Monday, April 16, 2007

Creativity, genius and toilet repair

Interesting juxtaposition in yesterday's newspaper here. On the front page was a big article about the deplorable state of the studio art teaching building here at Big State U. Apparently the building itself is considered ideal for studio art in that it has loads of space and abundant natural light. Problem is, the building is in such bad shape it's close to condemnation. There is not ventilation system (studio arts often require use of noxious chemicals and/or produces significant amounts of dust), no air-conditioning (the temperature inside can exceed 100F in the Summer), most windows won't open, the electrical wiring is out of code and insufficient to power all the equipment in the building, the internal stairs are in danger of collapse and the plumbing bursts on a regular basis leading to flooding. Renovation estimates run from $30 million upwards. The administration here at Big State U. are in hot pursuit of the state government-mandated Top 20 status and have decided that science and technology should be the focus. So there are no plans to properly fix the studio art building.

In the same newspaper there was a very cool column (also featured here in the LA Times) written by Walter Isaacson, author of the Einstein biography "Einstein: His Life and Universe". In this column Isaacson makes the point that genius is a combination of smarts, rebelliousness and creativity. Creativity. That makes a lot of sense to me. Many of the best scientists I know have a very creative side. My good friend DocStymie springs to mind. A great scientist who happens to also be a musician with the great American novel inside of him (have you started writing it yet Doc?). Other scientists I know paint, sing, play muscial instruments, write and/or lose themselves in fantasy-based computer games. Creativity is key to good science.

So, Big State U., you want to be Top 20? I think perhaps you should fix the studio art building. Pronto.

Now, dear readers, on to toilet repair. Go on, admit it, that's the real reason you're bothering to read this, isn't it. You just want to hear all about my exploits with the poo pipeage. So, in our kids playroom downstairs there's this water stain on the ceiling. It's more or less below the upstairs porcelain throne. It's been there for a while and is slowly getting worse. I recently (Friday night) read an article in a home improvement magazine that pointed out that slow leaks like this one can cause extensive damage to the flooring and joists if left unrepaired. I decided maybe it was time to do something. My first step was to do some internet research. This confirmed what I thought might be the case - the most likely cause of the leak was the wax ring that seals the bottom of the toilet to the waste pipe. This seal is compressed by the weight of the toilet, plus user, forming a tight waterproof ring around the pipe. If however, it wasn't installed correctly, the bolts holding the toilet to the flange that connects to the waste pipe were tightened too much or were too loose, and/or the toilet could rock, this wax seal could develop a leak. Replacing the wax ring is, in principle, very straightforward. Most difficult step appeared to be putting the toilet back with a new ring attached. This has to be done by lining up the two small bolt holes over the bolts in the floor while keeping the toilet fairly level. Step two was to talk to a friend who is something of a home handyman. My main question was could I do this by myself. His answer was maybe, but you're better off with help. So he ended up spending much of the afternoon helping me. Pulling out the toilet was very easy (I remembered to empty all the water first!). That revealed that the old wax ring was in pretty bad shape. That wasn't the worst of it though. Whoever had installed the wax ring had overtightened the bolts holding the toilet down. This had caused the flange to bend and separate from the waste pipe, bending and putting a small hole in the pipe in the process (the likely cause of the leak). The subfloor looked fine though, which is good because that would be a very major repair job (although my friend claims we could handle it over a couple of weekends).

By the way, this isn't as yucky as it might sound. You flush a lot of clean water down that waste pipe, so it's actually pretty clean looking. Thomas Crapper was a clever man. I bet he had a creative side.

Anyway, we ended up having to cut and file the top of the waste pipe to get it level again. We then installed a replacement flange (thank goodness I had help from someone with a clue), and a new wax ring. All in all a very satisfying three hours work. Now we just have to wait a couple of weeks for the ceiling below to properly dry out before I dig out the damaged plaster, patch and seal it. Then we'll have to wait a few more weeks to be absolutely sure there isn't still a slow leak. My friend and I are pretty confident we fixed it though.

Yes, I did wash up. Thoroughly. Several times.

Word of the post:

jux·ta·po·si·tion [juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uhn]

1. an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp. for comparison or contrast.
2. the state of being close together or side by side.
[Origin: 1655–65; < F < L juxtā side by side + F position position]

—Related forms
jux·ta·po·si·tion·al, adjective

For an example, read the above post again.

And now for a music trivia question:

What was Nancy's real name in Rocky Racoon by the Beatles?
(Yes, I'm still on my Beatles kick.)


Goose said...

Her name was Magil, she called herself Lil...

Odyssey said...

Ding! DIng! Ding! A winner. Hmmm, must think of a harder one...

Goose said...

No, no... that one was perfect! (I got it right!)

Well done with the toilet repair... I doubt I'd even remember to empty it before starting!

mouthfulofpancake said...

Would you like a holiday out here? You could be very handy for our house! I'm sure that you don't do "botch" jobs like someone I know and his father......

Odyssey said...

Well, no floods as yet, but only time will tell if it's a "botch job". Of course, if you're paying, I'd happily come out there for a couple of weeks while I'm waiting to find out if my toilet is no longer leaking...

Milo said...

ok, mate, you're too kind. i don't think i can live up to the hype ;o)

good to hear you can fix toliets. Wanna come help me replace a shower? I'm not sure about ripping out the base on a wood subfloor... You sound like you can handle it, though.

and yeah, they should so fix that art building - now.

Odyssey said...

Try - loads of good info and maybe even a description of how to pull out your shower. It's cheaper than getting me to help. :-)