Thursday, January 15 2009
At some point I came down to the living room and was alarmed to see that a smouldering log had rolled out of the woodstove. It hadn't gone far, coming to a stop atop some kindling I'd piled on the pedestal in front of the stove's doors. Obviously, this could have been a disaster in several ways: had the kindling not been there, the log could have made it to the floor and set the ottoman (and thus Wilma the cat) on fire. Or, had the log been more aggressively ablaze, it could have set the kindling on fire. It was fortunate that I hadn't been away from the stove for long, but unfortunately now it was going to be hard for my inner obsessive compulsive self to, well, leave the stove for long. Clearly what had happened was that I'd failed to completely latch the woodstove's doors when I'd last added wood. But how would I ever be completely sure they were latched now? So, for peace of mind more than anything, I immediately went out to the garage and fabricated myself a little latch from blank steel. I attached it to the handle of the woodstove's lid, where it pivots and catches the front the door latch with a hook. I can snap the whole thing together and walk away in complete confidence that those doors won't just swing open. It adds a lot of fuss and bother to maintaining the fire without adding that much actual security. But it adds just enough of the latter to let me to be able to leave the house, which is very important.
Later I dealt with another crisis, this one brought on by persistent insanely cold weather. At some point this summer I'd added an overflow bucket to my two-urinal urine plumbing system to catch urine whenever the outdoor part (the bucket of leaves or sawdust) froze up. The overflow bucket is in the garage, which never fell below freezing last year. But today I noticed that urine in my laboratory urinal was backing up, meaning it wasn't even able to reach the overflow bucket. Eventually I determined that the piss in the PVC plumbing had frozen solid at the point where it exits the garage (which is functionally upstream from the overflow bucket). It wasn't frozen too solidly and all I had to do was release some air from a T-fitting to get the fresher, warmer urine down to the frozen part (where it could thaw the clog and create a massive outpouring of wee wee into the long-suffering overflow bucket). Before I'd tried the T-fitting, though, I'd tried directly plunging the urinal in the laboratory (using a plastic gin bottle and plastic bag as a plunger). This technique hadn't worked very well and I'd found myself cleaning up the kind of mess that gives do-it-yourself flushless urinal systems a bad name.
As it turns out, I hadn't been the only one dealing with technical difficulties in frigid conditions. This afternoon a pilot flying a passenger jet from La Guardia to Charlotte, NC had sucked up Canada Geese into both his engines and had been forced to ditch in the Hudson River off Manhattan. In the process he pulled off an impressive (and rare, though not unprecedented) feat: a no-fatality passenger jet ditching in water. Reports had it that a few people came very close to dying from exposure to the exceptionally cold winter conditions, but there was so much help on hand from the moment of the ditching that no one was exposed for long.
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