Friday, October 14, 2011

Days of plumbers, assignments, and other madness...

Phew! What a manic mess the past two days have been.

This week has been assignments crunch time, with several assignments for several papers all due today and tomorrow. Having easily dispatched an exam on Monday evening (thank goodness none of the really brain-churning material presented ended up in it), and finished the two halves of another assignment (which I'd been procastinating on for a while, but also been admittedly stumped by for a while) within a "day" (11am to 3am), we get to where the story starts.

The Assignment
After getting those two items out of the way, and with the other assignments for another course mostly done ages ago (they were "more fun" you see...), yesterday I could finally start to put in some concerted effort to try and finish off the assignment that I managed to hand in just under half and hour ago (and due in a few minutes time). As it happens, I'd been pretty stumped by this one as well, but in a much worse way, having already lost a few days earlier trying to think through the issues but with not much progress. This all came down to a pretty dire situation between a rock and a hard place, with just 2 days to try and complete an assignment (and admittedly, one dealing with stuff that I really wasn't that up to speed on either).

... Cue frantic keyboard bashing, Google scratching, hair pulling, and long work hours (though without the zombie sleepy feeling yet) ...

There were a few pain points where I hit some fairly solid brick walls hard and fast) which annoyingly didn't go away that quickly) with no clear resolution in sight until I would be close to giving up before finally I'd manage to finally find the missing piece. At these points in time, the goal of reaching the deadline on time seemed but a distant dream that might not be reached.

In particular, there were two incidents today which were particularly harrowing: the first was at the start of the day, when no matter what I tried, I could not find any way to get the blasted thing working. If I did it one way, it would fix one problem but break in another way, and other ways would just break everything completely at an even earlier step! Options were running out fast. Out of desperation, I started trying a few last options which didn't look like they were any different, and even looked like they wouldn't work. But lo and behold they did!

The other incident occurred later this evening, when staring down a deadline in just over an hour with 1/3 of the thing (functionally) to still do, I was getting a bit concerned (as you should, in such a situation). How on earth was I going to figure out how to reroute these data conversions and get them hooked up?! Probing around the problem space didn't clarify things that much for a while, with most results revealing increasingly/troublingly complicated setups.

The Plumbing Issues
Some of you may have heard me ramble about these problems elsewhere already, but yesterday we had a bit of a flooding around part of the house....

The story with these problems goes back a few weeks, when the insurance-company appointed concrete repair people came to dig up all the pathways and driveway and pour some new paths. The old ones had been cracking and increasingly distorted as a result of the quakes around this region.

Now, it happens that a few days after these guys left after removing all the concrete, a leak started to appear at the back of the house where nearly all of the plumbing goes through. At the time, this leak resulted in a small puddle of water on the surface (which we initially disregarded as perhaps just being some rain), but then a few (sunny) days later, that puddle was still around and had grown. Furthermore, a large patch of ground surrounding this was now a darker colour than the rest!

In the weeks that followed, the concrete people sent one of their staff ("the fat guy", who had also operated the bulldozer back on that day, and who would later get our gate back up after they'd had to temporarily remove it (in driving rain) as well as supervising the concrete trucks on "laying day") to come and fix the problem. He came, dug up a hole around where the leakage was greatest, and fiddled around in there before finally adding some lumpy thing around an offending section of pipe.

So far so good, it looked like the problem was fixed. Well, kindof; With the water supply off, there wasn't any more leakage, but then there wasn't any water in the house either! When the water was turned back on, the pit practically flooded over again in hours.

Eventually, after a while of no further action, they announced that they were going to lay the concrete the next day. The hole was still out the back, with some water in it.

The concrete was poured. When it came to the hole, someone decided to just shut off the water supply and just start pumping concrete. On the surface of it, "all was fine". Except when the water was turned back on later that day. There was a bit of seepage.

Fast forward to yesterday.

Likely aggravated by the particularly vigourous shake on Sunday evening, the pipe had finally sprung a rather significant leak. All along one side of the house, you could hear the sound of rushing water (similar to when you turn on the tap in a hotel room, and hear the hissing noise through the walls of the bathroom). But most significantly, there was significant surface flooding around the offending area. All of the soil in this area had turned into a lake, which was slowly spreading around and threatening to seep into the garage.

It was time to call a plumber!

The plumber came, and after an hour of toiling away in a fresh hole behind the house, he proclaimed the leak "fixed", after cutting off one of the may random pipes sticking out around the place back there. But minutes after he left, we discovered that he'd actually managed to sever the main water supply to the house instead of anything else!

So, we had to call him back to get at least some temporary water supplies into the house. That he did, and overnight, a small lake appeared out the back of the house again. But also, alarmingly in other places too!

Today he came back and spent most of the day toiling away in the hole again. There were a lot of sawing noises coming from the pit for ages. And finally, it was done: two new retrofitted segments for part of the piping back there, with some fairly hefty-looking joints on all of it.

Finally the water supply is mostly back to normal around the place, with so far (touchwood) no further water leaks out there. However, suspiciously, the water supply in the laundry room, which had been getting progressively weaker for months, has now all of a sudden nearly dried up. So, probably something to check up with the guy when he comes back tomorrow.

The saga continues... tune back later for the next installment...

Closing Words
So yeah, two very hectic days. 

I'd like to briefly mention some (hopefully) wise words to take from all of this:
  • Beware of Murphy's Law: what will break will break when heaps of other shit starts mounting up
  • Do not wait to try completing a project 2 days out from a deadline, where you're not intimately familiar with the domain involved already. Admittedly some other things got in the way this time, but with 2 weeks total to deal with this, it coujld've been better.
  • If you do end up in a crazy must-complete-big-task-in-2-days scenario, a project management tip that I've used regularly and effectively over the past few years is to grab a piece of paper and pen/paper, and scribble down the key components that you need to complete, followed by what comprises those components (refine this process a few times, until you have fine grained enough chunks as you've got time/will to do). With this list on hand, start working down the list, and (very importantly) cross off things as you get them done. It's important to not just gently cross them off, but actually zig-zag over them a few times; it's actually more motivating that way! Add other todos in other parts of the page, but always keep in mind what the key tasks are, and cross off those before other todos. Good task breakdowns + a rough checklist scribbling on a piece of paper beside you are the best project management tools I've found (bar the one that I'm going to write when I get the time ;).

1 comment:

  1. That's what plumbers do, they just drive you mad. I could never find one who is honest and professional.