Following an Idiot 12/20/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Already, somebody has read the title and assumed I’m talking about Trump. Nope, not a political post. Well, not intentionally, anyway, and you never know to where my mind will meander in these blogs, but at least it’s not how I intend to start out.

Nope, I want to talk about my toilet. See, I’ve been in the house for a few weeks now, but have not had a fully functional bathroom. Oh, I’ve had all of the pieces, but while the toilet upstairs works, the sink is plugged. Downstairs the sink works, but the toilet was never installed. If you’ve never installed a toilet, it’s really not terribly difficult. There’s a wax ring that the toilet sits on, just a very heavy wax plug designed to deform and create a seal between the toilet bowl and the drainage pipe. So, I put the wax ring in, set the toilet and hooked up the water. And I flushed.

When I flushed, about a cup or two of water suddenly squirted out between the toilet tank and the bowl. Well, at least it was clean water. And it didn’t happen during the entire flush; just a sudden BLURP of water the moment I flush, then nothing. So, I figured there must be a missing or damaged gasket between the tank and the bowl. I’ve never had this problem before, and I’m hardly an expert, it just seems like there should be some kind of a seal there, so off I go to my new favorite building supply store and speaking with a true expert, he said I was exactly right. Low and behold, he found the gasket I needed. I unscrewed the security bolts holding the tank to the bowl, and sure enough…no gasket. I installed the gasket, and it flushes fine. Then I installed the new bidet toilet seat just because I wanted a bidet, and yes, I tried it out. And no, I won’t go into any further details.

I don’t know who put this toilet here, but clearly they had no idea what they were doing. It reminds me of my first gig as an analytical chemist. They had a GC/MS, the premiere analytical chemistry tool of the day (and still up there) that hadn’t worked in several years. The problem is that, even with a bachelor’s degree, in 1985 a chemist with GC/MS experience was pulling six figures, so instead they decided to greatly underpay a new college graduate with electronics experience, and sure enough, I got it up and running in just a few weeks. One of the interesting things is that the nut holding the chromatographic column into the mass spec had no ferrule. A ferrule is a graphite kind of gasket, again designed to deform and create an airtight seal for the extreme vacuum necessary for the mass spec to be able to work. Again, whoever did this clearly had no idea what they were doing.

It’s funny how many experts don’t know what they’re doing. One of the simplest instruments to run is a spectrometer, but recently I was working with a company that had hired a new biology graduate who not only did not know how to operate the device, but also insisted that he did and that I, with experience with a multitude of these devices dating back over thirty years obviously did not. In my second “teaching gig”, the professor that I had replaced was under the impression that an “explosion proof refrigerator” meant it would be a safe place to hide if a bomb went off leveling the entire building, but looking at this refrigerator, one would immediately realize it’s no sturdier than any normal refrigerator. The only thing that makes it “explosion proof” is that the electronics are on the outside so there will never be a spark inside the refrigerator that could set off an explosion of accumulated organic solvent fumes.

My friend designs printed circuit boards for a company that makes printers. He had problem at one point where the board had to plug into not two, but three cables. With two cables it’s a simple matter of making one cable a “male” connector and the other a “female”, but what do you do with three? So, he designed it so one of these cables were too short to plug into the wrong spot. Sure enough, the circuit failed in one of their printers and the field engineer had to replace it. He pulled the old board, put in a new one and discovered the wire wasn’t long enough to reach. Instead of thinking, oh, this one must plug into the wire it can reach, he decided that he needed to “fix” the circuit. He pulled it out of the printer, took off the wire, soldered in a longer one and plugged it in…incorrectly. Sure enough, the entire printer exploded. It occurred to me, though, that the entire time that he was “fixing” the circuit board, he was calling my friend an idiot.

Proof positive that nothing is truly idiot proof unless your idiot is an underachiever.

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