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Rant: Long Weeks and Short Ribs

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It’s good to keep on learning new things, no matter how old you are. I learned something new over the recent holidays: You can break a rib coughing. The good news is that although I did run the experiment, the results were inconclusive.


It may have been a near thing; my cousin Dolores told me she “popped a rib” years ago while fighting bronchitis, and it was nasty. Another online friend said basically the same thing. And my workout friend Joe told me that a dump truck T-boned his convertible back in 2001 and broke four ribs before driving several glass fragments into his skull. The glass was no big deal. The ribs…very big deal.

This, as they say, has been a bad season. Carol has had the sniffles or worse since Thanksgiving. I’ve done better, but I think both of us came down with the endlessly popular flu between mid-month and Christmas. We had our shots, even, for all the good they did us. I bounced back, for the most part. She had a terrible time climbing out of it. And then, just after New Year’s Day, we both ended up with some bacterial bronchitis. Cough isn’t my typical symptom for colds and flu. Chest congestion and especially sinus congestion, but cough? Rarely.

This time I coughed so hard I thought I’d broken a rib. My right side was horribly painful for most of a week. And that’s when nothing else was going on. When I coughed, it hurt hideously. When I sneezed–and I rarely sneeze only once–it may have been the worst pain I’ve felt since my kidney stone twenty years ago. It may, in fact, have been worse than my kidney stone. I do not ever recall coughing that hard, ever, nor hurting that bad while coughing. My sister was the one who generally had croup. Me, I threw up. She was the Phlegm Queen. I was the Barf King. 1959 was the Year of Body Fluid Eruptions. It’s been better since then.

Until New Year’s Day. Then, as Leeloo would say, Bada-boom!

Urgent care gave me antibiotics, a steroid nose spray, and advice to get a chest X-ray if things didn’t quiet down in a few days. Things didn’t. So I got the X-ray. And even after a 10-day course of Augmentin, my head was still draining and my ribs still hurt like hell. The only good news was that my ribs remained intact, despite two weeks of abuse.

So, why all the TMI? I’ve been away for several weeks, and that’s why. Even after I felt better, Stuff Was Piling Up. I gave us a Ring Video Doorbell for Christmas. I discovered after the fact that it was not compatible with the 1995-era NuTone intercom/door chime that came with the house. When I pulled the NuTone unit off the kitchen wall, I saw what you see in the photo above. Loads of wires, none marked, some just hanging loose out of a hole in the wallboard. It took three days to work up the intestinal fortitude to pull out my VOM and start the necessary detective work. I eventually identified the wires:

  • Two were 18VAC from the doorbell transformer. Good; need that.
  • Two were 18 VAC going…somewhere. They were intended to trigger the gate unlock solenoid, as I discovered when I pressed the gate unlock button with the meter on the wires. Alas, we do not have a gate unlock solenoid. I was sending 18VAC somewhere out into the Vasty Deep. I still don’t know where the other ends of those wires are, though I have some hunches.
  • There were two old-style four-conductor phone cables running out to the gate doorbell button and the front door doorbell button. Two conductors in each cable were hanging loose in the air. Call me fussy; I don’t like wires just hanging loose in the air. Electricity could start leaking all over the house. Thurber’s mother didn’t care for that. Neither do I.
  • We actually have two, count ’em, two front doorbell switches. I thought one was dead. It’s not. We have two doorbell chimes. God knows why, and I may ask Him one day.

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I was still not a well man, and it took me days to get this far. I found a list of Ring-compatible door chimes and picked one up at Home Depot. It was smaller than the NuTone, which meant that I had to drag in the paint from the shed and repaint the dead space around the wire hole. Before I could do that I had to scrape away the silicone caulk that ran all the way around the NuTone, and then spackle everything level again, given that the caulk had not gone gently into any night, good, bad, or indifferent. It took three coats of paint to get full coverage. By then I would ordinarily have begun throwing things, but I didn’t have the energy to throw things.

The door chime I bought can play a lot of tunes. It can play “Happy Birthday to You.” It can play “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It can play “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” As I punched my way through the tune stash, I began to despair of it ever playing ding-dong! like any proper doorbell should. Ding-dong! was there. It was the very last tune in the chime’s repertoire. Guys, if I want jazz I’ll go to New Orleans. If I want classical I’ll turn on KBAQ. If I want shitty MIDI compositions of no special quality, well, I know where they live. You have one job: Play ding-dong! Just do it.

Ok, by then I was grumpy. If your ribs felt like my ribs did, you’d have been grumpy too.

I dissected the NuTone circuit board. It has a number of ICs on it:

  • A 4N33 optocoupler.
  • An MC14585BCP hex Schmitt trigger.
  • A 555 timer.
  • An SA800 doorbell chime generator.
  • A TC4066BP quad bilateral switch.
  • A ULN3718M audio amp.

I had several of all of these in my parts stash but the door chime generator and the audio amp, which (being a dedicated LM386 guy) I wouldn’t use anyway. So the damned thing could offer me no useful parts for my trouble. Worthless crap, you are. Feed the trash, you did.

With all that done and out of the way, let me say that the Ring doorbell works beautifully. When somebody pushes the button, the Ring app pops up on your smartphone, wherever you are, and shows you a video of who’s at the door. You can then talk to them through the speaker on the Ring device. They can’t tell if you’re home or not. The damned thing even has night vision. I had to practically pay a rib to get it installed, but trust me: It’s worth the trouble.

I mentioned here that our waterbed sprang a leak a week or so before Christmas. We bought the bed at a Going Out of Business sale, which means that the retailer had gone out of business, and the manufacturer didn’t seem especially healthy itself. So we ordered a new waterbed mattress from a place that makes them up custom. It showed up a little less than a week ago. I finally got it installed and filled this afternoon. With a little luck we’ll sleep on it tonight.

Through all this, I got half a chapter of Dreamhealer written, and no Contra entries. I am still tired, still blowing my nose twice as often as is my habit, and still coughing occasionally. You don’t need to feel sorry for me; it’s been in the 70s and 80s here while most of my friends are freezing their cans up north. The dogs are clean and I cooked us a helluva good steak this evening.

Oh, crap. I forgot: The pool backwash valve is leaking. The pool guy says the pool equipment is now 25-odd years old, and could fail badly at any time. I got one quote. I need another. And then I will have a much thinner checkbook.

Hey, Happy New Year!

More or less.

I guess.

[coughs fitfully]


  1. Dennis Harris says:

    You should totally get yourself a gate unlock solenoid. you owe it to yourself. Maybe even a gate, why not?

    1. Got the gate; always had it. I even used to have gargoyles on it. No need to buzz people in. Walking to the gate is good exercise, and I can talk to whoever’s there on my smartphone.

  2. Tony Kyle says:

    Sounds like mostly less until the checkbook recovers. 🙂

  3. Jim Tubman says:

    My Carol and I both came down with what felt like flu, even though we both had the shots. We didn’t suffer as much as you, though. Sounds like there was a duff vaccine this year. They make their best guess; they don’t always get it right.

    All the best to you and your Carol in 2018!

  4. jim f says:

    Are there any new security issues on your IoT doorbell…?

    glad you survived the crud…

    A number of friends of mine are in your neck of the woods this week for auction season.

    1. Auction season? Classic car auctions? Or?

  5. TRX says:

    > pool … could fail

    Sounds like needless scaremongering to me. And if the whole pump and filtration system dies at once, so what? You can take your time getting it repaired or shopping for replacements.

    1. Rich Shealer says:

      One of the good things is that the doorbell automatically updates itself when connected. There was a flaw discussed about a year ago on Steve Guibson’s Security Now podcast. The responded to a newly discovered flaw in a very short time.

    2. I dunno. The pump is a key part of chlorine dispersal, and I expect that in an AZ summer, without a working pump a pool will turn green in a week or less.

      Not a problem anymore; we got some quotes and I’ve decided which firm to use. We’ll probably have the whole thing replaced within two weeks. The system is still working, but it’s dribbling water out the backwash port all the time the pump is running. I really want to dissect the backwash valve when the system is replaced so I can see what the hell happened to it.

  6. Elvis Newton says:

    Went through same issues installing Ring in our house, where for years all I had was a two wire intercom. Had to install an old style ringer to get power for Ring to work.

    Only gripe about Ring, you get free few months of internet storage of activity, after that it expires and if you want to look a past events, they put you in debtor’s prison for a $3.95 a month fee, that is $48 a year. I know it can’t be “free” but that seems very high for what must be a very small amount of data storage. I said no and haven’t missed it.

    I have had fun with the motion sensor. At 3 AM one morning, the motion sensor went off as a frog crawled over the button. Another night, a raccoon visitor triggered it. I could see him sitting up on the top of the roof, looking for a way to get inside.

  7. Tom Roderick says:

    Broken ribs, or even slightly cracked ones are indeed painful. I hit my right side under my arm on a chain link fence pipe that was INSIDE the wire and was told that the X-rays were inconclusive, but that it was probably a cracked rib. However, the Doc. said it didn’t matter since there was not much they could do about it anyway. An in-law of mine broke six ribs all at once when they fell from a horse a few years back. I can’t imagine that much pain and they are still having some. As I say to my dog Jeff — HEAL, but she ignores me.

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