Monday, January 15 2007
Somehow a morning drive into Kingston to drop off the Red Honda (with its freshly-replaced oxygen sensor) at the shop that had previously failed its auto inspection metastasized into an all-day outing in and around Woodstock. Gretchen had the idea that I could help her friend Susan with her laptop over in Bearsville while we waited for the car and, though this didn't really make any sense considering how far Bearsville is from Kingston. But Gretchen was so excited by the idea that I went along. And this was how I found myself sitting for over an hour in front of laptop. It had suffered through several different experiences of service malpractice, no one of which would have been lethal on its own, but in aggregate had made the machine virtually useless. The most obvious form of malpractice had been educational; nobody, not a single person, had bothered showing Susan how to actually connect to WiFi networks and for some reason the default in Windows is not to do so unless explicitly told to do so (are there really rogue WiFi networks set up only to permit unauthorized access to your computer?). Then there was the problem of Earthlink's email software, which is what Susan uses to check her mail. Some wizard at Geeksquad had decided her WiFi wasn't working because of the Earthlink software and had charged $100 to uninstall it, so now Susan didn't have access to any of her email archives. To fix this problem, my preferred solution would have been to migrate her email to Thunderbird or even a well-understood program like Outlook Express. But Earthlink's mail program is proprietary and there are no easy ways to export mail from its format to something more open. This program is part of Earthlink's desire to be more AOL-like, locking customers into their network with the use of undocumented formats. In the end I was forced to download and install Earthlink's mail program, but perhaps because I didn't install the toolbar and all the other Earthlink crapware, the mail program was convinced it wasn't connected to the internet and refused to do anything. I never did solve this problem, and it was one that ultimately rendered all of that time I'd spent on it a waste.
Meanwhile Susan's brother, who was prevented from returning to Vermont by an ongoing winter storm, was telling Gretchen — in excruciating detail — about how he'd recently quit drinking and joined Alcoholics Anonymous. He'd been dry for only ten days, the shortest amount of time I'd ever heard a former alcoholic proudly proclaim.
At some point the garage called and told us they were failing our car with two new issues that they hadn't mentioned in the last inspection (which we'd paid for). That hardly seemed fair. Gretchen told them she'd had to take the day off work and that she was upset. So a few minutes later someone else from the garage called back and said they were passing the car after all.
Later Susan, her brother, Gretchen and I all had a late lunch at that the Garden Café, that new vegan restaurant in Woodstock. We actually had to wait a couple minutes for a table, which is busy for a Monday afternoon (though it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day).
As we were driving around we continued listening to 10cc, that 1970s band whose greatest hits CD recently arrived in the mail. There was a truely dreadful song comparing life to a minestrone and it gave me a great idea for a radio show: obscure songs from one hit wonders. Gretchen thought to make the show more accesible the corresponding hits should be played immediately after the unknown songs.
When Gretchen eventually picked up the Red Honda, she let the mechanic know that her husband had only required five minutes to replace the oxygen sensor, which had cost him $80 at AutoZone. She wondered why it had been so cheap and easy when the price he'd quoted her had originally been $600 plus labor (though he'd quickly reduced it to $400 when she'd expressed dismay). The mechanic made up some excuse about how the oxygen sensors he gets are better than the kind at AutoZone and have a special must-have warranty. It's unlikely, though possible, that he's right. But if he is, what sense does it make to get a specially-warranted oxygen sensor when the cheap ones are so easy to replace should they go bad? That's like getting expensive flood insurance when your house is perched at the peak of a mountain. (The mechanic's explanation belongs to a class of explanations that are built on conflicting internal logic. A related one describes Heaven as being a perfect place where "we" get to "live" for "eternity." But how can Heaven be perfect if "we" are anything like the way we are on Earth? And if we're not, to what extent can "we" be said to go to Heaven?)
Back at the house, I spent hours hanging the new copper chandelier above the kitchen table. My first attempt had me pulling all the wires from the individual lamps down through a hole at the bottom of the central axis, connecting them all up to a supply line, and then cramming the wire nuts and surplus wire back up into the axis and fastening the nub to the bottom end of the steel wire that supports all the axis segments. But when I fired up the circuit breaker it immediately tripped, signaling a short somewhere inside that compressed mess. I ended up having to take the thing completely apart. I then sanded away a bunch of knifelike pipe burrs I'd negligently left inside the axis and used solvent to get rid of the surplus acid solder flux that was now all over the wires (and eating into my fingers). Putting the axis back together, I worked from the top down, connecting and testing lamps in groups of two until I found the one that was shorting. By around 11pm I could proudly show the thing to Gretchen.
The new chandelier, viewed from the north. The fancy ceiling plate it hangs from was originally covered with plastic gold paint, which I burned away and replaced with copper electroplating.
The new chandelier, viewed from the west.
The chandelier, viewed from below. It can be made to look like a swastika from this angle, something I'd tried to avoid by giving it six lamps instead of four.
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