Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Slam repairs

When I was in high school, I was chosen to attend a special summer school for chemistry students, held at The College of Idaho. I was absolutely in awe of the professors and the science labs. At first.

Then one day, after explaining to us how expensive and sensitive the equipment was that he was entrusting to our use, a professor left a gaggle of us with it and went off to another room to work with other students. Soon after that, the machine jammed or otherwise malfunctioned. I can't remember for sure if it was a piece of equipment that used lasers, or what, but I remember we were terrified twice over: first because we weren't sure if we were in mortal danger (it seemed likely), and second because we had just been told what an incredibly sophisticated and expensive machine this was. That we had no idea how we'd broken it didn't help; there is no clueless like the cluelessness of wondering how you messed up a scary bit of technology while being extremely careful and cautious.

Being teens, and terrified, we kicked up a bit of a fuss, as I recall. There were screams, and people running for the professor.

The professor came in, took stock, told us to calm down, and then picked the equipment off the table and slammed it on the floor a couple of times. He set it back on the table, ran a couple of tests on it, declared that it did this all the time and it should be all right now, and then left us, our mouths hanging open in disbelief.

It worked fine after that.

I have since found that a lot of guys 'fix' things this way, sometimes successfully. Or they happily employ "a judicious use of his most basic hardware tool for such things, his fists", as James M. Kushiner puts it.

In the linked post, Kushiner laments that fewer things built these days can be fixed that way. I'm inclined to think he has a point. (Although, to be sure, I've been surprised again and again what can be fixed that way. Not that I recommend it, necessarily, you understand. :)

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