Saturday, July 12, 2014


Hashtag #FWP, or in human-speak, First World Problems. I've got 'em.

What's a First World Problem, you ask?

Well, a First World Problem is when something goes wrong with a piece of contemporaneous technology that would have been (and in many cases, was) a figment of science fiction just a few decades ago, or less.  It is the kind of gadget, tool, or communications device that is in such common usage and is so affordable that the shelves of your local Walmart are caked with it, although it is probably not nearly as ubiquitously owned in what are known as "third world countries."

A First World Problem is when a failure of one or more these miraculous technologies causes a deep and abiding frustration over something that is normally in and of itself, well, miraculous.

It would be similar to a #BEP, Biblical Era Problem, such as spitting out a mouthful of wine that had just been converted from water because it wasn't a Pinot Grigio.

Churlish, at best.

But, like I said, I've got 'em.

For example, I recently solved one.  A few years ago, three, I think, I bought a new lawnmower. My old Craftsman lawn tractor had suffered a broken weld for the last time, so I sold it off to someone with more patience than I have when it comes to recalcitrant, recidivist yard tools. Three strikes, you're out. I decided that it was well past time to move up to a modern ZTR mower. They are quite expensive, and I didn't want to waste my money on a lemon. Having a buddy that works at a place that supplies this kind of equipment to professional landscapers, I hit him up for a referral for a good brand, although I have always suspected that most brands are nothing more than different paint and decals on exactly the same machine.  It's not like there's a Kenmore factory somewhere cranking out refrigerators that look and operate just like Maytags, right?

He asked if he could call me back.

When he did, he had a deal that I could not refuse, and it didn't even involve the placement of a severed horse head somewhere in my bedroom to convince me. The long and short of it was that they carried a line of commercial grade mowers, but there was a model at the bottom of the line that was considered to be residential grade, and they were tired of hauling it around to commercial trade shows where there was no hope of ever selling it.  I could have it at less than wholesale. It would still be spendy, mind you, but not nearly as much as what I would pay at retail, and of superior quality too. With a 50" cutting deck and a 24hp V-twin Kawasaki engine, I couldn't say no, even though I strongly suspected that it had more than a few hours on it skidding around on the pavement out by their loading dock. They can be quite recreational, as it turns (heh!) out.

I love the thing. Mowing the extensive holdings of the stately Schmetterling Manor previously took no less than an hour and forty-five minutes. It now takes less than an hour, sometimes.  And there's the rub. "Sometimes."

There's the First World Problem. I had expected the Kawasaki engine to be bereft of the plethora of problems I have learned to expect from more pedestrian manufacturers like Briggs and Stratton.  It was not to be. For three years I have suffered with a sporadic engine problem. The mower would start just fine, but for the first 15 or 20 minutes, it would start to run very rich until it finally spluttered itself to death. As with any flooded engine, I would have to crank and crank and crank before it would start again, which naturally introduced the risk of burning out the starter motor. Or worse. It actually had an exhaust fire on more than one occasion.  Struggling through those first few minutes, on the days when the engine just didn't want to work right, added some time back to the overall span of the typical mow, but it was still faster than the yard tractor could do.

So, yes, sometimes it would work just fine,.but not often enough to suit my modern expectation of on-demand miraculous performance. I began to look for things that I may have done differently on the days when it worked well. I tried letting it idle for a few minutes before shutting it down; the Briggs on my Sears mower insisted on that, and expressed its displeasure over my failure to do so with a horrendously explosive backfire.  I tried starting it without using the choke, or using it for just an instant. Nothing worked, although I did have a number of superstitions that I tried on up until the inevitable next failure.

I even had it picked up and hauled to a repair shop, whose only contribution was to teach me where the air filter was so I could keep it from getting clogged with grass clippings. Well, that and sharpening the blades, so it wasn't a total waste. Theories were bandied about. Sticking valve? A problem with the stupid vent return lines mandated by the halfwits at the EPA? Engine loading from the hydraulic packs used to steer it?

I finally figured it out last week. It was a particularly bad day for the engine. I had noticed before that sometimes changing from one fuel tank to the other would work (it has two, just like a normal small plane), but the problem occurred with both tanks this time around. Half an hour later, all was going fine - running on the left tank, everything had been going smoothly after that first fifteen minutes of sputtering. I was becoming ever more convinced that it was something to do with those stupid vent lines. You can see them here:

Then an idea hit me: I had refilled both tanks this time. And when I refill, I fill them right to the brim of the fuel necks right behind the vents. Could the fuel be blocking those vents and causing the engine to run rich?

It would be easy to find out: the right tank was still chock full. If I was to switch to the right tank and suddenly the started sputtering....


So, my immediate reaction was not relief over having potentially solved this persistently perplexing problem.

Oh, no. My immediate reaction was to think "What kind of [first world pejorative] would design something that stupid!?!?!"

My second, more civil thought was that maybe there were a few words in the owners manual warning of just such a thing, and perhaps even accompanied by helpful instructions that I had somehow missed.

I dug out the manual, looked up the section on fueling, and saw a completely ambiguous "Do Not Overfill."  "Uh, yeah, but what precisely constitutes overfilling?" I asked myself hypothetically, what with recent experience having taught me precisely that lesson quite adequately.

I went back to my first, less charitable thought. "What kind of [first world pejorative much harsher than the first one] would design something that stupid!?!?!"

But... lucky to have figured it out, so there is that to consider.

My good luck was not to continue.

I received an email from the CEO of the vast Schmetterling conglomerate complaining of the poor quality sound being emitted from one of his HD TVs (#FWP - ed.) and wondering whether the only solution was the purchase of a better piece of television equipment.

"No," I sent back, "I have just the thing you need: a pair of old speakers that will plug into the headset jack of your TV and provide adequate sound." Of course, I had first Googled the model number of the television in question (which he had thoughtfully provided), found an electronic copy of the appropriate owners manual on the internet, and had used that to ensured that there actually was a headset jack, and that it could be configured to provide variable volume commensurate with the remotely controlled volume setting.

Yes to all.

"I'll deliver them via Van's Airmail on Myday."

Which I did. Arriving at the hangar in the early AM, thinking that an early start would lead to an early return, I was thrilled to see that I have a new hangar frog (which I will try not to accidentally run over, like I did the last one), I had a nice morning flight out to KVES, greased the landing, and in relatively short order had the speakers attached and working.

Following which, there was a question about Netflix. The appeal of Netflix is that the service provides easy access to international programming, but the snail in the coleslaw is that it can sometimes be difficult to understand English accents on some of the better BBC offerings.

"Ah," I stated, with a slight air of pride over having superior Netflix skillz, "there's an easy way to do that. You simply turn on Closed Captioning (CC) and read the part you couldn't get, and then just turn the CC off again."

"Show me," sez he. Something he picked up in Missouri, no doubt.

As the burdensome mess known as Windows 8 sprang to the screen, I again commented on the irritation of having to remember his password to log in, something he finds annoying as well. Figuring there was nothing to lose and much to gain, I again turned to Google.

Five minutes later, problem solved.  The luck continued unabated.  But wait, it doesn't last.

Somewhere between "fixing" Windows and showing him the CC button in Netflix, I mentioned that he could just as easily watch Netflix on the newly volume-enhanced TV if we were to run to Wally Mart for a cheap wi-fi router and a Roku streaming stick. Granted, I could just have easily said that we only needed a cheap dingsnatch coupler and a Ragu bread stick, but his (misplaced, as we will see) faith in my technical acumen swung the right way, allowing us to immediately launch ourselves in the direction of town. Which was my goal all along, myself having skipped breakfast and a Bob Evans restaurant being oh so conveniently located right across the street from Wally's.

The postprandial search for the required electronics went easily and before too long I was removing the cable running from his DSL modem to his PC and plugging it into the cheap Belkin router. As I then went to plug the PC into the router, it struck me that I was one cable short. I sent a text to Co-Pilot Egg, confessing to my utter stupidity in not procuring a cable when I had the chance. After all, a 20 mile round trip is something to be avoided whenever possible. I checked the box the router came in, but found no cable, which didn't endear me to Belkin a great deal, but it was their cheapest model, so....

Off to Wally Mart which, this much later in the morning, was getting crowded.  That's no fun.

Happy Myday.

Returning with the cable, I plugged everything in and powered it all up.  Consulting the Quick Start guide to make sure everything was ready to go, I read, "Using the supplied cable...."


Going back to the package, I soon discovered a cable hidden under a false floor in the box.

Text to Egg: "Got back from buying a cable, then found the one that came with the router."

Her sarcastic reply (she gets it from me): "Good thing IT work isn't your job!"

I have not yet told her, and probably won't, what I discovered next: the PC has onboard wi-fi capabilities and we didn't need the cable at all!

I can be forgiven for thinking that all would go smoothly from there.

It did not.  #FWP: the PC could talk to the router, and the modem could talk to the internet, but the router could not talk to the modem.  There thus ensued hours of trying to figure it out, but I finally had to concede to ignominious defeat.

I told him to return the router to Wally Mart and buy the next most expensive, non-Belkin router.  When in doubt, punt.

At least, I thought, I can show him the CC button in Netflix. We started Netflix, jumped into the movie he had been watching (In Bruges), clicked on the CC button, and then.... watched something like three minutes of completely dialog-free movie while some guy rode on a train.

Finally, a train conductor or a police officer (I'm not sure which) asked the character riding on the train if he had "heet the Canadian."

The character said, "What?"

"Did you heet the Canadian."

It was obvious to us that "heet" was meant to be "hit."

I pointed out that, coincidentally enough, the character needed subtitles.

Having accomplished all that I could, I headed back home. It was a pretty bumpy flight and not at all as relaxing as the morning flight. As I approached Bolton, I called the tower.

I could not understand a word the controller said. Something had gone wrong with my radio - the intercom worked fine, but the sidetone when I transmitted was fairly bad, and the receiving was nearly useless.

Fortunately, I pretty much know what they're going to say.  All I had to hear was "four" to know that it was the routine "report a two mile left base to runway four."

He said some after that which sounded close enough to "Clear to land" for me to go ahead an do so.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a CC button.

Worse case was a scolding from the tower that I wouldn't have been able to hear - when a tree falls in the forest....

I tried everything I could think of to solve the radio problem the next day, but was not able to figure it out. Since the plane is grounded until I get it figured out, I decided to go ahead and do an oil change.

I couldn't get the filter off. Way too tight. The 'cap' tool eventually rounded off the corners of the filter, and the strap/clamp wrench just crushed it.

#FWP, indeed.

The hangar frog disapproved of some of the language being used to facilitate the removal of the oil filter.

Garmin has a fixed-price repair program: $525 flat rate, no matter how simple or complex the problem.

That's half the cost of the radio. Having exhausted all possible fixes that were within my capabilities, I had resigned myself to choosing one of only two possible options: buy the newer radio that comes with current RV-12 kits (which has a built in intercom - I could get rid of the not-so-good one I have now) for $1,200, or take the plane to an avionics shop to have them look at it. The deciding factor would be whether or not the problem was with the radio or something in the wiring.

The way to determine if the problem was internal to the radio was very easy: I would simply swap it out with an identical radio currently sitting in an incomplete RV-12 two hangar rows over. Swapping a radio is super simple - they slide right out of the tray. I removed my radio first, and as I was doing so I got to thinking about how many times a problem has been fixed just by re-seating something in the socket that holds it. I figured it would be smart to at least give that a try. I slid the radio back in, powered up the plane, called the tower and asked for a radio check.

He came back loud and clear.

Was my first thought, "This is great!! Now I don't need to buy a new radio!!"

Well, yes. Yes it was.  But my second thought was, "But it would have been nice to."

I am a man of my times.

No comments:

Post a Comment