What is it that makes machinery so diabolically fascinating?
There is something in the psychological makeup of anyone in the printing business that makes them inherently susceptable to the mechanical addiction. To us, machines are just damnably intriguing.
One of my friendly competitors has disassembled cars in his printshop. He says that they are therapy for him. When the printing machinery gets the better of him, he goes and tinkers with the cars. I doubt that the level of frustration is any less, but sometimes you just need a change of machine.
Much of Friday after Thanksgiving was spent tinkering with our Bell and Howell Mailstar 5000. With a name like that, you’d think that this machine would be able to send mail via light waves . . . something like the transformer in the old Star Trek series. The actual function is much more humble. The Mailstar stuffs envelopes. I’m convinced that it was invented by Rube Goldberg . . . you know him from the Mousetrap game you played as a kid. This machine has more moving parts than a submarine, and they all need perpetual adjustment.
It ran great for me for about 3 hours. I was even able to set it at low speed and walk away for a minute or so. Then, after successfully stuffing about 4000 envelopes, the Mailstar quit working. Actually, it just worked in a different way. Instead of stuffing the invitations into the envelopes, it began crumpling them and ripping the envelopes to shreds. I tinkered for a while, then gave up in frustration and went home.
It’s called the “Fixit Theorum.” It goes like this:
- All machines break.
- All machines can be fixed.
- Therefore I can fix this machine.
- Right now
- And it won’t take too long.
So much for theory.
On Saturday, the dishwasher broke right after lunch. We have a large family (9 with oldest daughter at home from college), and the dishwasher is an integral part of the smooth operation of our household. Beautiful wife informed me of the disaster. I came in from the yard to take a look.
I could tell that the problem had something to do with the latch. When you jiggled it, the lights went off and on (the “jiggle” corollary to the Fixit Theorum). It’s a Maytag, I reasoned. They don’t even have repairmen anymore . . . the lazy guy on television must be in his 90s by now. I’ll just dig into it and see what makes it tick.
It was easy enough to get into. Simply unscrew seventeen allen screws and the door falls off. There were two limit switches in the handle. Cleverly engineered for multiple redundancy, I figured. I pulled the finely crafted plastic latch into pieces and clicked the limit switches a couple of times. Sure enough, the dishwasher started up, splashing about 3 gallons of soapy water into my face.
Reasoning that soapy water and electricity were probably not a great combination, I asked beautiful wife to unscrew the fuses until the flashing lights went off. She did her usual efficient job and we managed to turn off every appliance in the house before finding that the last fuse in the box controlled the circuit for the dishwasher. With success in view, I reassembled switches, and reinserted 16 of the 17 allen screws. One was eaten by the cat.
I reactivated the circuit, closed the door of the dishwasher, and expected it to begin the task of cleaning the lunch dishes. Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. No lights, no whistles, no whirring noises. Nothing. I slammed the door a couple of times. No results.
I reassured myself that I must have missed some little something in the handle. Another corollary to the Fixit Theorum goes as follows:
- If you take something apart and put it back together and it doesn’t work; sometimes it will work if you do it all over again.
So I removed 16 allen screws, reassembled the limit switches and the finely crafted plastic handle , and put it all back together again.
About this time, son Wil and second daughter informed me that the internet router was on the fritz. This constitutes a real crisis at our house. We just don’t function well without internet. It may be more important than the dishwasher, even.
The problem was obvious in this case. During our search for the correct circuit to disable the dishwasher, we obviously rescrambled the configuration of our Linksys Wireless Router, thus illustrating how a simple switch on a dishwasher can destroy the nerve center of an entire operation. If the terrorists ever find out about this, Washington D.C. could be in real trouble!
Fifteen minutes later, the router has been reconfigurated and we’re ready for a test. After rebooting my trusty Powerbook, I’m waiting for the network icon to appear when from the kitchen comes a familiar whirring sound. It’s the Maytag, back in service (at least temporarily).
This brings us to the final corollary of the Fixit Theorum:
- Sometimes you can fix a problem with one machine by solving an altogether unrelated problem on another one.
Maybe the Mailstar 5000 will work again when I get back to work tomorrow morning!