Saturday, May 16, 2009

Modern Plumbing - Braided Hose Supply Lines

Yes, this is a health issue.
  • It's extremely a mental issue. Think about the problem 20 years ago, and how crazy it made people.
  • The need to supply water to a sink or toilet, reliably, is a health issue too.

Did you ever do any domestic plumbing work, 10 or 20 years ago? Did you ever have to install or upgrade a sink or toilet? If so, I'm sure that you remember installing water supply lines that used "flex" tubing with compression fittings.

Professional plumbers will disagree with me, I'm sure, just as I'm sure that Do It Yourself handymen will agree with me. An install of a water supply line, that used flex tubing with a compression fitting, was an extreme mental exercise.

The object of a water supply line is to transport water from the supply - generally a pipe sticking out of the wall or floor - to a plumbing fixture - generally a sink or toilet. The water being transported is under pressure. If any holes - however miniscule - are present in the supply line, the water will leak out, onto the floor. This is not an acceptable situation.

So, we had the flex tubing. Flex tubing can, and must, be bent when installed.
  • The two fittings - supply and fixture - are never in a straight line with each other. Bending the tubing would compensate for the fittings being out of alignment.
  • Bending the flex tubing, which could be bent but would resist bending, created a "spring" action. This would force the ends of the flex tubing against the fittings at either end, a key ingredient in making a fitting watertight.

Flex tubing can be bent, but not too much. If you bend a piece of flex tubing too much, you'll get 2 bad results.
  • The spring action will break, and you'll have a piece of scrap pipe, useless because it won't force itself against the fittings. The fitting will leak, slowly. This is bad.
  • The walls of the tubing will be weakened, and eventually water will find a way through the walls. You'll get an open break, under pressure. This is very bad.

On the other hand, if you do not bend a piece of flex tubing enough, you'll get two results.
  • The tubing won't fit into place, it will be too long.
  • The fitting won't have spring action, and it will leak.
Again, 2 bad results.

Sizing the length of the tubing was an essential process. The tubing had to be long enough - by tolerance of maybe 1/16" - to fit into the fittings, forced against each fitting end. As sold in stores, you could get maybe half a dozen lengths to choose from. Buying tubing correctly sized to 1/16" tolerances wasn't a possibility, so you would have to buy a large size, and cut the tubing to the correct length. The necessity of cutting the tubing created several possible problems.
  • Since the tubing had to be cut, it had to be installed without a flared end. To compensate for this, you have a compression fitting. This uses a compression washer, and a compression nut, which you tighten against the fitting, to make everything water tight.
  • The tubing has to be cut with a square end, to allow the end of the pipe to fit squarely against the fittings.
  • The tubing has to be cut carefully, so it's not squashed. It has to be exactly round in cross section, or it won't fit inside the fittings, which are precisely round and precisely have an inner diameter equal to the outer diameter of the tubing. Again, this makes the fitting watertight.

When you tighten a compression nut against a fitting, you are only malforming the compression washer, so it forces itself into the fitting, and makes it watertight. You are not contributing to the tightness of the tubing, inside the fittings. The tightness of the tubing is only created by the spring action of the tubing being bent into place.

You have to tighten the compression nut hard enough to malform the washer enough, but not too much. If you tighten the nut, and malform the washer too much, you'll get a broken or flattened washer, or possibly a flattened piece of tubing end. Any of these will detract from the watertightness of the fitting, again a possibility for a leak.

And neither the tubing, nor the compression washers, were reliably reusable. Once you tightened the washer into the fitting, it would somewhat weld itself to the tubing. If you were to remove the tubing to re install it, maybe because a fitting was leaking, you would take off the washer, throw it away, and install another.

Do you see how precisely everything fits together, to make the fitting watertight? This is a serious engineering exercise. A hole so small, that you can't see, will let water seep, and eventually a fitting will burst. Very bad.

Now, we have truly flexible hose, inside a braided armour shell.
  • The flexible hose is like a plain old garden hose, it hangs loosely when it's installed.
  • You buy a length long enough to easily reach between the two fittings, screw the two ends onto the two fittings, the excess length hangs in a loose loop (again, like a garden hose), and you're done.
  • Since you don't have to cut the hose, it comes preassembled with nipple ends, plastic or soft metal.
  • The ends are watertight, so no compression fitting has to be added.
I can't believe it's that simple, but there you are. And that's why this is a mental health issue.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Taro - Toxic When Raw

I'm a Methodist, and I like to cook. Sometimes, I think that the two go hand in hand. As a Methodist, I've picked up some interesting recipes. Recently, and thanks to my church, I developed a variant to my standard Black Bean Soup recipe - Black Bean With Taro Leaf Soup.

Another congregation, which shares the church building with my church, grows taro plants on the lawn of the church. Their growing efforts have been truly inspiring - several dozen good sized plants, each with 2, 4, or 6 good sized leaves. We were told a couple months ago that we should feel free to cut the leaves from the plants, which encourages growth of more leaves and forces the roots to grow (which is the primary goal).

So, once or twice a week recently, I've taken my scissors into the taro patch, and cut 2 or 3 nice leaves to take home home with me. Black bean soup, with taro, is very tasty, and I've now developed a decent recipe.

Now my theory about cooking is that natural cooks always want to know what the food tastes like, and by extension, what each ingredient tastes like. By knowing this, you can sometimes come up with your own recipes, which in my opinion is when you really start being a cook, rather than just cooking.

Not all ingredients which you might use in your recipes should be sampled before cooking, and taro leaf is one of those ingredients. I found this out last night, and not the easy or enjoyable way. But I am still here, and able to write this, so I am thankful for the experience, and for being able to write this. And, I am thankful for the California Poison Control System Hotline, at 1-800-222-1222.

Anyway, to the gory details. I had just finished chopping the taro leaves - I make 1/2" chunks, which makes it possible to eat the beans, onions, taro, etc neatly, in a spoon. And the 1/2" chunks is probably why I get to tell this tale.

Curious about what taro tastes like, i took a piece, put it in my mouth, chewed, and swallowed. Tangy, not like lettuce, more like spinach. Online references put taro in the family with kale. The second piece, tasty too. The third piece, not at all tasty. My mouth felt like it was full of cotton, except for the burning sensation which made me think that I had gotten a chunk of jalapeno pepper on the leaf. I spit that out, into the sink, and got back to work.

I then realised that my mouth was a bit numb - not unpleasantly so, and my tongue seemed to be growing. Again, as if I'd just had a big mouthful of my Kick In The Seat Of Your Pants Chili, but without the flavour. I couldn't taste a thing. Even a couple handsful of taco chips, and several glasses of fizzy beverage, and my throat was still burning.

As I was later chatting by Instant Messenger, with my Aussie bud, Bob, I casually asked about raw taro leaf, and if he had ever tried it, and his immediate response was
No, Chuck, you shouldn't do that.
Upon my query
Why not?
Bob shortly came back with the article in WikiPedia: Taro.
In its raw form the plant is toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate
That in itself was a bit scary.

But, it got worse, in the accompanying and linked article, Calcium oxalate, with the advice
Even a small dose of calcium oxalate is enough to cause intense sensations of burning in the mouth and throat, swelling, and choking. In larger doses, however, calcium oxalate causes severe digestive upset, breathing difficulties and — if enough is consumed — convulsions, coma and death.
Fortunately, I had consumed maybe 1 teaspoonful of taro leaf, a minor amount.

Bob next advised me to consider a visit to a hospital emergency room. Since the sensation of 1/2 hour ago was, finally, starting to dissipate, I declined that idea, but noting the additional mention in the latter article
Medication adminstered at the ER included Benadryl, Epinephrine, Pepcid
I decided that a visit to a late night pharmacy would be a good idea. Thanks to a clerk at my local Lucky's Supermarket, after I swallowed 2 Benadryl tabs, accompanied by a pint of iced tea (the first thing I grabbed at the checkout counter), when I got home I called California Poison Control System Hotline, at 1-800-222-1222.

Upon my describing my dosage as a teaspoon or so of taro leaf, the calm and professionally given advice was
Rinse your mouth with lots of ice water, which will relieve the burning and swelling, and go to bed.
with the further observation that my dosage was equivalent to having eaten
a raw chili pepper, and would have a similar effect.

Anyway, still full of adrenaline and caffeine, bed was not something which I was able to use until a couple hours later. But, I did survive the experience, as I'm able to post this in comfort. The sensations are, now, but a memory.

I do not, however, recommend that anybody attempt to verify my experience. I surely do not intend to repeat it.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ear Wash

What the heck, Chuck! You start a new blog, just to talk about washing your ears? I do that daily!

Yeah, so do I. Generally. But that's not what this is about.

This is a bit of a story, so settle in for a bit.

15 years or so ago, I came back from one of my twice / year visits to the dentist. 2 hours - yes 2 hours of torture - scraping - the dental assistant using a "tooth pick" that looked like something out of the move Marathon Man. But, it was all in the interests of taking care of my teeth, so I endured.

Got home, tired and ready for a beer.

Got up the next morning, and I had a tooth ache I couldn't believe. It started at the front of my cheek, and ran all the way back to my ear. Made an emergency dentist appointment, and he checked me out very thoroughly. Extra X-Rays - more $$$ down the drain.

No tooth problem.

Went home, took aspirin, applied a compress for 1/2 hour or so. That made it feel a bit better, so I knocked off for the day, and went swimming. Sometimes, an hour in the pool makes me better, and this did just that. Came home, no pain.

Had still more X-Rays 6 months later, again nothing found. My teeth, full of several dozen fillings, were in solid shape for all the metal and plastic in them. My dentist then introduced me to the electric toothbrush, which will be my next tale.

Maybe a couple years later, I thought that I was dying. This time, pain over the top of my head. Now, all my life I've heard about migraine headaches, so I figured that was what I was feeling, but I knew that a migraine like this had to be bad news.

I went to my doctor, and he couldn't find anything wrong, but for my peace of mind he recommended a CAT scan.
Maybe a brain tumour, but I really don't think so.

That was an experience. Lying flat on my back, on a cold metal table, wearing a legendary medical gown, with my head, neck, and shoulders stuck into a cylindrical metal coffin for 1/2 hour. Again, for my peace of mind - again, I endured - and again, no findings.

And again, the pain went away after a few hours. It was warm weather, so I went swimming again, and felt better.

Any yet a couple more years, and one day my whole face was numb.
OK, now I'm having a stroke.
So right to the emergency room I went.

This time, I got lucky. I spent 10 minutes going over my history with a very smart doctor. I'm a network troubleshooter, and pretty good at what I do from time to time. I drew on my professional experience, used my ability to gather and organise details, and fed the doctor the details, objectively and succinctly. He looked at me, and pulled out his flashlight.

And he stood next to me, and stuck the flashlight in my ear and looked for a very few seconds. And that was all he needed.

He scribbled a note and told me to go to the pharmacy and get Debrox, and make an appointment at the Ear Wash Clinic. Long story somewhat shorter, a week later a nurse took a foot long syringe that held about a pint of water, stuck it in my ear, and washed it.

The first thing I remember feeling, after the washing was done, was the buzzing or ringing in my ears. And no pain. And the nurse showed me what had come out of my ears. I won't describe it, but there was a lot of it.

Now California is a dry and dusty state, and the nurse told me that a lot of patients come in to the clinic 2 - 3 times / year, just for an ear wash. My experiences weren't at all unusual.

Anyway, with the CAT scan, dentist visit / X-Rays, and the ER visit, I spent well over $1,000. Nowadays, you'll probably spend twice that.

Debrox is maybe $10. A bottle lasts a year or so, and knowing what the need for a wash feels like, when I feel the need, I knock off for the day, pull out the bottle, and take an hour or so alternately soaking and syringing my ears.

If I'd do this monthly, it would be better. I'm trying to get into a schedule.

The feeling of pain relief, when I do the washing successfully, is exquisite. The noise level afterwards is really interesting, and shows how much hearing loss I endure, before remembering what I should be doing every month.

Start by taking a soup bowl, filled with water, and microwave on high for a minute. That's what you flush the ear with, after you drain the fluid.

After you start the microwave, soak one ear with fluid, but don't soak the ear too long. You take the bottle, stick the end of the nozzle into your ear just far enough so the fluid, when the bottle is squeezed, runs directly into the ear canal (not into the outer ear), and just let enough into the ear so you feel it going in there. The instructions say "5 - 10 drops".

You should hear noise - crackling and popping (OK, this isn't a Rice Krispies commercial). A minute or so later, when the noise stops, it's time to drain the fluid - just tilt your head and let it run out onto a towel.

When the water that you just warmed in the microwave is cool enough to stick your fingers into, take the syringe (generally a cheap plastic bulb syringe, not a medical one), squeeze it and fill with water, hold your head over the sink, and squirt the water into your ear. Do 3 - 4 syringes of water.

If you don't feel immediate relief, repeat with the 5 - 10 drops of fluid and another syringing.

A caveat - do not soak the ear with fluid very long. When the noise stops, the waxy ear contents will be very soft. If you keep it in your ear much longer, the stuff will form a solid plug in your ear, and you'll end up soaking and syringing repeatedly, for another hour, to break that down.

I generally forget this last detail every couple years, which is why I am writing this right now. Debrox instructions say to keep drops in ear for several minutes. I think that a single minute soaking, then a syringing, followed by another soaking and syringing, is a better idea.


More Information:

Earwax and Care