The Database Is Your Enemy

 

Nothing to do with the tale, I’m just a complete sucker for this sort of whimsical craziness. Click for more.

It has been an eventful week, but finally I’m registered for college! I know I announced it yesterday, but there was in fact a small hitch. I applied through the Postgraduate Applications Centre, which creates a student ID for you. However, I’m a graduate of the college I’m applying to – albeit more than twenty years ago – and so have an ID from then. Somehow it seems the two met head-on, creating a database SNAFU. I was two people at once, so therefore I was neither.

An ironic introduction, you may agree, to a course in Information Systems Management.

This wasn’t the only database buggery that happened to me either. As you may recall, I crashed a car this week too. On the day it happened I called my insurance’s breakdown recovery service. They explained to me that a collision with a tree is no longer a breakdown, even if it was caused by one, but they could send a recovery truck anyway and take it to a place of safety where damage could be assessed. As I was at my mother’s house at this point, and the wreck was off the public road, I had the truck pick me up so I could show him where to go.

The next day though when I phoned the insurance they said the vehicle had been removed by someone else. Apparently I’d cancelled it. I assured them that was wrong and they said they’d look into it.

I wouldn’t have worried at all about that, except for a strange coincidence. When the breakdown truck had pulled in to pick me up, there had been another one right behind it.

So there are rogue breakdown trucks listening in on the radio frequencies, patrolling the roads for accidents  and stealing wrecked cars? It’s a nightmare vision. Nothing to do with reality of course, but a nightmare vision. Turned out it was just a cock-up of course. Maybe my car has two IDs as well.

 

In Which I Hit A Tree

As if of its own volition, the car darts to the left. A skid? I know how to deal with that. Stay calm, don’t overcompensate. And yet I am lurching drastically to the right now. My feelings are oddly not of panic and fear but puzzlement, disappointment. The steering, something I’d come to think of almost as a direct expression of my will, had suddenly decided to have its own opinion. Parents of teenagers must feel like this, as their world spins out of control.

A ditch. No wait, a tree. A slow, sickening crunch. I’m athwart the driveway, nearly facing the way I came. But I’m relieved. That tree saved me from the ditch, that’s good. I’m a whistling kettle of shock and adrenalin, but I seem to be uninjured.

So what was that sickening crunch, exactly?

I turn off the engine. My glasses have flown off in the impact, I know not where, so I get out and inspect the damage without them. Even with the glamorising effect of soft focus though I can see it’s not pretty. The right wing is crushed like foil, the water tank displaced and leaking, the wheel… doesn’t look right at all.

My glasses turn out to be under the passenger seat. So, can I drive this thing? The engine starts. The power steering does move the wheels, though the noise it makes is like insurrection at the bacon factory. I select first gear, let out the clutch and…

Nothing at all. It’s a front wheel drive car, and the front wheels don’t. That… is probably not a good omen. The damage goes well beyond one corner.

What the hell just happened? I was on the driveway to Cregg Castle, an old colonial manor house that’s being converted into an artists’ residence. It’s covered in slippery mud. The drive I mean. It’s also pocked with holes so thickly that they’re practically impossible to avoid – indeed I’d just failed to avoid one seconds before the accident. Had I simply skidded on the mud, or had the impact broken the steering? It had felt more like the latter. And indeed the two front wheels pointed in different directions now, though of course that could be effect rather than cause.

Sudden steering failure. Imagine if instead of a driveway that had been on a main road. At 95kph, with oncoming traffic. It would have been almost certainly fatal, for me and for others.

And yet I find myself hoping it is the explanation. I mean, skidding off a driveway. That’s just embarrassing.

So first problem would be getting the car off the road. I was near the gatehouse and knew the people who live there; fortunately someone was in. We couldn’t move the car between us, but soon more people came down the driveway in both directions and they stopped to help. They pretty much had to, but I’m sure they would’ve anyway. Two women tipped the balance, and we got it lined up to the point where it could be towed off the road. Thanks to James, “Lorraine Micra”, and all the cooperative people from Cregg Castle. And to the couple who were just passing by to take a walk in the woods but offered me a lift without knowing my mother’s house was only a mile away.

Now it’s the next day. I’m a little achy, though that will be mostly from trying to push the car. I await the insurance report which hopefully will tell me what happened, though I expect it will also bring the sad news that the car is a write-off. The first car I’d ever owned – and that for only about two months. It wasn’t all that much of a car perhaps. A red Nissan Micra that had been my mother’s before me, and several other people’s before that. Thirteen years old, but a tough and feisty little car. Useful, pleasant, reliable – well, it was only unreliable once. I will miss it. I may well buy another like it; I don’t think the write-off value will cover the Land Rover I really want. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it didn’t cover the excess. But I will need something if I’m going to college next month.

And you know what’s even more annoying? Literally the day before I was full of joy because I’d finally got my resident’s parking permit, the magic sticker from the city that means I never have to pay for parking near my flat again. Freedom at last! It’s almost like receiving full citizenship; finally I was a paid-up member of Galway’s horrendous traffic problem, and could park anywhere I liked in the part of town that has no parking.

But seriously, just taking the car into town for an afternoon had been costing me six or eight euros. Having it overnight was pretty much unthinkable. So since I’d got the thing it had continued to reside at my mother’s place. Now at last I would be able to make proper use of it.

Oh well. Taking a bark rubbing with your front end is another way to avoid parking fees I suppose. But the irony, it is bitter.

In Which I Hit A Tree

As if of its own volition, the car darts to the left. A skid? I know how to deal with that. Stay calm, don’t overcompensate. And yet I am lurching drastically to the right now. My feelings are oddly not of panic and fear but puzzlement, disappointment. The steering, something I’d come to think of almost as a direct expression of my will, had suddenly decided to have its own opinion. Parents of teenagers must feel like this, as their world spins out of control.

A ditch. No wait, a tree. A slow, sickening crunch. I’m athwart the driveway, nearly facing the way I came. But I’m relieved. That tree saved me from the ditch, that’s good. I’m a whistling kettle of shock and adrenalin, but I seem to be uninjured.

So what was that sickening crunch, exactly?

I turn off the engine. My glasses have flown off in the impact, I know not where, so I get out and inspect the damage without them. Even with the glamorising effect of soft focus though I can see it’s not pretty. The right wing is crushed like foil, the water tank displaced and leaking, the wheel… doesn’t look right at all.

My glasses turn out to be under the passenger seat. So, can I drive this thing? The engine starts. The power steering does move the wheels, though the noise it makes is like insurrection at the bacon factory. I select first gear, let out the clutch and…

Nothing at all. It’s a front wheel drive car, and the front wheels don’t. That… is probably not a good omen. The damage goes well beyond one corner.

What the hell just happened? I was on the driveway to Cregg Castle, an old colonial manor house that’s being converted into an artists’ residence. It’s covered in slippery mud. The drive I mean. It’s also pocked with holes so thickly that they’re practically impossible to avoid – indeed I’d just failed to avoid one seconds before the accident. Had I simply skidded on the mud, or had the impact broken the steering? It had felt more like the latter. And indeed the two front wheels pointed in different directions now, though of course that could be effect rather than cause.

Sudden steering failure. Imagine if instead of a driveway that had been on a main road. At 95kph, with oncoming traffic. It would have been almost certainly fatal, for me and for others.

And yet I find myself hoping it is the explanation. I mean, skidding off a driveway. That’s just embarrassing.

So first problem would be getting the car off the road. I was near the gatehouse and knew the people who live there; fortunately someone was in. We couldn’t move the car between us, but soon more people came down the driveway in both directions and they stopped to help. They pretty much had to, but I’m sure they would’ve anyway. Two women tipped the balance, and we got it lined up to the point where it could be towed off the road. Thanks to James, “Lorraine Micra”, and all the cooperative people from Cregg Castle. And to the couple who were just passing by to take a walk in the woods but offered me a lift without knowing my mother’s house was only a mile away.

Now it’s the next day. I’m a little achy, though that will be mostly from trying to push the car. I await the insurance report which hopefully will tell me what happened, though I expect it will also bring the sad news that the car is a write-off. The first car I’d ever owned – and that for only about two months. It wasn’t all that much of a car perhaps. A red Nissan Micra that had been my mother’s before me, and several other people’s before that. Thirteen years old, but a tough and feisty little car. Useful, pleasant, reliable – well, it was only unreliable once. I will miss it. I may well buy another like it; I don’t think the write-off value will cover the Land Rover I really want. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it didn’t cover the excess. But I will need something if I’m going to college next month.

And you know what’s even more annoying? Literally the day before I was full of joy because I’d finally got my resident’s parking permit, the magic sticker from the city that means I never have to pay for parking near my flat again. Freedom at last! It’s almost like receiving full citizenship; finally I was a paid-up member of Galway’s horrendous traffic problem, and could park anywhere I liked in the part of town that has no parking.

But seriously, just taking the car into town for an afternoon had been costing me six or eight euros. Having it overnight was pretty much unthinkable. So since I’d got the thing it had continued to reside at my mother’s place. Now at last I would be able to make proper use of it.

Oh well. Taking a bark rubbing with your front end is another way to avoid parking fees I suppose. But the irony, it is bitter.

Me Versus Technology

12 volt auto plug
Car lighter socket plug thing

The last day or two has been all about the fixing. I’ve repaired a phone line, made a computer stop crashing, mended a fuse in a car that wouldn’t start and – for a bit of whimsy – set up video calling on a TV.

If that sounds like an unbroken string of victories, that’s because I’m making it sound like an unbroken string of victories. The fun is in the stuff I’d sooner draw a veil over. For a start, the reason that car wouldn’t start wasn’t the fuse.

I had this useful thing… At least, one of those theoretically useful things that you actually hardly ever use but keep because it obviously has a million uses. An amazing little “inverter” for the car that changes the 12 volts DC from the little cigarette lighter socket into the 230 volts AC you need to run a big domestic appliance. Sounds like it shouldn’t even work, right? Well it doesn’t work.

To short a long story, I’d thought it was the lighter socket plug that was at fault because that showed every sign of being burned out. It took me a while, but I found a replacement that looked sufficiently heavy-duty, got it all wired up and plugged it in.

Pof. Oh right, the little fuse in the lighter plug is not up to 13 amp appliances. Replace that with a bigger one.

Pof. The car fuse for the lighter socket blows. And now it occurs to me that if this inverter is blowing fuses without there even being an appliance plugged into it, there is something a little bit wrong maybe. A process of elimination and repetition establishes beyond doubt that my theoretically useful piece of equipment just blows fuses up. I open it, but there’s no obvious burn marks or smell of something shorting out. I can only guess that some component has failed. And as the thing basically consists of a great number of components hammered into a small box I know there’s no hope of my replacing it, even if I knew how to find which one was at fault. I take great pride in my ability to fix all sorts of crap, but I’m cutting my losses on this one. Besides, it’s getting late and I’m tired after all the repairs of the day. Finally I repair to bed.

So what was the reason the car wouldn’t start? Simple. I left the interior light on.

Emergency At 2 a.m.

Well that upset my plans. There I was just polishing my rant about the Vatican (coming later now) when I heard a bang. Of course, you hear bangs in the country. But two in the morning is a little unusual. Also, it wasn’t a bang I recognised. Curious, I turned down the TV.

Another bang. That was definitely strange. I got up and went out of the house. It’s a fairly dark night, but I could hear a strange noise. Again, not something I could put a finger on. Sort of fire-like. Out on the boreen (lane), I saw a light coming from just where it bent behind my aunt’s tractor shed. A… fire-like light. Also the smoke was kind of fire-like too. I was beginning to suspect this was definitely something fire-like. Like a fire. It was just that it was coming from a place where fire didn’t belong. The middle of a little country back-road?

Yet I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw as I rounded the corner. A fire, with a car in it. A car. On fire. There was a car on fire in our boreen.

It looked like a neighbour’s one, a little Peugeot in an ugly shade of bluey-green. It didn’t look like he was in it though. If he was, it was too late – the car was engulfed.

I called these guys.

The only thing that could make this job better would be if you got to *start* the fires

More of the story later this evening. It’s 5 a.m. now.