Archive for August, 2011

Feathers and Hay

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011


I’ve spent much of the last few weeks trying to feather my new nest, in ways that perhaps only I can understand.

Not counting my initial foray into the innards of the fancy sound system, which deserves a posting of its own, the first thing I worked on was the rather impressive collection of multi-gang light switches adorning nearly every wall of the house. As obvious as the correct installation of a single light switch should be (it is clearly marked “on” and “off”), there was one in the bathroom that was installed upside down. Drove me crazy, until I got it turned over.

Three-way switches and the like are not so obvious (no “on” and “off”), but I decided my own standard a while ago – when all the relevant switches are down, the light (or fan) should be off. So if you walk through the house and flip all the switches into the down position, everything should be off. I’m still working on getting them right, since one circuit may be controlled by switches in three different rooms on two different floors.

Next I replaced a couple of vent-fan switches with timers. It’s hardly fair to ask a bathroom user to remember to come back and turn off the vent fan, but those fans can be real power suckers. Not only does the fan itself consume significant electricity, but it pulls conditioned air out of the house, adding to your heating/cooling load. The timer is a simple fix. Plus, in the dark, it’s real easy to tell which switch is the light, ’cause the timer has a knob instead of a toggle.

Speaking of telling switches apart, I then spent about half-an-hour labeling switches on the main floor. It started with the situation previously described in The Case of the Inoperative Ceiling Fan. I realized that I often had to try two or three switches, sometimes on opposite sides of the room, before I got the results I wanted. Lots of flexibility leaves plenty of room for confusion, and the labels are a simple fix. Plus we expect to entertain guests frequently, and it just seems impolite to laugh at them as they try to find the right combination of switches. The labels are real purty, but the jury is still out, however, on whether the Management will ultimately approve of them.

The shower was my next focus. The previous residents had a small child, so they had wisely lowered the temperature of the hot water tank. My spouse requested I raise it a bit, but before I did that, I felt obligated to fix the HC orientation in the master bathroom shower. Yep, against decades of proud plumbing tradition, turning the knob to the left made the water colder instead of hotter.

Fortunately, the shower valve was a Delta, and years of back-to-back hotel shower installations taught Delta to design a cartridge that can be easily flipped, although the model we have does require you to turn off the main water supply to do so. The kind that you pull out to turn on can be flipped with the water still on – you simply remove the knob, rotate the cartridge insert 180 degrees, and re-install the knob. Ours is a Monitor model – clockwise turns it off, counter-clockwise makes it increasingly warmer (unless it’s in backwards!) That model requires you to remove the cartridge to flip it. Done.

I also learned how the “monitor” function works to prevent scalding. Turns out it is purely manual. You turn the shower on in full hot position and measure the water temperature. If it is over 120 degrees F, you remove and re-insert the adjustable stop point so the water can’t get as hot, repeating as necessary. You are supposed to check it any time the max water temperature changes. I doubt that happens very often, but, as solutions go, it is still way better then nothing.

The last thing I did this weekend was move my DSL router to a more central, and more concealed, location. While I was at it, I also ran a phone line and an Ethernet connection down to my cavern in the basement. The presence of this posting is an indication of my modest success in this venture.


My Dad tells the story of a farmer who made his way through thick snow to the local church building one Sunday morning. Turns out he was the only member who showed up, so the preacher asked whether they should have the service. The farmer replied by saying, “If I went out to feed my cattle and only one showed up, I would still feed him.”

So the preacher commenced to preachin’, and didn’t quit until he had preached considerably more than an hour. At the end, he looked at the farmer and said, “Well?”

The farmer replied, “Preacher, I would feed that cow for sure, but I don’t believe I would give him the whole bale of hay!”

Once again, I’ve probably given you the whole bale of hay.

I guess now you have something to ruminate on. Sorry, I cudn’t help myself.


Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Last night on the way home from work, I stopped by Sears to get a battery. The original factory battery in my car finally gave out after 4 years, and I had to jump it off to head home. The only batteries Sears had in stock for my car were more expensive than I would normally pay, but I decided the convenience of a single stop (and no more jumper cables) made up for the cost of the fancier battery. In addition, I decided to let Sears install the battery, which I would not normally do – I much prefer to do my own auto work. But the rep said it would only take about 45 minutes, so my wife and I enjoyed a sumptuous Food Court dinner while Sears did the dirty work. Almost, that is.

In fact, it took over twice as long as the estimate, so I was glad when they finally gave me back my car. This morning, it cranked fine, but there was an odd rattle when the car idled in Drive. There’s a snap-on plastic cover over the fuse block, so I assumed that it just wasn’t snapped on correctly. When I dropped my wife off, I popped open the hood to confirm my hypothesis, but it turns out that I was quite wrong. The rattle was caused by a metal pipe-like piece, about 16 inches long and over an inch in diameter which was perched on top of the engine just like it belonged there.

The mysterious rattle was cause by a frame cross-member that the mechanic had removed and set aside (on the engine!) in order to replace the battery. The three bolts that were supposed to hold the cross-member in place were nowhere to be seen.

Applying the “you broke it, you fix it” philosophy, I drove back out to Sears this morning and waited for them to open. When they did, the morning rep scratched his head and mumbled that it was too bad that the computer was down, because then he could figure out who had done such a thing. A more capable-looking mechanic came up and asked what the problem was, and I explained it to him. He stared at the cross-member for a while, then at the car, then back at the cross-member, then back at the car. He said he was looking to see if the bolts had fallen off. I seriously got the feeling that he (1) didn’t believe that it could have been left off, (2) that it probably wasn’t where I said I had found it, and possibly (3) thought that I had actually taken it off myself.

Finally he looked at the mechanic’s cart (which I pointed out to him) and found the three bolts, lending my story some much-needed veracity.

This episode has two significant wrongs, which is why I am taking the time to write it down.

I. Clearly the original error was failing to re-install the cross-member. During the last 45 minutes of the installation, I watched the mechanic from a distance as he wandered around between stations, stopping occasionally to work on my car, and he did not look engaged, or, in retrospect, particularly competent. This is a rather large piece of metal to miss, and there is a matching piece on the other side of the engine compartment, so its absence is pretty clear. In addition, if he had kept his cart appropriately organized, he would have seen the three bolts, and perhaps wondered, “I wonder where those go….” Finally, he really shouldn’t have set the piece down on the back of the engine, where it was out of sight and, apparently out of mind.

Still, I would be willing to forgive all of those, but for the second wrong.

II. The mechanic this morning never showed the slightest shred of responsibility, nor did he offer even the least hint of an apology. Trust me, I was listening carefully. I was not irate, but I was clear that this was not good. Not only did he not apologize, he really made me feel as if somehow this whole thing was my fault. Furthermore, when I also pointed out that the factory-installed plastic terminal covers were also missing, he explained that it is really better to leave them off, “so any acid leaks will dry.” Just to press him a bit, I pointed out that the covers also provide protection against an accidental short circuit, he retorted that “mechanics always disconnect the battery before starting work on a car.” At this point I gave up, and resisted the urge to point out that I had always assumed that mechanics also re-installed any parts they removed, but that was clearly not the case here. I further resisted the urge to ask whether he thought the factory would go to the trouble to install the terminal covers just for fun. It’s not like they add curb appeal.

I read a report several years ago that one of the best ways for a hospital or doctor’s office to reduce malpractice suits is to simply admit it when they make an error, and apologize.

Taking responsibility, which includes apologizing for your company even when the fault is not yours, is a classy way to do business. Failing to do so will leave your customers in the state I am now in about this particular Sears Auto Center. I will not let them touch my car again.

That seems like a pretty good definition of a bad customer experience.


Sunday, August 7th, 2011

We sat on the deck a few minutes ago and watched a thunderstorm roll by. Although the lake is only about 100 yards away, the trees on the Corp of Engineers buffer zone are so tall and thick we can’t see the water. Nevertheless, it was a relaxing end to a Sunday afternoon, with wind and clouds and thunder and lightning and the pleasant company of Jayne’s feet. (Sort of an inside joke – she has been posting regular photos of her feet on Facebook this summer, much to the amazement, amusement, and befuddlement of her Friends. The rest of her was there, too, in case you were worrying.)

Saturday I spent two hours at Lowe’s checking off an endless eclectic list of “repair and resolve” items, including an electric hedge trimmer, my first ever. When I got home, I put it to use, being ever-so-careful not to cut the power cord. (Note to self: a green extension cord may not be the best color choice for use with a hedge trimmer.) I trimmed the front grass (fortunately it is a small yard) and unloaded the rest of the loot from Lowe’s while sweating profusely, which seems to be a normal state for me this summer.

As promised, Bo came by and brought some friends, so we spent some time in and around the water. I repaired the rudder on one of the kayaks, and once again tried Ben’s rowing shell, with some measure of success. Success is defined as follows: I launched it with only one unintended disembarking, I got it out to the middle of the cove, and got it back again. I remain impressed by the single rowers who make it look so effortless (including Ben).

This morning four of us played some music after breakfast, and I picked up a few dobro hints from John. This afternoon I installed a timer on the guest bathroom vent fan, solved the Case of the Inoperative Ceiling Fan (turns out it was controlled by one of the mystery switches in the living room, but required a volt meter to diagnose, and a careful sequence of switch, remote, and pull-chain operation to finally activate it), and then sawed and drilled a variety of holes in the entertainment center to add some much-needed ventilation. Now all the entertaining parts are strewn about the living room, waiting for me to re-connect them.

The last four weeks have been so abnormal, I haven’t even been tempted to try to write about them, as you may have noticed. As a small example, consider 5 trips from Gainesville to the Atlanta airport (and back) over 5 days. Not to mention that I really haven’t had either the energy nor the mind-share to write anything.

By contrast, this weekend is close to what will probably pass for normal for a while – fun, exhausting, exhilarating, and even restful at times. Plus I found the energy, motivation, and time to write something, as proven by the fact you have been reading my words. (Thanks, by the way.)

Sounds good to me.