Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Alternator Facts

Update: I did not maim and/or kill myself fixing my dishwasher and now I wander around the house telling my wife about the other things in the house that I could probably fix. Of course, I have no intention of actually doing any of those things, and my success with stunningly simple dishwasher was followed almost immediately by almost setting the house on fire with the toaster.

No, this self-congratulatory preening is simply the price my family must pay in the rare occasions that I fix something correctly, and will soon fade as I fail spectacularly at trying to clear a drain clog or something similarly humiliating.

Also, karma reared its ugly head soon after my dishwasher success and the alternator in my car died. Conveniently, this occurred when both my wife and daughter were in the car and we were a good 60 miles from home. And indeed, the car completely died when were about halfway home in backed-up traffic on Highway 1, that scenic highway favored by car ads, where one might drive along breathtaking ocean vistas when one is not aware that their car might die at any second.

As it happened, the systems in the car started to fail as I approached a huge backup of cars and, knowing the feeling from years of driving shitty cars, I pulled onto the shoulder and willed the car to make it to that turn-off about 500 yards ahead. Somehow it did make it, just as all the power failed, and I pulled the non-powered, quickly locking steering to a remarkably safe spot on the side of a side road.

The rest of the story involves tow trucks, battery-packs, and 800 dollars.*

*And of course, when I told my coworker my tale of alternator woe, he was kind enough to listen politely until the end of the story before pointing out that I could have merely opened up the alternator and replaced the "brushes" for about 50 dollars.

So now my coworker is dead.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Expert Plans

I just want to warn you, I may be attempting to fix my dishwasher this weekend. It is easy. I have watched one video on YouTube and if a guy who had his thumb over the camera a good 60% of the video's runtime can do it, I can do it, by god!

What's wrong with the dishwasher is that a whole lot of water comes out of the airgap. I only know it is called an airgap because my sister told me about a dishwasher repair guy who wants to make money selling seasonal airgap covers, like for instance a Santa airgap cover. That, frankly, sounds a little disturbing because if your airgap is leaking like mine is, you're going to see a tiny Santa basically urinating all over your countertop.

Our airgap has been leaking for approximately 7 years. The bottom of our under-sink cabinet and the floor under that cabinet are water-damaged and buckling. It is a good thing I have sprung into action so quickly. The damage is at that level where I am somewhere between "we should probably have a look at how bad that is" and "I really don't want to know how bad that is because it is probably really expensive to fix and will make me have to face some harsh truths about myself." I was washing dishes the other day and idly wondered if I would just fall through the floor into our garage (which would not have been terrible because I was eyeing a Le Creuset thing with baked on meat stuff on it and I really did not want to clean it.)

So I watched a video which, as I mentioned, was very professionally shot, and in which a friendly person shows how to take your dishwasher apart and clean the filters. (Also, guy making video, why did you wait to do your dishwasher repair video until both racks were full of dirty dishes?)

My thought process as I watch a video like this is "ok... ok... I can do that... I uh.... maybe I can do that?" and kind of mentally picturing how I will screw it up. Losing all the screws, that's one thing. Bending and/or breaking sensitive parts, that's another. Electrocution? Doesn't seem likely, but would not be surprising given my past home repair efforts. Fingers/hair/entire head/genitals caught in food grinder thing? Again, unlikely, but still possible.

But I am going to do this. And if I do not return, know that I loved you.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017


Sometimes I question my career choice.

Then, of course, I remember I didn't really choose it at all. It just kind of happened. When you have a degree in something spectacularly useful, like my Modern Literature degree, you can pretty much pick your path to financial success--it's true. But somehow I just found myself as a technical writer some twenty-five years ago, despite the fact that I didn't know much about computers really at all. But I knew some engineer types, I could fog a mirror, and I could use Microsoft Word to edit some hardware specifications, so I was in. I think they also asked me if I was proficient in AutoCAD 10, a query to which I nodded and smiled knowingly, despite a sneaking suspicion that AutoCAD was one of those robot taxis from Total Recall.

And then I was off and running. Filing things. Folding D-size papers origami-like into something that would fit in a letter-size drawer. Distributing Engineering Change Orders in bulging manila folders that the responsible parties would ignore. I was happy there in my first office job, taking innumerable cigarette breaks and playing minesweeper while no-one was watching. Hanging out with my Bulgarian co-workers who also seemed never to do any work. And then one day the place went under. Possibly due to some shady goings-on with the CEO. Or possibly because no-one did any work. Never was quite sure.

And somehow, all these years later, my skills are a rainbow of XML, structured authoring, training video creation, Git source management. The Cloud. I find myself reading discussion boards about serif vs sans serif fonts in user manuals. Two spaces or one after a full stop. I have opinions about those things, which no-one should really care about.

Did I have a point here? Not sure. Maybe a cautionary tale.

I do miss the Minesweeper though.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Terrible Food Day

So, I thought it would be a good idea to have Terrible Food Day for my daughter (and, by extension, me). My wife is always buying these healthy things with buckwheat and chia and tiny rocks, and while I appreciate her earnest healthward leanings, I recognize that when you are seven years old, tofu and gravelly grain is not the most appealing.

I started talking about TV dinners to my daughter. The cobbler! You put a TV dinner in the oven and if you wanted the (arguable) meat to be hot, that cobbler was going to be fused like magma. Pirate Picnic--that was my favorite when I was a kid. Games on the box! Nestle's Quik mix included! This is what life was like before Atari.

The excitement was palpable.

So we ventured forth to our local grocery store. I was anticipating a rich array of choices. But the only real TV dinners I could find were Hungry Mans. And I don't think a 50 pound person needs 2 pounds of food. (Incidentally, while we were discussing what terrible food choice we would make, a hungry man approached the Hungry Mans and changed his mind when he heard us. Sorry, Swanson.)

Apart from that there were some Banquet choices, only one of which had a dessert in it, and that one looked pretty terrible. In the end she opted for a kind-of TV dinner featuring chicken nuggets and some macaroni and cheese that was frankly unholy and did not taste even a little like cheese.

I myself opted for the Stouffer's turkey tetrazzini, a foodstuff I consumed throughout high school and college at a truly alarming rate. And I tell you it hasn't changed. In fact the particular box I purchased may have been from 1992--how could you tell?

I also tried to flesh out Terrible Food Day with Chikn-in-a-Biskit crackers. My daughter ate one and sputtered "aaaagh! salty!" I assured her that the chemical reaction taking place in her insides was not just salt--it was Nature's Perfect Food: MSG! And lots of it! But no matter how I tried to explain the wonders of Flavor Enhancer, she would not be swayed.

So anyway, I may have affected her eating habits in a good way by making her eat stuff that tastes even worse than quinoa. She liked the orange soda though.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Is IoT the Next Game Changer?

Will your game change when your toothbrush is talking to your toaster? I'm here to tell you it will.

And the best thing is that dudes in Latvia will be able to listen to your toothbrush too! It may end up like that Gilligan's Island episode where Gilligan was receiving radio signals through his teeth, except this will be a guy named Gregor slowly reciting strings of random numbers into your molars as you massage your gums in the morning. A new world of openness and possibility!

And are you tired of having to manually upgrade your waffle iron to install the newest patch, adding full Netflix capability to what is ostensibly a way to make breakfast? Now you don't have to! Your waffle iron will automatically download the latest kicky apps to keep you entertained!

We must never rest until every single device can stream everything all the time. Until the glorious moment when everything everywhere is released in a half-assed version that we can upgrade remotely to a new version that is deeply insecure and broken in new and exciting ways.

Save your credit card information to your doorbell! It will be fine!

Your medical records should be stored on your connected fridge, which can also generate a playlist based on your fiber intake. Listen to it as you lie immobile on the floor, waiting for the paramedics!

This is the future!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

An Arguably Bad Idea: Monkey Ownership

The surprisingly not awful but still kind of awful tale of people who ordered squirrel monkeys from comic book ads in the 60s and 70s:

It was also capable of riding on the back of the family’s Sheltie collie like a horse. Although the dog didn’t enjoy it, he learned to deal with Chipper. 

I am troubled there is no mention of the late 70s scheme wherein a company would begin sending you small dangerous animals every month until you paid them to stop sending you small dangerous animals. A particularly inspired wrinkle of the scheme was that if you gave the company the names and addresses of three of your friends, you could get them to stop sending the small dangerous animals for an unknowable amount of time. Of course, the scheme was doomed from the outset because once the recipient was killed by the small dangerous animals (and they inevitably were, if not killed, really badly damaged both physically and emotionally) the small dangerous animals tended to pile up at the recipient's address, and you wound up with flocks of small dangerous animals roaming the streets, brandishing their flick-knives at old ladies and generally threatening a god-fearing populace.

Note that this story is like eight years old. I know that. Don't get all huffy with me, sir.

via metafilter

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Daddest of the Dads

As one gets older, one realizes certain things about oneself. 

Just after Christmas (and I hope you had a good one), I finally gave in to 2009 and picked up a Blu-Ray player. This had been on my mind for some years, since I upgraded my amp (or is a tuner? God knows) and discovered my DVD player would no longer connect to it in any useful way. Because the crushing march of technology dictates that everything must be HDMI now. And that's good--don't get me wrong...when I am watching my tedious art films I want to see angst and despair at the highest possible resolution. So for several years I have had a basically useless DVD player sitting underneath my TiVo, and I have been watching movies on the Xbox. That's fine as well, as long as you don't mind occasionally being unable to hear anything the actors are saying over the droning whirr.

So anyway, my little Blu-Ray player arrived from Amazon (refurbished! 47 dollars!) and I eyed my component console thing warily. This is a unit with two side-by-side drawers on the bottom for storing media (read: absolutely full drawer of DVDs you look at wistfully from time to time and drawer full of video game peripherals that you're not sure if they still work but figure you had better keep, just in case you ever want to play a Gamecube pinball game where you speak into the controller and control Japanese feudal-age armies again.) Above the drawers, the unit has two side-by-side shelves where you store your components, and tiny little holes through which you feed a vast array of cables. I have wisely broadened those cable-holes over time, ensuring no resale value remains for the unit itself. The shelves are covered by those lift-and-slide cabinet doors that are exactly the height of my amp thing. So every time I slide the amp out to see what the hell is going on back there, the amp grates against the bottom of the cabinet door, leaving gouges and grooves that make it look like it has been the victim of a werewolf attack. Also, all the cables are just exactly the right length so that when you slide the amp out, half of them detach and you have to guess where they previously connected. Or, as I did, you kind of rotate the amp just enough to where the cables don't pop out and you can kind of see the markings on the 27 Ins and Outs, as you shine your iPhone in there, making sure to shine it directly into your eyes a couple of times and panicking you into thinking a migraine is inevitable. 

So I am in there messing around with cords and cables and trying to remember if I have another HDMI cable in the garage (spoiler: I do not) and thinking I should really do something about this nest of cables under my component amp tuner console furniture thing because other people seem to have figured this out but I somehow have not, and what if I somehow used zip-ties and hooked all these cables to the back of the unit? 

And it hits me: I love doing this. I love assing around with cables that connect various electronic things, and reassuring my family that I know exactly what I am doing, nodding to myself sagely before optimistically pressing several remote buttons, only to find out I have screwed up one of the 27 connections in some unknowable way. And swearing, of course.

The daddest of the dads.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Mouse stuff

There is a mouse on the loose in our office. It is so much more pleasurable to think about this little guy motoring around the carpet, maybe wearing a little tee shirt, than it is to think about terrorist attacks and Trump. Go little guy! GO! 

It is extremely important that I focus on this mouse. Maybe I'll build a series of tunnels for him. Or her. I don't know which. I don't know how the mouse identifies. Maybe I'll do a study on gender identification among rodents. Explore the subculture. Like that Runaway Ralph with the motorcycle. What was he into? 

I could set up webcams and document my time among the mice. Or my time with the mouse really. Unless there are more. A whole society. And when we leave here they're rubbing their little mouse butts all over our phones and office chairs. Or maybe they're helpful, like fairy tale elves, although I have never returned to work in the morning to find all my spreadsheets perfectly formatted or anything like that. I think mouse talents lie more in the clothing arena is what I'm saying. Your shoes, your Disney princess ballgown. That kind of thing.

Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll be savagely mauled by the mouse, and Werner Herzog will make a touching documentary about me despite my misguided attempts.

If I can just really, really focus on this for, say, the next four years? That sounds like a really good idea.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Get Thee Behind Me, Sofa

Look man. All I want to do is get rid of a sofa. That's it.

I know it is clawed up. I know. My cats are not to be trusted. They see a sofa and they think "Sure, kafkaesque, friend to all animals, has lovingly and thoughtfully provided us with many scratching options for claw management, including but not limited to a 6 foot tall Cat Metropolis cat condo thing that was over 100 American dollars, but we prefer to destroy this couch instead, because we are cat clich├ęs. Also do you have some yarn I could eat?"

It may have been peed on by an infant or two, this sofa. Maybe some childbarf when I was not quick enough with the bowl. Yeah, that bowl. The metal one that we use for salad sometimes. The dishwasher has removed all trace of childbarf from that bowl I swear to god. And from the sofa. That you should take.

And the time the poop actually came out of the top of the onesie like a chocolate fondue fountain at a wedding? I think that was not on the sofa, but frankly it may have been. I have wiped it from my mind. Even though I sometimes wake in cold terror thinking of elevator doors opening in the Overlook lobby and poo pouring out.

Listen, I can't even park my car in the garage because of this sofa. I loved it, it is true, when I was napping of a Saturday afternoon, a soccer game playing away on the television. But no more.

Now I hate it purely and perfectly and want it gone.

Do I have to carve this thing up with a reciprocating saw and place it daintily in the garbage can for a series of weeks? Because I will totally do that. Do I have to push it out to sea and then fire a flaming arrow at it? That sounds kind of fun but my aim is not that good so I would want to ensure the surf was completely empty, and that sounds like a logistical nightmare. And maybe my arrow hits a sea lion or something and I don't want that on my conscience.

Just take my sofa.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Legend of Zelda Update

I may have mentioned here that I downloaded the original Legend of Zelda to my daughter's 3DS recently. This was done with the wide-eyed optimism that she and I would play it together, and I would regale her with tales of that guy on the commercial saying "Octoroks!" who I kind of want to say was Howie Mandel but surely wasn't*. And she'd look up at me, as she vanquished a full screen of Peahats, knowing in her heart of hearts that she had worth as a human, that her self-esteem had been bolstered not only by this bonding with her dad, but by the clear realization that anything is possible if you just really believe. Yes, she'd look up at me, moist-eyed and say "You are the best dad."

Of course, what really happened is that she is not really even remotely interested in playing Legend of Zelda because she is seven years old and it is really unreasonably difficult. She sits next to me on the couch watching Teen Titans Go! and I run Link around like a total dickhead because I lack the sensory skills necessary to remember where the Level 1 dungeon is. And, if I make it to the dungeon, to have more than half a heart left, so I can be easily dispatched by bats. The whole thing is really an exercise in not swearing really loud in front of your kid.

And I forgot the quiet majesty of the little POOT sound every time Link gets hit.**

And how he charmingly is pushed back, possibly into another of those dog things with the bow and arrows. And that square thing that pops up in the water? You know, the one that seems to hit me every single time despite the fact that its shots don't travel all that fast? Not my favorite foe is what I'm saying.

Anyway, so far I have cleared the Level 1 dungeon and the Level 2 dungeon. Nothing in the dungeons so far is really all that difficult, except those blue guys that had the magic boomerang.

I will keep you updated.


** If you listen to me playing this game it would sound like this: OK, here we go... OK Octoroks, that's easy... Oh wait these guys with the POOT Ah damn, now I can't throw my POOT POOT Really? You're going to POOT POOT POOT Aaaa! BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP


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