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Plumbing

Started: 2020-04-26 21:24:40

Submitted: 2020-04-26 23:49:12

Visibility: World-readable

In which the most exciting thing to happen during the endless pandemic week is a minor plumbing emergency

On my seventh week of working from my house, and the eighth week since COVID-19 took over my life, rain returned to Seattle, after a couple of weeks of sun. At least now we're on the bright side of the equinox, so we get enough daylight to outweigh the gloomy rain most of the time.

Willow looks out at the rain
Willow looks out at the rain

The most exciting thing to happen all week was when the kitchen sink developed a leak. Kiesa reported the leak while she was doing the dishes, and my first guess was that it was the feed pipe leading from the shutoff valve. This pipe may have been flexible once but has succumbed to metal fatigue and is now liable to fracture at the slightest touch. I did not replace the shutoff valves when I replaced the sink after moving in, but I ran into trouble with the feed pipes when touching all of the other plumbing in the house (starting with the toilet, which I allude to only in a parenthetical comment; and carrying on to the bathroom faucet).

Leaky plumbing under kitchen sink
Leaky plumbing under kitchen sink

Kiesa was able to close the shutoff valve and stop the leak, giving me until Thursday morning to journey to our local hardware store -- wearing a cloth mask, as is suddenly the new fashion -- to pick up a replacement shutoff valve. (I was amused that I finally had an essential trip to justify my leaving the house. I had not previously restricted myself from leaving the house just because I didn't have an essential purpose, because local authorities (no doubt out of the goodness of their hearts) do let me leave my house to exercise, and that's a sufficiently-broad category that it includes "walk around the block" and "walk to Gasworks Park and play Pokemon Go along the way" and "go for a run around Green Lake" and "go kayak in Lake Union".)

I turned into the plumbing aisle but found someone already there, so I turned around to detour down the adjacent aisle. An employee saw me and asked if needed help finding anything. "Usually when someone wanders into plumbing," he said, "they're lost and need help." I allowed that I was in fact confident I knew what I was looking for because I'd done it before; and in a minute I found the valve I was looking for: a 1/2" compression inlet, with a right angle, going to a 3/8" IPS outlet. (I have no idea what "IPS" means except that it's the sort of threaded outlet that all of the sink connectors want.)

I've replaced enough shutoff valves in my house that the rest of the process was easy: shut off the water, unscrew the old valve (trying to get enough leverage while crouching under the sink on the nut that may not have been unscrewed since it was installed 30 years ago), install the new valve, turn the water on, verify that water is not spraying everywhere making an even bigger mess than before. While I was at it I replaced the hot water shutoff valve as well, even though it was not currently broken, on the theory that it was of the same vintage and therefore likely to fail at any moment.

Julian with a strawberry cloth mask
Julian with a strawberry cloth mask

Meanwhile I'm mostly keeping busy and it's ... ok, I guess. I was on-call during the week but spent most of my time preparing for the next production test of the rebalancing automation I've been working on with several of my teammates. But there are times when I can't focus long enough to do anything without getting distracted (or taking a break to take a nap), and there are times when I'm worried that I'm not going to be able to find a job in the Bay Area because I'm not trying hard enough because I can't find the energy to focus on anything.

(I did have a phone-screen for a job in Berkeley, which seemed to go well; and Kiesa found an amazing house in the Oakland hills that was built in 1995 by a solar energy enthusiast who wrote a book about the house.)

I no longer worry that there are more shoes to drop; instead, I worry that we're stuck here indefinitely, without a clear plan for what comes next. It's obvious we can't go back to normal immediately but equally obvious that we can't stay locked down for the next twelve or eighteen or twenty-four months until we get a vaccine. Ideally we'd have some principled framework for understanding the risk of infection and the trade-offs we're willing to make: is there a dimmer-switch setting where we can open some things and relieve some pressure without overwhelming hospitals? Washington pretty clearly has its outbreak under control but we're no closer to understanding the next steps than we were a week ago.

All I can do is wait, hope for the best, and plan for the worst.

When aiming for the lowest common denominator,
be prepared for the occasional division by
zero.