Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   troubles with glass
Thursday, May 9 2019
Since Alex, the guy I report to, would be working remotely today, I thought I'd do the same. So I set up my work laptop on the kitchen table with my fancy high-resolution travel monitor (which I use at its native resolution even though it makes desktop icons something like a quarter inch wide). I'd had a little too much to drink last night, so I was nursing what I would consider a mild hangover. Hangovers are just easier to get at this age, a reality to which I am gradually adapting.
For my first breakfast, I'd had a cup of red bean soup Gretchen had brought home last night from The Garden Café. Later I made myself a couple pieces of toast using sour dough wheat bread from Bread Alone. That must've been unusually gummy, because evidently as I ate it, my only molar crown (adjacent to the wisdom tooth on the top right side) came loose and then broke into bits when I crunched down on it. At first I didn't know what had happened and thought perhaps the craggy remnants of the adjacent wisdom tooth had broken loose. But then I felt around and found a large void had opened up next to it. I would spend much of the rest of the day using my tongue to explore the new reality in my mouth, but otherwise it wouldn't affect me much. That tooth had received a root canal, so there was little pain coming from it, though it was nevertheless sensitive to cold beverages for some reason.

It has been unusually rainy of late, even for this time of year. Today, though, the forecast was predicted to be cool and cloudy without any rain until after dark. And there wasn't much of a wind to contend with. So I thought I'd take advantage of being home to do the glass installation on my big custom hydronic solar panel, the one that measures five by twelve feet and lives on a custom deck above the laboratory at the north end of the house. A quick recap on that panel goes as follows: I built it in the fall of 2005, initially glazing it with different forms of plastic sheeting. Within a year, I replaced that plastic with four panes of eighth inch glass. Despite a few mishaps, that glass has survived ever since. But back in December, a freakish wind storm managed to break the two westmost panes, and the panel has been under a tarp ever since.
The first step in the glass replacement was to remove the tarp and then clean up what I found beneath it. There were still a few large pieces of glass where the panes had shattered, though most of the small pieces had rained down into the bushes east of the house, and I'd already cleaned all of that up. I also had to remove random bits of detritus, mostly in the form of insect corpses, some of which had been bleached to a uniform beige after weeks or months of exposure to heat and sunlight. As I did this, I realized the galvanized steel that forms a collection surface for the pipes could benefit from another coat of high-temperature black spray paint. This meant I would have to go get some. (Though perhaps part of what was going on here was that I was procrastinating the installation of the glass panels themselves.) This was what took me to the Herzog's in Uptown. While there, I also bought some expensive aluminum gutter brackets that I thought I might be able to rework as clips to secure the glass panes in place.
Back at the house, Gretchen had returned after a presentation she'd made at the Woodstock Day School, and I announced that I was finally working on the glass pane installation project. Gretchen offered to help, and, given the unwieldy nature of a piece of glass measuring five feet by three feet, I said such help would be welcome. Mind you, over the years, I've installed six such panes into the solar panel, and I've always done it on my own. But a couple extra hands could definitely come in handy.
After a few aborted attempts, Gretchen and I found the best way to raise a pane of glass from the laboratory deck to the solar deck was for me to get below it and slide it up along the side rails until it was high enough for Gretchen to grab from above on the solar deck. I'd continue to raise it until Gretchen could maneuver it up onto the solar deck and leaning safely against the balcony rail. Once there, I could carry the pane up a step ladder until its bottom was clear of the top of the solar panel and then lower it, keeping it as vertical as possible, until it rested on a temporary shelf I'd put in place on the face of the solar panel. From there, I could then caulk up the place were the pane was to go and then slide the glass in place.
That all made sense in theory, but in practice, I quickly ran into problems because I didn't have a good way handy to secure the pane in place after setting it there. I hadn't anticipated this problem, mostly because (it seems) that in the past when I'd installed replacement panes, I'd first lain the panel flat. But the plumbing it is attached to has become too complicated and inflexible for this maneuver. I had some rubber washers backed by big steel washers that I could use to pinch the panel from the side, but I was too nervous to tighten the washers enough to hold the panel. As I struggled to secure the panel, I realized I needed more hands. Fortunately, at the time Gretchen was out on the east deck and could hear me when I called to her. I had her fetch me some small wooden blocks to use as shims between the deck structure and the bottom of the glass, and when these proved insufficiently precise, I had her fetch me a container of actual shims, the kind used when installing doors. Things were going nicely until, when I was installing more steel-washer-backed rubber washers, I evidently overtightened one and, boom, just like that, the beautiful brand new glass pane has a cross running across it about two thirds of the way up. When I reacted in horror, Gretchen had no idea anything bad had just happened. But there it was, a big ugly crack. Despite this setback, I had to forge ahead. There would be rain tomorrow, and I couldn't leave the solar panel uncovered. So I stabilized the panel as best I could (mostly using wooden blocks) and then continued with the installation of the second panel. It fought with me every bit as much as the first one had, though mercifully I managed to avoid cracking it.
By now, the middle-pane had developed a second crack all the way across it only about six inches from the bottom edge, caused (again) by an overtightened washer. While I was off trying to find the perfect block, the block securing the broken-off bottom edge of the middle pane gave way and that bottom piece fell off panel. Miraculously, though, it fell only a couple feet onto a walkable surface and didn't shatter. The two remaining pieces of the middle panel were still flowing downhill and needed to be pushed back up or they too would soon be falling out of the solar panel (possibly with lethal, guillotine-like force), so I did what I could to push them back up the panel and then inserting a block beneath them. But of course I made the mistake of pushing against the blade-like broken-off edge of the glass, which put cuts in my hands that didn't even hurt. Soon my hands were a messy mix of blood and silicone caulk. Once I had things reasonably stable, I went downstairs and did what I could to clean my hands.
At this point, I was feeling utterly defeated. My hands were bleeding and not even paint thinner could get the silicone off my hands. Gretchen could tell that I hadn't eaten in too long, and she insisted that I eat a half of a bagel sandwich she'd made for me. But when I took a tiny bite, I realized I had no appetite at all. If anything, I felt nauseated. That's how badly demoralized the solar panel had made me.
I had begun to wonder if the solar water heating system was a system that should still be maintained. Perhaps the panel was too big and unwieldy for a mere mortal to keep in an operable state. At this point, it's thirteen and a half years old, and the constant exposure to the elements has taken its toll. Much of the wood is warped, and many of the fasteners have rusted away to almost nothing (mostly due to contact with treated wood).
Gretchen made me a smoothie, and I was able to eat that, and once I'd absorbed that and cleaned up (and bandaged) my hands, I climbed back up on the roof to continue the task of at least sealing the panel up before the rains came.
Since the middle panel was already broken into three pieces, I decided to try an experiment. Using a bit designed to drill through glass, I put a hole near the bottom edge of the broken-off bottom-most piece of glass and used that to install a screw holding it securely to the bottom edge of the panel. This seemed to work, and now all the panels were reasonably-secure while the silicone set. I also installed a few screw-secured washers between panels, though this time the intention was not to hold the glass solid against the panel frames but instead to secure it should a wind come through and introduce lift. Now that I think about it, that had probably been the original idea behind these screw-secured washers. I also used some greenhouse tape to seal the two cracks through the middle panel. Who knows how long this fix will remain in place?
Given that there had been nothing except silicone securing the westmost pane along its entire westmost edge, it's actually surprising that it took 13 years for a wind vector powerful enough to left it off. The silicone that had been holding it down had all become detached from the underlying frame, so the only the clips on the tops and bottom of the glass was providing any hold. And the clip on the bottom eventually broke. When I finished today's installation, I put a tight rope all the way around the panel on its west edge.
I wasn't feeling great after this installation, but at least it least it was stable. I gradually started feeling better, especially after taking a bath (which was the only way to get the last of the silicone off my hands.
There was another minor glass disaster in the kitchen this evening when Gretchen accidentally set a bowl of marinading veggies ontop of a drinking glass. The glass exploded into a pile of impressively-tiny pieces, many of them microscopic. That half-bagel sandwich Gretchen had made for me earlier was nearby and might've been dusted with fine glass along the face where it had been cleaved in half. By this point my appetite had recovered, but before eating that bagel, I sliced a thin layer off the possibly-glass-dusted surface and threw it into the weeds east of the house, along with a handful of nuts (which had some shiny flecks visible on them.

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