Wednesday, December 5, 2007

That nagging feeling...

You know the one. You know something is wrong but you just can't quite put your finger on it? Yeah, that nagging feeling.

For the last several days, I kept noticing this funny smell, concentrated in the main floor den area. Now, when I say funny I don't mean funny ha ha, I mean more like "Geez, that's funny, what the hell is that." Followed by sniffing everything in the house like some demented bloodhound with a coke habit. I've got a very big house, so that's a lot of sniffing. It made me dizzy. And I still couldn't find the source. I was starting to think it was in my head, and that would be, well, you know, non-optimal.

Just a whiff of corruption, every once in a while. The den is next to the garage. Now I do keep the garbage in the attached garage during the summer (it's Alaska, there are bears. Big ones. Garbage is a lot like the Golden Coral Buffet for bears, low low prices and all you can eat. Bears will come from miles around to pony up the garbage buffet. Bears in the yard are bad. They might make friends with your kid, as if he doesn't already have enough bad influences in his life. It hasn't been cold enough, long enough to make absolutely certain that all the bears are in hibernation yet - so garbage, garage. Savvy?) (and don't weird out over it. I put it in big heavy plastic bags, I don't just throw it out there in a heap next to the car, sheesh) I make a run to the dump every other week or so, and the most recent run was last weekend. There's no garbage in the garage. Plus I couldn't detect the weird smell in the garage, so that wasn't it.

Cat box maybe. As I've mentioned before I have a robot self-cleaning cat box. I modified it (read made it a lot bigger) so that it only needs to be attended to once a week or so. I set a reminder in Outlook so that I don't forget. But every once in a while, it gets hung up. The box is in the basement, the cats get down there through a cat door in the den which leads to a catwalk (heh, get it?) and cat ladder in the basement storage room. No mess, no fuss, no cat box in the living spaces. But it didn't smell like that either, and when I checked, the robot was shoveling shit in perfect mechanical bliss. So that wasn't it.

It also wasn't the dog kennel, which is under the sunroom. And it wasn't in the furnace room, which is under the den. And it wasn't the drain vents in the den bathroom. That funny little smell was starting to make me insane.

That's about the time I noticed that the carpet in the sunroom was damp just inside the door to the den. Now that's not a particularly strange thing, I have an eleven year old son, odd stains and damp spots appear mysteriously throughout the house like soggy poltergeists. There wasn't any point in asking the kid about the damp spot either, because as you know the only response from an eleven year-old to such an inquiry is 'I dunno.' Shrug. 'Can I have a snack?'

This was two days ago. The damp spot didn't get any drier, in fact today, ominously, it began to get wetter and bigger. Uh oh, says I to myself, that can't be good. I'd have probably realized what was going on earlier, but we keep the sunroom closed during the month of December. Because that's where we put the Christmas tree. And as you may have inferred from the cat box reference above, we have cats (I mean otherwise, what's the point?) Two of them. Big ones. With bad attitudes. And like bears are drawn to garbage, so these two evil little demons are drawn to the Christmas tree. The tree is one of those fiber-optic jobbers, expensive and something my wife has wanted for years. Cats and electric trees don't mix, at least not more than once. So, the sunroom stays closed off, and so I didn't really realize what was going on until today.

It's the humidifier.

We heat with gas, we also have a gas fireplace in the sunroom, and wood burning fireplace in the living room - so the house tends to be a little, uh, dry in the winter (yeah, like the Sahara Desert, which I've been to, so I know). We have a 'whole house' humidifier in the central heating unit, which was a completely non-functional, calcium encrusted mess when we bought the house (because the previous owners had never heard of either water filters or annual maintenance, apparently). I probably should have just replaced it with a new unit, but I tend to regard such things as a challenge (OK, and I'm a cheap bastard), so I refurbished it and got it working. Nowadays it runs great, but because it's an older unit, it's not quite enough to keep the whole house at the proper humidity level. So we supplement with a unit in the den. And that beast has been, apparently, leaking like a Russian nuclear submarine.

I didn't realize what was going on because the water was seeping through the carpet under the humidifier, and then spreading beneath the carpet. It wasn't until water started saturating the den carpet and soaking through that I noticed it (other than the weird smell that is).

On one hand, I'm happy that I've finally figured it out. On the other hand, I've spent the last three hours sucking water out of a hundred square feet of carpet with the steam cleaner (of course I own a steam cleaner, a big one, I've got cats, dogs, and that kid I mentioned above. Pay attention) and placing fans to circulate air. And on the gripping hand, tomorrow I have to rip the humidifier apart and find out what's leaking and fix it if I can.

And yet, there's a bright spot to everything. I now have clean carpets, and even better, I find myself thoroughly amused at the cats as they attempt to levitate over the damp carpet. Their dismay and utter distaste for the wet floor just might make the whole thing worth it.


  1. You kill me. "A demented bloodhound with a coke habit."

    Plus, I think the "I dunno...can I have a snack?" response is genetically encoded in boys. The only thing that changes as they age is the frequency and volume of the snacks.

  2. The frequency and volume of snacks.

    Yeah, I'll buy that. The kid is like a vacuum cleaner, he'd eat 5 pound of mashed potatoes if I'd let him - and then want a snack fifteen minutes later.

  3. Wait until he starts his teen growth spurt. I was stunned at the sheer volume of food that can put away by a teen-age boy. I have no brothers, so had no previous experience.

  4. Yep, that's just starting to happen now. It's amazing.

  5. On the other good hand, with water spread out over such a vast surface area of your home, lack of humidifying shouldn't be a problem for a while.

  6. Nathan, well, yeah if you like that soggy carpet smell. It's still damp this morning and I've sucked another 1/2 gallon of water up with the steam cleaner. Fortunately, it appears the the underlayment and subfloor have not been damaged, at least as far as I can tell. The carpet pad is probably a lot worse for wear though.

    The "Gripping Hand" reference comes from Niven and Pournelle's sequel to the Mote in God's Eye. Moties had three hands, one hand, the other hand, and the gripping hand. Hence the name of the sequel: The Gripping Hand. Both are two of my favorite books.

  7. Yeah, Nathan, get with the program.

  8. Yeah, looks like I'm going to have to send Nathan a book.

    Of course, if he hasn't read Mote and Gripping Hand I'm not sure I want to know him


  9. Biff, Jesus' childhood friend is on his way to you Jim. (The guy at the mailing place saw the Alaska address and I had to reassure him, that "Yes, the USPS delivers there".)

    And, no, I've never even heard of Mote and The Gripping Hand. If one landed in my mailbox, I'd be happy to remedy the situation.

  10. Ha! Yeah, we get that a lot.

    I also get the following two questions on a regular basis:

    "What kind ur money do ya'll use up ter?"

    "What language do ya'll speak in Alasker?"

    Also, very common to get the following response from retailers:

    "We regret to inform you that we cannot ship outside of the United States."

    I normally have a simple two word response for these folks, but I'll leave that up to your imagination.

    I cannot believe that you haven't read The Mote in God's Eye. It's one of the best pieces of scifi ever written. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle at the pinnacle of their skill. The Gripping Hand doesn't flow quite as smoothly, but it's also a masterwork. I'd send you a copy of both if I can find them (I've got several copies of each), but my books are in boxes awaiting the new selves in the rec room. I'd still be glad to send them to you when I find them, but that may be a while. You can probably find them for cheap much quicker at your local used book store (there's a few of those in New York, right? Heh).

    Anyway, looking forward to Biff. Thanks again, Nathan.

  11. Ohhhhhhh! The old, I'll send you those books but they're in a box in the basement and there's other boxes on top of those boxes and there's a bear hibernating next to the boxes and theres a beartrap at the top of the stairs I don't want to step in and there's phiranhas at the bottom of the stairs and a fuggly smell coming from somewhere and tsetse flies bearing malaria and did I mention phiranhas and I'll get right on that but you may as well get yer ass over to a used bookstore in your own f'ing neighborhood cause it ain't gonna happen til the spring thaw, the one in aught 9 excuse.


  12. Oh for crying out loud, you big baby. Send me your address and I'll slog down the there and find the books. It's the least I can do.

    Seriously, drop your address via email and I'll see what I can do. Just for you Nathan, because I might need a job someday.

  13. Thanks for the info about the Mote in God's Eye, and Gripping Hand. I passed them both in the used bookstore a few months back, because "Lucifer's Hammer" was so dang longwinded I didn't get into the book before I lost it. (3 kids, it probably ended getting Kool-Aid spilled on it and thrown away so Daddy didn't find out)

    I'll either go pick them up, or make Nathan send me the soggy Alaskan set when he's done. :)

    Speaking of bears -- I just read "Right to Arm Bears" by... Um... Gordon Dickson. It's one of those repackaged collection of smaller books, but a fun read nonetheless. It seems like it would be required reading for Alaskans. If you haven't read it, I'd suggest looking it up.

  14. I haven't read Gordon Dickenson in a long time. I'll look it up.

    Mote is one of my very favorite books. I liked Lucifer's Hammer, but I agree it's long winded as hell. Mote is different and for me it was extremely interesting because of the naval theme (space navy but still). They had the military down pat, which I guess figures since Pournelle was an Army Officer in Korea and his son is USN Academy grad and active duty Navy Officer. Loved the moties. The gripping hand is a bit different, less military, more of the empire, and a different view of the moties.

    Like I said, two of my favorite books.

  15. I love how you relate the complexities of your life so vividly, Jim.
    Also, thanks for the Mote recommendation. I grew up with a mum who read sci fi, so I'm familiar with the names, but there seems like so much I don't really know what to read next. I also read Lucifer's Hammer (or was it the other comet-catastophe book, whatever it's called) and found it good, but long-winded. In fact, I think I was listening to it on audio tape/CD while working on a school project, so to notice it was long-winded and I was doing something else at the time is pretty remarkable.

  16. Well, like they say, Anne, it's not the joke, it's how you tell it.

    Truthfully, when I got done with this post I looked at it and said "Oh for Pete's sake, this is a post about a broken humidifier. What the hell are you doing? At the very least figure out a way to blame it on George Bush for crying out loud!"

    And the other comet book was Footfall. Which is the alien invasion story they set out to tell with Lucifer's Hammer and got sidetracked into comet disaster by their editor.


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