Quotes, Chemistry, and Repair

Random quotes

Here are a couple of quotes that caught my ear this week. I do not recommend that you try to draw any deep conclusions from these.


  • “He had a powerful intellect, but it was powerful like a locomotive. It ran on rails, and was hard to steer.” Description of Mustrum Ridcully, Archchancellor of Ankh-Morporks’s Unseen University in Lords and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett
From the philosopher/mathematician Blaise Pascal, who is a fascinating character:
  • “God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere.”
  • “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”

Household chemistry

Recently, my friend Craig had done some rather strenuous yard work, and his Lady introduced him to the curative powers of soaking in the heptahydrate form of magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom Salt. I have since tried some myself toward the same end. It is the only chemical I am aware of that lists not only internal and external uses, but also fertilizer uses. Seriously. Not only does it soothe tired muscles, it also apparently fixes what I will euphemistically call digestive slowness, and helps your tomatoes grow. There other more specialized uses in the medical field, but I think I will stop there. Check it out.

Repair redux

Anyone who has observed me repair anything knows that I have a technique that works fairly often. Oh, I certainly employ the more formal techniques you might expect, observation, analysis, data collection, hypothesis, testing, conclusions, not to mention the usual (?) amount of ranting and cussin’ (which is like cursing, but milder, e.g., “heck” is where you are “darned” if you don’t believe in “Gosh.”) But the thing that works most often is the simple ploy of just taking apart the offending device and putting it back together. Of course, there is some skill in knowing how deeply to take it apart – if you get down to elements and molecules, you have probably gone too far.

A couple of Saturdays ago my relatively new gas powered lawn mower quit. Yes, I know I recently showed a picture of the push mower I inherited from my Grandmother. And I do use that one most of the summer in the front yard. But the back yard grass is taller and tougher, and even when I was younger I couldn’t cut it (metaphorically or literally) with the push mower. So I use a small gas-powered mower in the back yard, and I finally had to replace my old one last year. Hence my dismay when the new one quit.

It started quitting (!?) in the middle of the first cut of the Spring. It worked fine for about 4 rounds, then quit. I could crank it, and it would idle fine, but as soon as I pushed it into the uncut grass, it would die completely. It died so dead that I expected an electrical problem, or possibly a medical one, rather than a fuel problem.

So I first tried more fuel, mostly because it’s easy. Wasn’t that. Then I checked the major electrical components, and didn’t find anything wrong, although the automatic shutoff looked a little squirrely. At this point, it was late, and I was tired from other yard-related exertions, so I parked it in the shed to see if it might heal itself. (Hey, it happens!)

But not this time. Same error mode the next time I tried to finish cutting the yard. So I first looked at the governor mechanism. Besides a small piece of tree-debris I found, there was no apparent problem. Then I took the carburetor apart and cleaned everything out. There was a little dirt here and there, but nothing that looked like a real failure cause.

Then I did some experimenting with the wiring on the automatic shutoff. To be specific, I bypassed it to see if the mower would continue running. This involved the use of a clamp on the shutoff bar (because it also tries to brake the flywheel, which I didn’t want). With the clamp in place, I could manually stop the motor without having to perform any Cirque de Soleil contortions, or endangering my typing finger.

But after all of that rigging, it still stalled out under load. Finally, I restored all of the shutoff wiring, stowed the clamp in my pocket, and took off the cute little red Troy-Bilt plastic cover (again!) so I could watch it run.

To my surprise, it cranked, and ran fine. I finished cutting the yard, replaced the plastic cover, and parked it in the shed.

Who knows if it will run next time. Maybe it’s that cute platic cover (although that seems unlikely.) Maybe it will run fine for a long time.

But I have now amended my Standard Repair Method, which formerly read, “Take It Apart and Put It Back Together.”

The revised method now adds, “If success is not achieved, Repeat.”


Additional research will be required to determine whether twice is the maximum number of dis- and re-assemblies necessary, or whether perhaps the Third Time will sometimes be The Charm.

Watch for the results (and more Capital Letters) in a Science Journal near you.

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