So I hurtled off in the Steviemobile in an attempt to find a real plumbing supply place that was a) in existence and 2) open at 4:30 pm on a Saturday. In this there were two factors working against me: The almost complete absence of plumbing supply stores in the aftermath of Home Despot and Blowes and what few there were left close typically at 1pm or 2pm on a Saturday (which is part of the reason they are almost all gone of course).

I found Vic's Plumbing Supply and Taxidermy on Sunrise Highway was still in business, but not at 4pm, Vic being of the 2pm school of Saturday closing thought.

So I stopped off at the nearby Blowes and half-heartedly took a look at what they had to offer. And they had an almost identical "drop in replacement" for my fitting, so I bought it and made my way home to the accompaniment of the low-gas light flashing on and off on the Steviemobile's dashboard. "It doesn't get any better than this" I thought.

The fitting did fit, didn't leak and worked as expected when I turned the water back on. The new fitting, however, had a bizarre operational mode. When I turned it on a little, it poured out hot water. When I opened it full, the water delivery rate dropped to about half. I looked at my watch and declared myself finished for the day, blanked off the hole in the wall with plastic taped to the tiles, had a shower and refused to talk to anyone for the rest of the evening.

On Sunday I went back to Blowes and bought another of the "drop in" replacement fittings, returned home and swapped it for the one I put in the day before. It worked, but the tap was working backwards.

This is an annoying feature of the design - you can use the same fitting to install regular capstan-type handles which you crank anti-clockwise to operate, or to install the L-shaped handles that you twist inward (usually) to get water, which involves one faucet opening anti-clockwise and the other opening clockwise. It is all in how you put in the mechanism, which can be installed with the cam on the right or the cam on the left.

I can never remember which way is which and the result of that had been 15 years of weird taps in the upstairs bathroom4 that had to be rotated in opposite directions to get water out of them. I had vowed to correct this lamentable state of affairs with this job and so had to descend two flights of stairs, turn off the water, ascend two flights of stairs, dismantle the faucet, rotate the mechanism 180 degrees, reassemble the faucet, descend two flights of stairs, turn the water on again, ascend two flights of stairs and re-test the whole thing. It worked.

So it was then a "simple" matter of replacing the bits of wall. this was achieved with the aid of some lengths of wood glued across the hole with five minute epoxy to which the tile-bearing wall sections were in turn glued. Once that had set up, I re-grouted and went downstairs for dinner.

Another weekend I'll never get back.

  1. Hah!
  2. It reappeared in theater five minutes after I had finished the job, as expected
  3. but not absolutely identical it turned out
  4. The last time I had done this job the Stevieling was still in a car-seat. We still speak of the time I had driven everyone around trying to get a replacement fitting for the one that had been fired across the bathroom in a spectacular failure during Mrs Stevie's shower. Failing to secure one all morning I had taken them all to lunch. On the way home, driving down Sunrise Highway I saw another Home Despot and pulled into the lot. The Stevieling, who was too young to read at that time, saw the distinctive orange sign, and in a tone of disbelief and disgust thundered "This again?!! I responded in placating tones, saying "Honey, I have to find the part for the faucet". She, with almost prescient perspicacity said "You know they're not gonna have it!", and she was absolutely right. They didn't

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More Madness, LIRR-Style

So this morning I get to my station and, unsure as to the scheduling situation vis-a-vis rail-mounted public transport-wise, I looked to the electronic announcement displays installed last year at a cost of Azathoth-Nose to see what the LIRR can tell me with regard to train times.

All I could see was "Wyandanch" blinking on and off about once a second.

Call me Susan but if you are standing on a station platform of a morning and don't know which one despite the big tin signs riveted to the handrails every 100 feet or so, then you should just give it up.

More money poured into the Pit O' Waste there, then.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Another Round To The Bloody Long Island Rail Road

Stop me if you've heard this one

It seems there was this signalbox that had somehow, in the welter of moneyspending that had gone on in the last 25 years had not been modernized much. It still used some sort of comical pneumatic system installed during Warren Gamaliel Harding's administration1 to work the points and signals and other froofaraw that a railway needs to direct trains through complicated junctions, and they don't come much more complicated than Jamaica (not the good one) where eight lines enter, eight lines leave and in between they can all be cross connected in about 14 bajillion different configurations. Want to send that train that normally stops on track eight to track one? Pushpushpresstwiddle, hishisshissphut! Job done, 23 Skiddoo!2.

There was plenty of wiring in there too, connected in some arcane way to the Magnificent Air-Organ of Train Steerage, but I'm not sure what role it played other a demonstrably important one. Some of his wiring was of the hand-extruded, lizard-hide insulated kind fitted personally by Thomas Edison, but at least one was of the newer, "better" machine made plastic coated stuff all we Electrical Savants know and love.

Perplexingly, one Monday, it came to pass that it was this newer, "better" wire that caught fire.

The fire was extinguished in a matter of minutes, but by then the stalwart damage Crews of the Bloody Long Island Rail Road had gotten stuck in and declared a state of emergency, shutting down the entire network. Management than went into crisis mode as they had done so many times before and began sequestering information so that the commuters who were against all reason cramming into Penn Station trying to get home would be able to swelter shoulder to shoulder with like minded free-thinkers in an atmosphere of ignorance for hours.

Well, luck wasn't with the LIRR that day because those same commuters, who should have fallen on bended knee and thanked their various Gods, both benevolent and squamous, for this their gift of a chance to stew for hours in the damp air breathed before by about two thousand people, instead began speaking to the press, opining that in their view said railroad personnel could not for the life of them find their own rear ends with both hands, a map and a top of the line GPS navigation system.

So enraged were the LIRR at this lack of proper fawning that they sent in a spokesman of their own, who stood in front of a camera, "explained" the problem ("the railroad is broken" is a rough paraphrase of his statement) then dodged all questions about why there is no backup system, why the equipment was so easily damaged as to cripple the entire railroad3 and why no-one felt moved to instigate railroad-to-paying5-passengers lines of communication, that last a constant feature of all LIRR problems-in-progress. Why the idiots in charge of the LIRR can't get a bleeping clue on this one is beyond me. Any problem on the railroad is made infinitely worse by them not uttering a single sound as to what is wrong and, more importantly, how long it will take them to get one home.

Now your humble scribe dodged this particular bullet by virtue of the fact that he spent the weekend running role-playing games at a local Gaming Convention and had taken Monday off to recuperate, the old manly juices not running so wild as they once did and stuff like this taking a toll on the old constitution6.

On Tuesday I attempted a commute, but gave up when most of my morning trains failed to show up. It seemed that the LIRR wasn't done with this particular silliness. Luckily I was not needed at work, so I took the day off and went back to bed in disgust.

Today the LIRR is still in turmoil, and failed totally to move me from A to B successfully, which wouldn't have been so bad if someone hadn't boarded the train at Hicksville who sat opposite me, announced he was a member of the "tea party"7 and spent the trip between there and Merillon Avenue trying to get me to agree that everything he was yelling about was right.

Before this event I was tollerant of the (to me delusional) views of this mostly right wing conservative action group, but now I feel they must be stamped on out.

This man knew everything. Socialized medicine was bad and I was an idiot if I didn't see that (no point pointing out that as I had lived both with and without socialized medicine and he demonstrably had not he was in no position to be lecturing me as to it's utility or workability). Canadians were swarming over the border to use up all the healthcare in America. I asked him to explain to me how that worked, and before he could launch into his set speech (derived from Pa Bush's counter-Clinton election soundbites) I pointed out the obvious absurdity of a people who had perfectly good healthcare paid for out of their taxes crossing a border to use an overpriced healthcare system they'd have to pay for out of pocket. He responded by yowling that he'd never mentioned Canadians and called me a "Liberal".

Presumably he would have started in on Mexicans if I hadn't waved my hands and said firmly that I was done talking with him. He tried several times to re-engage but I repulsed all his advances. I don't mind being called "liberal", but when someone in this country calls anyone "a Liberal" all further discussion is futile as they have put their opponent in a box that contains everything that person personally believes is Wrong With America.

When I meet people like this I like to draw them into discussions of the economy (Obama's Fault for not fixing same, of course) and then point out that the last time my investments made any sort of real money was under Clinton, and that under G.W.B.'s stewardship my savings would have been safer if I had put them in a shoebox under my bed and then set fire to my house. The kicker is that the figures can't be argued with, and it drives conservatives, most of whom are Republican voters, up the wall.

To point out that it only takes a second to smash up a car but it takes hours to fix it again is lost on such people who refuse to accept that the country was mismanaged for years and badly mismanaged for the last six of the Bush administration.

I arrived at work to find a gajillion nagging e-mails from various people wondering why I wasn't answering their previous e-mail. Since I had had a particularly aggressive session with a physical therapist that morning I was in no mood to coddle whiners and dealt with them accordingly. Amongst those e-mails was a demand for a status report on a project it is almost impossible to work on owing to the pressures of other stuff.

Next I was summoned to a meeting that made toothache look interesting. This had the usual effect on my bowels so I ran to the gentlemen's rest room and public trash heap. Some days just entering this room is enough to persuade me never to shake hands again. I raced to a stall, grabbed a paper seat-cover and tugged it to release it from its cardboard dispensing box. It tore in half, the box shifted inside the in-wall metal box container and it dropped out of sight into the depths of the wall cavity with a hollow "bong!". I could see it was going to be a good day.

I didn't get lunch on account of whiners taking up all my time. I did manage to deliver a rush job to a developer, who thanked me by asking about two items I had been specifically told not to discuss with him by my ultraboss. This put me in a hard place since I had already engaged with this developer on the items in question before the ultraboss had decided to intervene, and was also doing other sanctioned stuff the ultraboss had demanded be given Top Priority for him. It was impossible to play dead on the other two issues so I simply replied to everyone in the world with a terse statement that the issues were under review.

I have no doubt whatsoever that this will please no-one and result in a shirtstorm from both sides aimed at my desk, so I have only one course of action tomorrow.

Take another day off.

  1. 1920 for those too bone-idle to look it up
  2. Which raises the question as to why simple train breakdowns bring the entire shooting match to a standstill time after time. No man knoweth the reason
  3. A lie of the most blatant stripe. the Port Washington line was unaffected. On account of it not going anywhere near Jamaica (NTGO4)
  4. Not The Good One
  5. Through the nose
  6. Though strength, wisdom, dexterity, intelligence and charisma were unaffected. Ahahahahaha
  7. A so-called "grass-roots" movement that sprang up in the aftermath of the Obama election win and which has a few good points to bring up hidden amongst a pile of trash-talk that obscures the real issues under anti-Obama rhetoric so virulent I have to wonder if this country has gone anywhere towards racial acceptance in the last fifty years

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Laptop Annoyance Rant Number 1

When I got my new lappy, it had what looked like a crease in the thin plastic veneer that surrounds the screen.

Not a big deal, cosmetic, not noticeable. Last night the corner of the screen applique fell off in my hand. So, a crack, not a crease, then.

I attempted first to use the manufacturers website to initiate the warranty service for this obvious manufacturing defect. Lest you suspect me of throwing the machine around and chipping bits off it, an examination of the case will show even the most suspicious person that this machine has been coddled, carried everywhere in a padded briefcase purpose made for the business of not damaging laptops, and that it hasn't been dropped or had something dropped on it.

I wasn't concerned I could be held culpable.

The website had many links. What it didn't have was a "Warranty Replacement" link, so I attempted to email the problem to them using a link it took only ten minutes to find. The link didn't launch any sort of email client or page, but did pop up a JavaScript-driven window to collect the service tag number, which was duly filled in. However, on clicking "next", nothing happened.

A quick examination showed the dreaded "JavaScript error on page" message in the status bar, so I attempted to re-do it all using FireFox just in case it was an IE flavor of JavaScript issue.

Imagine my joy when a message informing me that the JavaScript "applet" would "only run properly" in IE. More ammunition for my grass-roots web experience improvement movement GROUJN1 right there then.

So it was off to the tech support chat page, which wanted to download an active X control and we all know that is a path to three hours you never get back, so I bit the bullet and called the phone number listed.

And dealt with the ultra annoying "helpful" recorded messages telling me I could probably fix my problem faster by using the webpage to email or chat it away. And waited. And waited. And got through only to have the call dropped the moment a human being spoke.

So I called again, was annoyed by bots again only to be told there were extended delays due to call volumes. So I gave up.

This morning I went through it all again, with the added frisson that the infuriating phonebot couldn't understand my "rapid response number" and so directed me into a five minute maze of irrelevant Q&A before connecting me to the recorded advice about webpages and emailing again.

And Got through, and was redirected to another recorded voice telling me to reboot the computer and see if that would fix the problem (unlikely, but I was getting to the point it almost made sense to try).

And got through to a "technician" who insisted I run a hidden low-level diagnostic that showed me colored bars and asked me if I could see them, and then made some loud beeps so that everyone would know what I was doing, and finally ran a twelve minute memory test.

I asked, bewildered, why we were going through this. The technician said "Believe me, it's necessary".

The test completed with a query as to whether I wanted to run 35 minutes more of memory tests just as he came back on the line and told me he had spoken to his supervisor and I was to return the computer. I asked again why the tests on the memory and disks had been "necessary", and inquired if it was because they thought I had dropped the computer. The technician said that it wouldn't matter if I had since I had paid for a warranty that was good for damage due to dropping.

So the necessity of the test was to give me something to watch while he did whatever he was doing.

And now I won't have my computer just in time for an event for which I would probably be using the computer more in those three days than in the three months since it was delivered.

This reminds me of the Jeep I once owned; whenever the weather was of the sort that four wheel drive was actually necessary as opposed to merely being extra weight to be lugged around at 12 miles to the gallon, the damned thing was in for repairs.

  1. Get Rid Of Useless2 JavaScript Now!
  2. I realize putting "useless" and "JavaScript" in the same phrase is redundant