fixing the pisser
Thursday, June 24 2010
Usually when the power goes out up here on Dug Hill Road, it just winks out and that's it. And if it's off for more than about ten seconds, it will probably remain off all night. Gretchen and I usually treat these outages as festive occasions, since we're forced to light candles and laterns and read books forged from trees.
This morning, though, there was a planned outage. Central Hudson recently installed a brand new telephone pole about a hundred feet from our house along Dug Hill Road. This pole features a fancy new transformer on it, the kind with actual fins so it can radiate heat. The outage allowed the linemen to attach wires to the pole and incorporate it into the power delivery network, making it part of the grid. Ray noted that their conversation (usually underataken with shouts over the whirring machines) had a frantic less-than-professional quality to it, not the sort of the thing to make one confident in their safety record.
With many of my normal activities impossible, I undertook a few gardening projects. First I planted a couple of hydrangeas that Gretchen had recently bought. One went in front of the house (between the front door and the garage) and the other near the recent tree plantings along Dug Hill Road.
Next I set up a place for our garden peas to climb. I cut two long poles from the woods (one hickory, the other oak) and used them to support either end of a panel of wire mesh (the kind with six inch squares used to reinforce concrete). The panel measured about four feet by seven feet, and I decided to mount it vertically instead of horizontally, since we only have four pea plants.
The biggest fix of the day, though, was unclogging my laboratory urinal. For those who don't remember, I have a flushless urinal system with two urinals (one in the laboratory and one in the shop). Everything is made of PVC and the urine flows through a series of tubes to a five gallon bucket filled with leaves outside the northeast corner of the house. When the bucket fills, I bury it deep beneath the garden. One of the consequences of this system is that our broccoli is deep blue-green with vitality. The other is that I rarely need to leave the laboratory. In terms of unconventional household accessories, my flushless urinal system is probably my single most useful and life-changing. I feel sorry for the poor schlubs who can't just piss behind their swivel chairs the way I can.
Recently, though, the funnel-like bowl of the urinal has been slow in draining, indicating that something somewhere along the pipes was blocking the free flow of urine. This might have been cat fur (during various flea crises, I've been known to comb fleas out of the cats and then put the resulting mix, including fur, into the urinal). Or it might have just been accumulations of whatever material crystalizes out of urine. I'd noticed a yellowish material coating the inside of the urinal bowl itself, and it was easy to imagine this being analogous to cholesterol plaques in a coronary artery. The solution seemed obvious: Sodium Hydroxide in the form of Liquid PlumrTM. (I too take offense at that spelling.) Before beginning today's procedure, I routed the urine stream away from the five gallon collection bucket. I didn't want Liquid PlumrTM in the garden.
Suspecting that the clog had formed in the narrowest part of the urinal's plumbing, I dumped Liquid Plumr into a small access portal above where the urinal exits the shop (only a few feet upstream from the collection bucket). Then I tried dumping water down the laboratory urinal. The thing was still plugged. So I dumped Liquid Plumr into the system from the top, removing the check valve and using the resulting hole as an access portal. Some foaming resulted, but the urinal still didn't drain. Interestingly, though, I noticed that the system was draining perfectly okay from the check valve on, meaning that the obstruction, whatever it was, lay inside the urinal itself. None of the channels are especially narrow inside the urinal, though there is one wide-to-narrow transition that was possibly suspect. I've indicated it in this faux-cutaway photograph (where yellow is urine and blue is a floating layer of oil, though I don't actually use floating oil any more). The thing is, the suspect channel is not anywhere near as narrow as this image suggests.
So I continued adding Liquid PlumrTM, this time in the urinal bowl itself. At some point the clot dissolved and the whole system drained. I've never successfully done maintenance on my urinal system without managing to have at least one containment breach, and today's job was no different. As the clot gave way and the bowl drained, fluid shot up out of the portal where the check valve should have been mounted. In an instant I had about a cup of brownish liquid on the floor beneath the urinal. This was a great opportunity to clean that whole area, which (despite my best efforts) gets its fair share of occasional splatters. One of the most aggrieved victims of these splatters is a Windows XP desktop box that I use for occasions when I need to test a hypothetical Windows network. For some reason its steel box has yet to develop any rust spots.
Once I had the messes cleaned up and flows back to the way they'd been three years ago, I flushed over five gallons of water through the system to be sure no Liquid PlumrTM remained. Then I rerouted the output hose into the five gallon bucket of leaves.
This evening Gretchen returned from the city, having had a horrible time at the memorial she'd dragged herself down there to attend.
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