Sunday, September 27, 2009

Minor Plumbing!

After having had all that luck with minor electrical home repair (i.e. removing the damn broken light bulb), I was ready to move into the land of minor plumbing repair.

I needed to replace the mounting gasket on my garbage disposal.

Well, they call it a "mounting gasket." I call it "that little skirt around the opening that keeps bits of food from flying in your face when you run the thing." The previous owners of this place ... well, I don't know exactly what they did to their gasket, but "clean it" wasn't on the list. It was largely shredded, and the bits still in existence were kinda gunky. And that's after I cleaned it. I got pretty sick of holding up a towel for protection every time I ran the disposal, so bought me a new gasket.

There was a single review on Amazon which made it sound pretty easy to replace -- "
fairly easy to replace. But you do have to take the disposal off completely to do this. Mine was pretty simple. Unplug, twist and pull down. Then I removed the old beaten up gasket and replaced it with this."

And when the gasket came, there were three-step instructions on the back. Sure enough: (1) Turn off power and unlock quick-release; (2) pull disposal down and replace gasket; (3) put disposal back up and lock quick-release. I can do this.

Except it actually had an extra step in there before (1). It was "After disconnecting disposal from plumbing..." Eep.

I investigated how to do this on the internet. If you google the problem, you'll get this video which shows you exactly how to do it. And in the video, the guy actually accidentally breaks off the entire PVC plumbing unit with his wrench. Yeah, that's gonna fill me with confidence.

So. Today's the day. Turned off breaker (then discovered the unit was plugged in, so unplugged it, too -- I am so not getting electrocuted, or ground up). Found the place where the PVC attached to the disposal unit. It was attached with a single screw. Directly facing the back of the cabinet. Crawled in there with a short screwdriver, a mirror, and a mini-Maglite in my teeth. Unscrewed screw. Pipe came out. Hooray! I have now disconnected it from the plumbing.

Now, to unscrew the amusingly-named Quick-Release. This dude's website was quite helpful in explaining what I had to twist and where. It's almost like removing a light fixture from your ceiling to change the bulb. See, the mounting part of the disposal (attached to your sink) has three little ramps around it. And, sitting round the neck of the disposal itself is a ring with three little tabs on it. If you're installing it, you want to line it up so that each tab is at the bottom of a ramp, and then turn it so the tabs run up the ramps, thereby holding your disposal onto your sink. (There's hooks next to each tab for grabbing and turning it.) I, of course, had to reverse the process.

And it might twist real easily if you're dealing with a new unit, but mine was old and rust-covered. The helpful website suggests, "If a disposer needs to be removed, simply tapping on the [hook] with a hammer will quite easily loosen the lower mounting ring." Right church, wrong pew. It was more a case of pounding it with the hammer until it swung all the way off and disconnected (little bits of rust flying off with each pound).

Finally, it disconnects!

Nobody warned me about the smell. People, it's gonna smell. Awful. Vile. I don't even want to know what's living in there, but I now know what to do with all those lemons from my tree. Seriously, man, a lemon a week.

So I'm up to "remove old gasket."

OK, I may be all tough tool-using handy-person here, but I actually put my hands in sandwich bags so I wouldn't have to touch this thing, then ran it over the trash saying, "ew ew ew ew ew" (like I do when I've smashed a large bug and am taking it to the bathroom for a burial at sea).

Put on shiny new gasket. Held disposal up and tried to line up the (alleged) quick release mounting thing. Website says, "
This is kinda tricky because it's difficult to get all 3 tabs to catch on the ramps while simultaneously holding the disposer up with one hand. Having a helper makes this easier."

Yeah, somehow the gasket instructions (and the Amazon review) left this out. I hold the disposer up, bang the hook with the hammer and ... one tab caught. Great. I drop it back down, stop, breathe, briefly consider calling a friend for help, but soldier on.

Line it up, bang the hook and ... they all seem to be caught. Check with the mirror and ... yes! They're all there! Hooray!

Pound the damn thing until it's good and tight. Yay! Just reattach to the plumbing, flip the breaker and ...

Reattach to the plumbing. The disposal plumbing opening is a good half-inch away from where it ought to be. I need to rotate the disposal. Didn't the website say something about this? Ah yes, "Before tightening, the disposer may need to be
rotated so the drain opening points toward the drain pipe." Hammer it halfway loose (not all the way -- don't want to unhook the damn thing again), rotate the disposal. Line up pipe. Attach screw.

This, too, has to be done twice, as I figure out exactly where that the little metal connector plate is supposed to be after I tighten it the first time. Hammer the "Quick Release" thing back into place. Plug it in, flip the switch. Disposal works! No water dripping under the sink!

Yes! I am the goddess of minor home repair!!

(Putting back my tools, I hammered in a loose pin on a door hinge. Because I can.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On Your Mark ... Let's Start...

... the Family Feud!

I'll admit it. I've been watching Family Feud lately. And not the current ones either -- the old 1970s reruns with Richard Dawson.

They're brilliant. It's a freakin' time capsule. Every question begins with, "We asked 100 people ..." We've got a perfectly good record of what people were, in general, thinking back then.

I think I first noticed how time-sensitive Family Feud was when I caught an episode where one of the questions was, "Name a color of carpeting," and the number one answer was "Green."


Of course, not all the questions are little insights into the thought-processes of the 1970s. I mean, when they ask, "Name one of the first foods people learn how to cook," the answers I'd give now are the exact same answers that charted then. (Number one: Eggs.)

But last night's rerun was just chock-full of little 1970s tidbits. One of the questions was, "Name the most important quality for a primary school teacher to have." The answers that charted weren't all that significant (Number one: Patience), but what really got me were the answers given by one of the families. They said things like, "She should have kids of her own." Richard Dawson commented that it was interesting that all the women in the family assumed the teacher was female. But when the next question came up, Dawson asked, "Name something a rich man would have installed in his car," without even considering that there'd be such a thing as a rich, car-driving woman. (And, of course, nobody in the room bats an eye at the idea -- now insanely offensive -- that someone's teaching ability is in any way tied to whether they've procreated.)

OK, now set those gender issues aside and look at, "Name something a rich man would have installed in his car." Number one answer: A telephone. Number three answer: A television.

I mean, sure. I watched Life on Mars.* I can well appreciate how much tech we have now that we didn't have 30 years ago, and how devices we pretty much take for granted weren't even dreamt of back then.

But somehow, it still knocked me off guard that stuff that nearly everyone has (or could have as a reasonably priced option) is stuff that, 30 years ago, was considered a pricey, excessive, luxury item.

And we all had green carpet.

*The good, British one -- not the crap U.S. copy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Weird Moments in Cat Ownership

I've (repeatedly) mentioned the cat.

I've also mentioned the collar, and speculated (it's so hard to know with cats) that she may actually like it.

This morning, Jasmine was lying on her perch. And I saw something on the floor beside said perch. Upon examination, said item was revealed to be her collar. It's a quick-release collar that is designed to snap open if you pull on it hard enough. (Cat collars are designed to either snap open or stretch open, in case the cat gets them caught on something. This prevents the cat from strangling itself with its own collar.) And clearly Jasmine figured out how to release it. Well, there goes that. No more cat collar.

I picked it up, snapped it back together.

OK, here's the weird part: Jasmine stood up and lifted her head at me, like she wanted me to put the collar back on her. And then she stood still while I did.

Went to work; came home -- collar still on cat, even though she now knows how to remove it.

I'm stunned. Had I known she'd like the collar so much, I wouldn't have waited for six years (and a massive fire too close for comfort) to try one on her.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

As Easy As Changing a Lightbulb

Damn near every time I try to change a lightbulb in this house, it breaks off and leaves the base in the fixture.

I've only rarely had this problem in the past. Like, once in my entire electricity-filled life. But once I moved into the house, it has happened at least four times. I can think of only three possible causes for this:

1. The people who lived here before me bought the world's crappiest lightbulbs.
2. The people who lived here before me tightened their lightbulbs with power tools.
3. Lightbulb technology is seriously falling down on the job.

Today, I had three bulbs to change, and, wouldn't you know it, one of them came off in my hand, leaving its base in the fixture. And guess which light bulb it was, too? Here, multiple choice:

The hallway fixture; the kitchen fixture; or the kitchen canister light. Yes, of course, it would be the one embedded in the ceiling.

Now, in the past, removing the remnants of lightbulb base has required -- (no, not a potato -- first, I don't have a potato -- second, I am not much for jamming a tuber into an electical socket) -- a pair of pliers, some tweezers, and screwdrivers of varying size. I've ended up picking away at the leftover lightbulb innards (spraying them all over the floor) and bending/peeling the base away from the socket until it finally comes out. Takes at least a half hour and makes a big mess.

Last time this happened, I searched the interwebs for a Broken Lightbulb Remover Device (there is such a thing), but I also found some directions on how to do this (correctly) with the tools already at my disposal. One is to take one's needle-nose pliers, put them inside the remaining base, open them so that they're grabbing on the base tightly from the inside, and rotate (in a "lefty-loosey" fashion).

Didn't think I'd get a chance to take this method for a test-drive so quickly, but clearly, I did.

It's slightly less messier than my prior bend-and-peel-the-damn-thing-out-of-there method. Largely because the pliers can't get a grip on the inside of the empty base until the base is, in fact, empty, so bits of leftover glass and whatever the hell else is still inside the base (hardened bulb glue?) come raining down on you. But once the glass storm is over and the pliers get a grip in there ... the base turns! It comes right out! I was insanely excited by this -- not only did getting that base out of there take no more than a minute or two -- advice I'd read on the internet actually worked! This is, indeed, a stunning development.

We will skip right over the fact that I'd bought the wrong size replacement bulbs.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


(Good Lord, it's another political post. I never do that. But I can't seem to get this out of my head.)

I saw, on a random message board the other day, a post from someone who was peeved because she saw a woman use food stamps to purchase soda. And she thought, basically, "why are my tax dollars buying junk food for this woman?" She wasn't opposed to the concept of food stamps or anything, but was fairly miffed that the food stamps were being used for something unhealthy.

And I had a lot of thoughts about this, most of which could be summed up as "STFU."

Let's start with the basics -- which are that it's probably embarassing enough for this woman to be using food stamps, she doesn't need you judging the food in her shopping cart. And what do you know of her life, anyway, to be making these snap judgments? Maybe she's bribing her kid to do his homework with soda. Maybe her kid is having some friends over and she wants to supply something to drink other than tap water. (Or should the kid be humiliated for parental poverty, too?)

And where does it end, really? OK, fine, she shouldn't use food stamps for soda. What about breakfast cereals? Are Fruit Loops out? Only whole grain things acceptable? Oh, and I assume she should be buying the generic stuff, rather than the brand name. I mean, if she's spending our tax dollars for her food, we really shouldn't have her wasting it on name brands, now, should we?

Any restrictions would be largely impossible to enforce anyway. I mean, if you could only use food stamps for plain wrap healthy foods, do you know what would happen? (I do.) There would be a huge secondary market for food stamps. Hell, I saw this phenomenon in practice when I was in Junior High school. At that time, a school lunch cost, oh, I think it was 85 cents -- or, if you got assistance, it would cost a lunch ticket. Now, I wasn't on assistance, so I paid my 85 cents for the nice, (somewhat) healthy hot lunch. And sometimes, I'd forget my lunch money. And I knew that if I scraped together 50 cents (the standard going rate), I could buy a lunch ticket off one of the kids on assistance. (I even knew the particular lunch table to go to in order to find the kids who were selling.) I'd get my hot lunch for 50 cents; and the seller would get 50 cents which they would inevitably use to buy two candy bars at the student store. It seemed win-win at the time, although something about it seemed not-quite-right enough to me that I'd only do it when I forgot my lunch money -- as opposed to some other kids who bought a cheap lunch ticket every day. Point is: if you tell people they can't use food stamps for the stuff they want to buy, they'll sell those food stamps at a cut rate to someone who wants to buy food-stamp-approved products, and use the cash to buy what they want to buy. Better, I think, to just let them use food stamps for a somewhat broader array of food -- because, y'know, if the kids on assistance could've used their lunch tickets for 85 cents worth of whatever food they could get, they never would have sold them to me for 50 cents -- and the kids who could afford it would have been forced to pay the full 85 cents for our lunches.

But the real point -- besides not knowing the full story and restrictions being unenforceable -- the real point is just this... and I don't think I fully grasped it until Law School. Here's the thing about welfare, food stamps, and other government assistance programs. You could make applying for aid as difficult and humiliating as you want (and we do -- did you know they write the aid application forms to something like an 11th grade reading level?); you could add every sort of requirement that you want (limit the time on assistance, require them to look for jobs); but whatever you do, at some point, you're going to find someone who just isn't moved. They're not humiliated into getting off aid; they refuse to look for work; and that's just it.

And you have to ask yourself: Self, am I going to let this person starve to death because they won't follow our rules? Or is there a basic level of assistance that we are going to supply to even the jerkiest of aid recipients so we don't have to deal with the shame of people starving to death in our streets? Because, ultimately, that's what it's going to come down to -- someone who refuses to play along with our welfare rules, and just wants to take advantage of the system forever. They're using us for basic necessities, and we just have to figure out, for ourselves, if we're going to let them do it, or let them, and their children, die.

Look, I'm not a fan of welfare fraud, and I'm certainly not happy with the idea of us indefinitely supporting someone who is capable of working and just doesn't want to. But I know that, for the great bulk of people on aid, they don't want to be there, and they're trying to pull themselves out of poverty. And I know that, for the great bulk of people on aid, it is humiliating, doesn't maintain them at a level of living they'd characterize as "comfortable," and is not at all something they're proud of. And as for the rest of them, I've come to the conclusion that I'd rather keep them alive at the aforementioned uncomfortable way of life than just let them die. It isn't for them; it's for me.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Kevin and Jasmine

Have I mentioned Kevin? Kevin is a massage chair my folks very kindly passed on to me when they traded up for an zero-gravity model. (And, dudes, if you're going to name your computer, you damn well ought to name your massage chair.)

This evening, Jasmine (the feline) was wanting attention. Doing that "meow meow meow meow meow meow" thing where the only thing that will make her stop (not calling her over or offering her a lap) is to get up and chase her around the house. Only, this time, she wanted to get caught. (Yes, calling her over to sit on my lap wouldn't do. I had to chase her, pick her up, and THEN put her on my lap. She's an odd one, my cat.) So (after I lost my Minesweeper game -- and I was on a new record pace, dammit), I chased her, caught her, and sat her on my lap.

Except we were in the other room, so the only place to sit down was Kevin.

I pet Jasmine for a bit, and think, "If I could just reach around to the power switch in back, without upsetting the cat, I could actually turn Kevin on." And I could.

Ever sit on a massage chair with a cat?

Ever sit on a massage chair with a cat wearing a collar?

Basically, Kevin was massaging me and I was massaging Jasmine. But once Kevin got into a more intense "percussion" cycle, I was being moved around, and Jasmine was vibrating right along with me. It got so intense the little bell on her collar was ringing.

(Do you have any idea how difficult it is to write this post without it sounding like soft porn?)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Politics ... once more

Clearly, I need to explain this again...

Dear Politicians:

Stop appealing to your base. Just stop it. Your base will vote for you anyway (and fund you anyway). You need to appeal to the middle.

What's the middle? The people you were appealing to during the election. Remember them? When your platform was trying to get the independent voters, the apathetic non-voters, and the cross-over voters? You weren't talking nonsense to appeal to your base, but trying to appeal to the broadest possible section of the public.

Here's the thing: Republicans, when we vote for you, it's because we're feeling fiscally conservative. Fiscally, not socially. Democrats, when we vote for you, it's because we're feeling socially liberal. Socially, not fiscally. Got that? Good.

So, let's try an exercise where we apply these ideas. Democrats, you've been voted into power. Now, I realize that you haven't held Congress and the White House for some time, so there's an awful lot of agenda you'd like to get to in order to satisfy the base. Resist that. Let's try to keep some campaign promises, shall we? How are we doing on that Closing Guantanamo thing? The Ending the Iraq War thing? Whatever happened to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell? -- hell, that one would probably save money. Where's the Freedom of Choice Act? What about expanding funding for scientific research and restoring science to its rightful place? Do some of the stuff that we elected you for -- undo some of the things the Republicans did to appeal to their base -- rather than going off on stuff that appeals to your base and makes centrists a bit nervous that they'd voted you into power.

Republicans, you're not in power right now, so your task should be to explain to the middle (remember? those are the people you'll want to vote for you in the next election) why they made a mistake in putting Democrats in power. Don't be riling up your base over nonsense like death panels, mandatory circumcision or the President speaking to our schoolchildren to indoctrinate them with Communist Ideals -- this sort of nutjobbery is why we voted you out in the first place. Just stand there and beat the crap out of that economic drum. Why get people incensed over stuff that isn't even in the Health Care bill when you've got a perfectly good basis to challenge it in the fact that it will cost a trillion dollars over ten years, and maybe a stalled economy with a massive deficit isn't exactly the time to go spending a thirteen-figure number on a totally untested health care plan.

Yes, I know, silly me. I'm expecting you to be rational -- and to think that the American public is rational too. Give it a shot; we may surprise you.

Cat Doping Update

I've done the liquid antibiotic thing three times, and each time got the wild mouth reaction, and I now have a tentative conclusion on what's going on.

I think she doesn't like the antibiotic, but I think her little walnut-sized brain hasn't figured out that the best way to keep me from giving her the antibiotic is to keep her mouth closed. Here's what I think is happening: I've refrigerated the medicine to eliminate the bitter taste. So, it's cold. I fill the dropper with medicine and place the cold glass dropper next to her mouth. Cat does not like a cold glass dropper next to her mouth, so her feline reflexes kick in and she tries to bite it. Thereby opening her mouth and facilitating my plan. Bwah ha ha.

Just as long as she doesn't run and hide from me when I take out the medicine in the first place, I think we can get through this.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Drugging the Cat, Day One

I put the ointment on the cat's chin. No fight there, so I figured I'd give the oral antibiotic a try.

It's given via dropper. You just fill the dropper with the liquid and, well...

... the vet had said you just stick it right behind the big pointy teeth. She'd even sort of demonstrated -- although she had one hand holding the cat's head so tight her little eyes were bugging out, and her other hand opened the cat's mouth. The hypothetical dropper must have been in her third hand.

I had the cat's head in the crook of my arm while I loaded up the dropper. (I realized then that leaving the uncapped bottle on the floor nearby was probably not the greatest idea -- if she fled, she'd probably knock it right over.) OK, now, how to open the kitty mouth exactly? Is there a release button somewhere I don't know about?

I put the dropper tip in the general vicinity of where it ought to go. Side of the cat's mouth, it a spot which I guessed was behind the teeth. Hoped she'd open eventually, because I couldn't figure out how to pry the jaws open with ... no free hands at all, actually.

Cat mouth opened. I inserted the dropper and, actually, the rest was something of a blur. Liquid squirting into cat's mouth; cat's mouth moving this way and that, highly energized. And open. Wide open.

I can't swear to this, and I expect further doses will prove or disprove the theory, but it seemed like she actually liked the stuff. I'm guessing it's 'cause it's hot as hell now, and I've kept the medicine in the refrigerator -- but the reaction seemed like an attempt to get the cool liquid all over her mouth and slurp it all up.

It would be awfully nice if this continues.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cat Zits

Yes, I know -- I'm blogging my cat's medical problems. I'm sure you're all fascinated.

Upon returning from my trip, I discovered that my cat's chin was irritated. And dirty. And there was some dried blood involved. I tried to clean it, but that didn't go all that well. I gave it a few days to clear up on its own. It didn't. I called the vet. They said, "It sounds like chin acne." Not an emergency, but I'd need to bring her in. It took another week to get the appointment.

So, I brought Jasmine in this afternoon. She cried all the way to vet; got very stressed and nervous in the waiting room (20 minutes or so); and was standing in the corner hissing at the vet by the time the vet came in to see her. Vet approached like she was walking toward an itty bitty tiger. Somehow got Jasmine in her hands, took a peek under the chin and reported: yep, cat zits.

She took Jas into the other room, shaved her widdle chin, and cleaned it -- this revealed that the acne was rather more severe than the vet had originally thought. I'll have to apply kitty zitty ointment twice a day, and give her an antibiotic. (Says the vet: the antibiotic has a bitter taste; if you refrigerate it, the cat might like that better -- but you don't have to refrigerate it. The antibiotic is now in my fridge.)

I asked if cat acne just happens, or if there was a cause, so that I could blame the cat sitters for this. Vet said it pretty much happens. Although, after I mentioned that the cat barfed a bit while I was away and was pretty clingy when I got back, the vet thought that the acne might have been caused by stress 'cause I was gone.

Shit. It's not supposed to be my fault.

Knock wood and all that

Looks like they've safely moved the Southeastern edge of the fire into uninhabited areas. It's still a ten-mile front, which is just scary in a purely objective sense, but it doesn't look like there's much life at risk -- nor any risk to my area of town, which is all good.

I note the two good things which have come from this fire:

1. I learned that LA County has a Reverse 911 system (to send out robocalls in the event of an emergency) but that, since I have no actual landline, I needed to register for it. I now have my MagicJack, cellphone, and email address all linked up to the Reverse 911 -- so I'll totally be notified in the event of an actual emergency.

2. Got a collar for the cat. She's been chipped all along, but the safety provided by the chip -- should she get out -- is dependent upon the person finding her taking her to Animal Control to get her scanned. Which sort of means they have know the possibility exists (which I didn't, before I got the cat). Now the cat has a collar and a tag, so if she happens to flee out an open door, anyone finding her will know she's not a stray, and will be able to call me. And the cat has gotten used to it in, really, no time. Even the bell. I think she likes that she now provides her own soundtrack.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Fire Update

House still currently not on fire. Nor evacuated.

It's apparently a good thing to live (more or less) due South of Mt. Wilson, as dramatic efforts have been made to stop the flames reaching it.

Today is probably the day of biggest concern for me, as, according to the LA Times, "
This morning, the biggest concern is the eastern flank of the fire, which is moving in the mountains north of Altadena, Pasadena and Sierra Madre." The mountains north of Pasadena, in this sentence, are the mountains closest to me. The distance in question -- from where the mountains stop to my front door -- is about a mile. The area is pretty well populated -- meaning that hundreds of homes (and a school) would have to be lost before mine would be, and, so far, firefighters have been amazingly good about keeping the fire away from homes off the mountains. Depending on how close the fire gets to the edge of the mountains, though, I imagine it's conceivable that I could be evacuated, which has sorta been my concern all along.

As I leave for work this morning, I'll tell my cat what I've told her for the past few days: "If there's a problem, sink your claws into the nearest firefighter and don't let go."