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July 15, 2002

Stuff That Breaks Sucks

"Everything requires maintenance, I don't care what anybody says." These were the parting words of wisdom of a service technician who had just spent an hour in my basement, fixing my water softener. I haven't heard the term "maintenance free" for many things, especially those with electronics and/or moving parts, but what he said rings true. Put another way, everything breaks at one point or another in its life.

Take the aforementioned water softener. As it turns out, it wasn't really broken, just clogged somewhat. Supposedly when it was installed someone explained to somebody who lives here about the general maintenance that the unit requires that the homeowner can do. I don't remember being told that, and neither does my wife. So, there it sat for two years with no maintenance done to it other than adding more salt. As it turns out, there's a small metal filter and plastic venturi where minerals can build up and sand or dirt can get lodged. Of course, this completely screws the whole unit up. In my case, water started collecting inside the brine tank, and wouldn't drain. (I'll spare you the whole explanation of how a water softener works. If my fans request it, I'll write about it next week.)

It may be due to the fact that I'm more stressed these days than I normally am, but having a broken piece of $1500 equipment that I own completely in my basement just pissed me off. After all, it was working fine just a couple weeks ago, why should it stop now? It's fixed now, but I'm expecting a bill for the service call. But now that I know that it does need maintenance, I'll be sure to do it once in a while.

Even more recently than the water softener episode, I had an even more catastrophic device failure. After whining about my friends having Palm Pilots for two years, my wife finally shut me up three Christmases ago and bought me one, a Palm IIIe. Just under one year later, I get to work and discover that the screen has shattered for some unknown reason. Luckily, with the Futureshop extended warrantee, I was able to go in, hand them the broken unit, and walk out with a brand-new Palm m100 under my arm. Yay!

However, about a month ago I replaced the batteries in the m100 only to have it reset on me. I mean, totally reset. All data lost. This wouldn't be so bad, except I have a history of being extremely lax in my backups, and I lost about 6 months of data. My own damned fault, and I know it, but it still didn't explain why it resent in the first place. So, after an 80% successful attempt to rebuild and restore the data on Pépé (Palm Pilot; PP; Pépé), the damned thing reset on me again last week. I did nothing but try and turn it on, and it erased everything. Luckily, I had some handy four-letter words to express my displeasure.

Unlike the water softener, it's still broken. In fact, I haven't touched it since I found out it's busted. Why bother trying to rebuild it again if it's only going to happen again? I'm hunting around, trying to find some websites with other people who have had the same problem, and I've made some progress. Assuming that I ever find out what's wrong, there's still the little problem of how to fix it. I've used a soldering iron only in grade 8 shop to braze my sheetmetal project together. I'm not about to try to fix surface-mounted electronics! I'm hoping one of my friends will have an in somewhere, and that I'll be able to get it repaired locally. Otherwise, I'll be reduced to trying to trade it in for a refurbished model. Meanwhile, I'm without my calendar, phone book, shopping list, and about a dozen different solitaire games. Oh, and its leather carrying case had been functioning as my wallet too, so now I'm down to clipping my cards together. Sigh.

Other things can break and have virtually no impact on your life whatsoever. Take, for example, the rear window wiper on my Stupid Ugly Vehicle (SUV). When we got the truck, it worked fine, although it did streak quite badly. I had the best intentions of replacing the wiper - intentions now further paving the road to hell, I'm sure. Quite a few months back I noticed that the wiper was getting reluctant to function. It would stick or go really slowly, or maybe just work normally. Eventually whatever was happening to it finished happening, and it's now permanently stuck in the not-quite-down position. It is quite dead, and I've only ever missed it twice when it was raining here. Some day when I remember to do it I'll go out, figure out how to get the interior panel of the hatch off, take out the motor, and see if there's something I can do for it, and maybe even replace it. But for now, it's just an appendage that doesn't get used anymore. Hey, whaddya know - my truck's a Catholic priest!

[NOTE: This is my kinder-gentler politically correct side writing this. I know the previous joke was really crude and uncalled for, but it was so perfectly subtle and just too damned funny for some other part of this brain I'm stuck in to resist. Go figure. It is not intended to disparage Catholics or priests or any men or women of the cloth, nor their respective genitalia. And I'm certainly not implying that my truck has a penis.]

Believe it or not, another item that broke and had very little impact on my life was our foundation. No, I haven't been drinking Aqua Velva - our foundation had a crack in it for anywhere between 6 months and a year, and had almost no impact on our lives. No many people you'd find would say that, I bet.

The crack we had was a hairline crack, located in the southwest corner of the basement. Coincidently, that is also where the downspout empties into the backyard. Combine the hairline crack, lots of water, and some so-so landscaping right there, and you've got a recipe for a little bit of water in your basement each time it rains really, really hard. As we've only just moved into this place (well, 2 years) the basement is unfinished, and generally just a mess containing all the stuff we think we need but haven't used since we moved in. The corner that leaks happened to be where I decided to set up my "workbench". There's a workbench there, but it's buried under a bunch of tools, hardware, scraps of lumber, and other assorted crap. So, when a few millimeters of water leaked in, all it did was get the workbench feet wet.

About a month ago I finally thought that we should really get it fixed. Despite the amount of water being minimal, it could really do a number on carpet or drywall if and when we finish the basement. Within a day of calling our homebuilder's service department, a foundation repair guy came out, did his work, came back 3 hours later and finished the job. End of story. The crack is fixed, our basement hasn't leaked in a downpour again, and now I can get around to having more really good intentions about finishing it.

What really gets my goat are the smaller things in life that break to a point, but are still useable in a crippled sort of way. Our BBQ cover is one such example. Said cover is just two years old now, and over these two years the seams have started ripping slowly but surely. Perhaps it's because I actually use the BBQ in the winter, when the cover material isn't as pliable, but whatever the cause it makes getting the cover on and off without catching the corners of the BBQ in the ripped seams a real, honest, pain in the ass. The same can be said for my snowbrush, which decided to let go of the scraper end this past winter. Yes, I jammed it back in as best as I could, but the instant I forgot that it wasn't attached securely anymore was the exact time that the scraper flew off into the snow - again. I've got some self-tapping sheetmetal screws that could probably fix it up, but my list of good intentions is getting pretty long.

Yes, things break once in a while, and you have to cope with it, and expect that it'll happen eventually. Sometimes you even have to cope with something breaking frequently - just ask my wife about all the wind I've broken.


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