You Get What You Inspect

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's been one of those weeks. Visiting with some of Mrs. Van Horn's relatives, I glanced down at my glass of tea at lunch and found a curious piece of "ice" on the rim. Yep. It was a piece of glass, so I sent back the tea. I called the waiter back as soon as I saw him again. "I'm going to have to be 'that guy' and ask for another one," I said as I pointed to the chipped rim of the glass he'd just brought by as a replacement. This chip was smaller, and easier to miss, but new.

I'm low on blogging time -- and time for everything else -- this week due to unexpected car and computer repairs. The wife is temporarily working north of town and her Dad has been kind enough to let us borrow one of his cars for the duration. As we came home from the aforementioned visit, I noticed a loss of power steering and high engine temperatures about a mile before our exit. The day before yesterday, after checking the new belts under the hood -- and the pulley that replaced the one that had seized and broken off -- I started the engine and noticed a light peeking out at me from behind the steering wheel. Good thing: I'd forgotten to check the coolant level. And yes: The people whose job it was to fix a car that had overheated had forgotten to check the coolant, replace what had been lost, and check for leaks.

Last week, the CPU fan on my desktop finally finished failing. I'd been running with an open side panel so I could easily check on an intermittent, but plainly abnormal noise I'd get sometimes out of the blue -- but which would mysteriously disappear whenever I'd take the tower to another room and run it, even for several hours in one case. The new heat sink/fan assembly arrived yesterday and, after following the base assembly instructions, I noticed that some protective tape was hard to remove and had ragged edges. Step One was to assemble the base around the heat transfer surface, according to processor socket type. Step Two was to remove the tape from the portion that was to form the heat transfer contact with the CPU. Upon taking the base apart, I found small pieces of leftover tape next to where my CPU would have been. (Either the instructions are bad or the manufacturer is using the wrong size tape.) I've heard the cooling job that CPU fans do compared to removing the amount of heat in an incandescent bulb from an area about the size of a fingernail. Good thing I don't have any tape down there!

All of these things remind me of a saying that my first direct boss on a submarine, the Engineer, used to say. "You get what you inspect." He said it all the time, even around the enlisted men. At the time, I thought he was rude for doing so. But now, I realize that he was just doing his job, which was to back up the enlisted men and his junior officers. Anyone can make mistakes, including people who have earned trust. No one's word for something, however trivial, can serve as a substitute for consulting the facts of reality and rooting out contradictions, which aren't always so obvious as the ones I discuss here. And sometimes, one person in a room full of people will be the one man between triumph and disaster.

I wish I were still in contact with the Eng. I'd like to thank him for demanding that I bring my full attention and critical faculties to bear back then: Him and that electrician's mate who, frustrated with a young JO's habit of asking nicely for people to do things, blurted out, "Give me an order!"

-- CAV


Today: Corrected some typos and made other minor edits.


mtnrunner2 said...

When it rains it pours, eh?

Next to central heating (and maybe water), my car and my computer are probably the things I can least afford to go bad. That's why I've always placed the highest value on reliability, especially when it comes to cars.

Taking cars to the mechanic is also inconvenient, expensive and risky. I haven't had any major mechanical catastrophes, but I've had a few dumb things happen like the oil change dudes leaving the top cap off. It was loose, but wedged between my engine and the hood insulation, so I didn't lose it.

As you say that was their one job, to change the oil, and they still couldn't do it right.

First-hand thinking and focus is too rare, and when I find someone who's on the ball, I become a loyal customer.

Gus Van Horn said...

Sure does!

A great thing about Boston (minus this temporary commute) has been the ability to delegate car ownership to Zipcar et al. when not forgoing it altogether.

The computer fan really irks me as I bought this thing specifically to avoid having to fool with such things. (I had to replace the video card some months ago.) (Cue the friendly ribbing from Apple enthusiasts, who, I will happily concede, have a point regarding hardware quality.)

We won't be going to that mechanic again: I had already had to correct them about a couple of things before I got the car back, and I really don't know that much about cars!

mtnrunner2 said...

>Cue the friendly ribbing from Apple enthusiasts

Heh. OK, then here's one with a twist. I've got one foot in each world.

I own an Apple MacBook Pro, but I run Windows XP almost exclusively as I'm a Windows programmer and user. Apple "supports" that usage, so I took the plunge as I figured I'd have two computers for one, since I use Mac OS occasionally (rarely).

Both a fan and the battery have gone south within the first two years. Temperature management is inadequate under Windows, which I know because if I run in Windows and boot into Mac OS, the fan screams trying to cool the laptop off. I'm guessing that's the cause.

I'm stuck with Windows XP because although Vista and Windows 7 work without an external monitor, when I use the laptop with an external display it locks up. Tried zillions of drivers. The only thing that works is to remove the NVIDIA driver, which disables the external monitor :( So I'm stuck with XP until the end of life of this laptop.

Once could say that running Windows is not using the system as designed, but then they should either not offer to do Boot Camp, or work to remedy the problems.

Nice hardware, but I'll buy a PC next time.

Gus Van Horn said...


I practically always use Linux, but have Windows on VMWare for those times, usually work-related, that I need it.

The thought was, perhaps, to buy Apple and install Linux, but the thought is now, "Find out who really makes the best hardware for what I need -- and install Linux."

Inspector said...

The hardware in a mac is no longer any different from what is in pc's, last I heard. Except for the outer casing, of course.

Gus Van Horn said...

A brief scan of the Wikipedia entry for "capacitor plague" does indicate that Apple probably uses many of the same supply chains that other manufacturers use. No major surprise there. The innards of an Apple differ in no essential way from any other computer.

Beyond that, I was really going on Apple's reputation in the above remark. Were it to come down to making an actual purchase, I'd be more careful than that, after this last purchase!

Inspector said...

So, then, the question becomes: what is one paying all that extra money for? It's not the OS, since that's purchasable separately as well. (and you wouldn't want it, anyway)

So the price is for the brand name, basically.

Thus, my advice to you is: don't. For you, it would be a colossal waste of money. (I suppose you've already reached that conclusion, though) For most people, it is a waste, but most don't want to hear that. People get weird about macs.