Metatalktail Hour: We Solved the Problem, So Everything Is Awesome November 4, 2017 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Good Saturday evening, MetaFilter! Quietgal asks, "What's the best bit of troubleshooting or problem-solving you've ever performed or watched?" I expand it to, What problem have you solved recently that has improved your life in tiny or huge ways? Feel free to link to problem-solving products!
posted by Eyebrows McGee to MetaFilter-Related at 6:32 PM (120 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

I fixed my daughter's nursemaid's elbow after watching a YouTube video! It was very exciting for me, and now I demand everyone call me doctor.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:34 PM on November 4 [8 favorites]


I worked at a hospital for a long time. I worked all over the hospital, and with some of my advisory duties, I learned the whole layout of the place, and it was fascinating. Then there were bats getting into the Positive Air Flow unit, used for bone marrow transplant patients. I was told I could no longer open my office window because of the risk. Because I rotated through all of the units I learned the Bone Marrow Unit, wasn't the only one with bats, the east top floor units all had bats at one time or another. Then I realized they all shared a common back stairwell, which at the second floor, opened out onto a walkway with a light over that back door, and right there was a 5 story wall of ivy. I put this all together, and I went to the manager of the unit, and told her I knew where the bats were coming from. "Where, Oyéah, are the bats coming from? Because at the moment I have maintenance guys crawling through the heating and cooling system." I told her about working the east units who had all had bats, then noticed the second floor doorway out into the ivy, with the large light which would attract insects, which would then attract bats, which would become confused, and fly up the stairwell, when the door opened, (the docs used that path to come and go from two floors, out to their parking area.) She looked at me, and she shook her head, she asked, "How long did it take you to figure this out?" I said just a couple of days, after I had to shut my office window. Problem solved.
posted by Oyéah at 6:41 PM on November 4 [61 favorites]


I am pretty psyched that I learned that I can upload photos and the internet will print them as postcards and mail them directly to my grandma, who has quit using e-mail and facebook because she's 93 and is down for just regular letters now, for a couple bucks, because me printing photos happens like NEVER. So I am so excited about the internet postcards!
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 6:45 PM on November 4 [44 favorites]


Raising the headrest on my bed. I was cynical about whether this would help me sleep (as I've probably mentioned a billion times, trying to optimize sleep and bowel habits are the two health obsessions of this part of my life, for many of my peers too). Am aware that it's useful for people with stomach acid problems, but not for any other reason; however, a few people and my doctor recommended it. So, I've shoved some large hardback books under the head of my bed, raising it by around seven inches and ... maybe it's just a coincidence but I do seem to get a better and more comfortable sleep. Huh!

+ + + + +

Not much has happened this last week or so. One strolled across rural England on a few nice walks, during which I saw a goat, some llamas, and a milk float. A while later I came across an abandoned graveyard (the church was moved a long time ago for financial reasons).

I've done some work in pubs on the longer walks during breaks; eavesdropping into the conversations of locals only reinforced a long-held belief that rural English people are obsessed with sex, death, cake, house prices, and nothing else. My perhaps odd on-off relationship with a jam maker continues, and my fridge is slowly filling with jars of home made jam. This is becoming a problem.

There is still sunshine, despite the turn of the seasons.

Baking remains a core activity in this part of the world so the highlights of the last few days were probably the two cake-related events I attended.

First was gatecrashing Beryl's 85th birthday party by accident. I don't know who Beryl is, but was passing a rural village hall and someone said "Would you like some cake?", so I went inside and they were having a birthday party. It was also a good opportunity to stop for a break and map read/plan, and after a while Beryl ambled over and we had a good discussion about Anderson shelters, and heating in schools between the two world wars (her class used to sit in rotation, as the coal fire was at the front so those at the front desks got warmest in winter). Then she went to talk to another table and someone came over with a slice of her birthday cake. Which was jolly nice.

The second was a local Satanists chapter or group, who were having a tea and cake event to raise money for whatever they buy. They seem a harmless bunch, and less intense or serious than the local Wicca group who get really unhappy if you question exactly how ancient their rituals are. But the Satanists were in a jolly mood, and I chatted to their coven(?) leader, an accountant named Derek from Leicester who made me a nice cup of tea, and mentioned that I was donating blood the next day. He said he would like to do that but couldn't, as he often fainted at the sight of it. From which one suspects they are probably not into the hardcore or stereotypical stuff that Satanists do, or allegedly do.

But more importantly, and why I was there, they had cake. Which led to this exchange at their stand:

Me: {puzzled, trying to figure out the icing pattern} What is this?
Satanist: It is a chocolate sponge cake my mother made. One pound fifty.
Me: No, the icing. What is it?
Satanist: Oh! That is the fall of Jesus and the emerging dominance of Beelzebul over all dominions and man in the forthcoming battle to end all battles.
Me: {pointing to a particularly colorful part of the icing} Is that what this part is?
Satanist: No, those are just candy sprinkles I bought in Tesco.

The cake was purchased and is mostly gone. I have not mentioned this to my local vicar.
posted by Wordshore at 6:46 PM on November 4 [127 favorites]


Of all the religious groups, it seems like the Satanists have the most fun.

Plus tasty baked goods!
posted by elsietheeel at 6:51 PM on November 4 [2 favorites]


it seems like the Satanists have the most fun.
I call them the Christian Contrarians, because they believe in the existence of the same spiritual entities, but just opted for the opposing team.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:57 PM on November 4 [14 favorites]


I have purchased a high tension band and I'm using it to help improve my posture. I have a very life long bad habit of slouching and I'm using the band (various exercises and wraps) to improve the way I stand. I'm also getting better at just being aware of my posture and making an effort whenever I'm out in public or at work standing. Slowly it's working and I'm making progress.
posted by Fizz at 7:03 PM on November 4 [7 favorites]


It's not a big genius idea and I can't believe I had to go around the sun on this planet 29 times before I worked this out, but if I buy cheap vegetables over the weekend and then slice them all into roughly the same size and put them in gallon ziplock bag right away, I eat more vegetables you guys. All week. By like, an order of magnitude.

(Seriously, it works so well. Plus when I get home from work I have ready-made stir-fry ingredients, or veggies to put in pasta sauce, or egg scramble, or salad topping, or... etc.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 7:20 PM on November 4 [26 favorites]


After a couple of false starts over the last two years I've managed to start swimming laps regularly for the last two months which makes me very happy. I had to quit running four years ago because of my back issues and hadn't found an exercise that really works for me until this. I still miss running dearly but it's almost as good and doesn't do horrible things to my lower back.
posted by octothorpe at 7:21 PM on November 4 [14 favorites]


Not me, but a yoga teacher I had once had to improvise on the fly when the supply room containing the yoga mats was locked. While someone in charge ran around looking for keys, my teacher realized there were a bunch of folding chairs in a stack in the corner of the studio. "Oh! We can do yoga with chairs!" I thought it was quite brilliant.
posted by janepanic at 7:22 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


oh this is so timely because I have exhausted my other proselytizing outlets on this topic and it's been very frustrating. Anyway, I bought the Breeze litter system for my two cats.

YES. OMG. LIFE-CHANGING. No more litter getting tracked all over the house or kicked out of the box. No more foul urine clumps that eventually turn to ammonia. No more gross scoops that get all...gross from the clumpingness. No more lugging heavy, litter-filled boxes or trash bags around.

I think it works out to be maybe a few dollars more per cat per month and it is the HUGEST bargain. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.
posted by lalex at 7:28 PM on November 4 [11 favorites]


Once, back in my science fiction convention going youth, in southwest Michigan, I witness Bobo (a god, if you will, not *the* God) perform a miracle. We had just sacrificed an image of Barney, who was an anathema to Boboists. We had the whole thing on videotape (this being the mid-90s, before digital anything, much less mobile phones with video cameras). We had impaled a small Barney on a very large bottle rocket, and set the whole thing off in a drainage ditch near the hotel that security had said, "uh, not here, maybe down there." The actual event was kind of disappointing, but hey, sacrifice done, we headed back to the hotel to watch our triumph. Sadly, no one had any cables with which to connect the camcorder to the tv.

It was then that Bobo, evidently an electrician in the secular world, went to his car, came back with a giant tool box, and after a minute or so of fiddling with wires and clippers created a coaxial cable with which we watched the video. And lo, a miracle had been performed.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:48 PM on November 4 [2 favorites]


My job requires at least one bit of extreme troubleshooting (when the system you support is a raging garbage fire, you'll have that) or creative problem-solving per week, but I can never think of actual examples when asked :-/

But the Satanists were in a jolly mood, and I chatted to their coven(?) leader, an accountant named Derek from Leicester who made me a nice cup of tea

This is the most English thing I have ever read.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:53 PM on November 4 [37 favorites]


Hmm. I've figured out a fair bit of counterintuitive stuff in my time, but some of my best work in that regard has been in figuring out the true roots of people's behavior and determining how to adjust mine or my team's accordingly. I'm also having trouble thinking of some specific examples, but I've written about a good few of my insights over the years in comments here.

Hardware-wise, I gave a lightning talk on a kludgy hack a few years ago that I still use every day. It's not even a hack so much as an example of figuring out the right parts to buy and hook up to each other to achieve the desired outcome.

Problem
I'm using an iMac as an external monitor for a MacBook Pro, through the magic of Target Display Mode. That's all well and good, but it means the MacBook's built-in camera for video calls is then awkwardly off to one side.

Solution Connect the resulting string of cables and adapters. Using the magnetic stand, stick the iSight to the top of the iMac. Plug the Thunderbolt end of that string of stuff into one of the MacBook Pro's ports. Activate Target Display Mode by hitting Command-F2 on the iMac keyboard. Make sure your speaker or headphones plugs into the MacBook Pro as well. Use the MacBook Pro's internal mic or any regular external mic you prefer. Just choose the iSight as your camera and adjust its angle as desired. Enjoy! The video will be a little bit lower-res than it otherwise might have been, but that's not abnormal in the world of video calls with people on all kinds of setups with all kinds of bandwidth restrictions. And you get to enjoy the beautifully modern design of that lil' perforated aluminum tube of a camera. See also.
posted by limeonaire at 7:57 PM on November 4 [3 favorites]


This is the most English thing I have ever read.

did you miss this: "I have not mentioned this to my local vicar."

I love Wordshore's stories!
posted by lalex at 8:04 PM on November 4 [12 favorites]


Also, big ups to Peg + Cat.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:12 PM on November 4 [7 favorites]


About oh, 10ish years ago, I slipped in some super berry-rich bear shit and broke my ankle, though I didn't know how bad it was, just that it was bad. It was 'bout 2 miles back to the trail head, so not too far, but I was in a big meadow with no easy access to timber. After a few minutes trying to figure out how the hell to stabilize my ankle enough to get back to the car it dawned on me I could pull the inner frame from my pack and wrap it around my ankle with the duct tape I always carry wrapped around my Nalgene bottle. Yay - a splint! With my trekking poles to lean on it worked pretty well.

Nowadays it's much more common to have one of the smaller Sam Splints, which you can buy at an average sporting goods store, but at the time I felt pretty proud of my solution.
posted by barchan at 8:20 PM on November 4 [12 favorites]


My job requires at least one bit of extreme troubleshooting (when the system you support is a raging garbage fire, you'll have that) or creative problem-solving per week, but I can never think of actual examples when asked :-/

Yes exactly.

otoh, this is a skill called jugaad. I had a blog on this theme before some guys wrote a book.
posted by infini at 8:28 PM on November 4 [5 favorites]


I have been lonely! I have discovered I can solve this by asking existing friends to do things with me, and by asking other people in my life who seem like they might turn out to be good friends to do things with me, too. Seriously, this has been life-changing, at least in this part of my life (I used to be much better at this). I spent a good five years as a total hermit, happy in my isolation, and then a gigantic wave of "Oh, wait, I need people" hit me in the last year and it's been very weird to manage. Because I'm still very picky about which people I need, and I'm having general introvert disdain about the idea of "people" in general, but I'm also hitting a point in which I am apparently more attuned to picking good people out of my environment and asking them on hikes or out for drinks, or responding when they ask me. (Is asking people on hikes a California thing? I feel like I'm constantly suggesting walks or drinks, which seem like diametrically opposed things, though I like them both equally.)

On Tuesday, I texted a woman with whom I tangentially work and asked if she wanted to get together in the next couple of weeks for drinks or coffee... and I had NO ANXIETY about it. Which is, granted, partly because the last time we had a work meeting she said, "Hey, we should get together for drinks sometime!" but still! I was the one to reach out! And she didn't reply for many days and I still had no anxiety about it, because I just figured she was busy, and that's fine. (Like, literally, in the shower on Thursday, I thought, "Should I be anxious about her lack of response yet? How many days has it been? Two? Yeah, we're still within the normal response window. All's good.") She called me for work-related reasons on Friday and opened the call with, "I am totally not ignoring your text and yes we should get together but I realize my not responding makes this work call potentially awkward..." and I was like, Yes! She's my people!
posted by lazuli at 8:47 PM on November 4 [51 favorites]


I found an iSight when I was packing a couple of months ago. And a couple of iPods. And an iBook and a PowerBook and a MacBookPro. And two Kobos. I had no idea I had that much old tech floating around.

My uncle was the best problem solver I ever met, but I can't think of any specific examples right now. But he was a damn genius and he was like Doctor Doolittle when it came to animals.

I'm not solving many problems lately, but I DID figure out how to manage a wood stove. I moved to a place where most everyone uses wood stoves for heating and there was a bit of a learning curve. I'd only ever had boring old fireplaces and fires took a lot of babysitting. A decent wood stove takes minimal attention, which confused me at first. But I learned to light the kindling, close the door, and leave it the hell alone until it's time to add another log. It's kind of amazing. And I can cook dinner on it if I ever feel so inclined.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:48 PM on November 4 [6 favorites]


Oh, and then she texted me, and we have plans for Thursday. And my other new friend -- to whom I made the first suggestion to get together, too! -- and I have plans for Friday. Look at me, all making new friends!
posted by lazuli at 8:49 PM on November 4 [31 favorites]


I needed to remove the trailer hitch ball from my company truck. I discovered that I had no wrenches, only a large channel lock pliers. I ended up wedging a small rock between the hexagonal stem of the hitch ball and the upright leg of the angle iron frame, which held the stem firmly enough that I could turn the nut off with the pliers.

I was helping an EE with an issue in a serial data stream; data in, garbage out. We were looking at the input and output on a two channel oscilloscope. The two data streams were not exactly in sync because there was some delay through the circuit. Not being a 'scope adept, I asked if we could shift one of the displays to bring them into sync. We could, and I could then see the circuit was swallowing the leading 1 bit of all sequences of one or more 1 bits. With that clue, my partner discovered that one pin of one integrated circuit had not been soldered in its hole, which he had not previously seen because when he probed that pin, his scope probe had been pushing it firmly against the side of the hole, temporarily masking the problem.
posted by Bruce H. at 9:03 PM on November 4 [7 favorites]


Oh! Also discovered today, at a wine-tasting event, that when presented with an older man who thinks he deserves all the attention of the women present just because he's, like, a dude, that I can solve that problem by walking away. Even without any sort of real excuse. It took me an annoying ten minutes of listening to this particular dude pontificate and of not wanting to be rude to get to the point of "Fuck this," but once I hit that point, I realized it made my life oh so much better. I could just leave! And I did!
posted by lazuli at 9:09 PM on November 4 [65 favorites]


Back in junior high I once fixed our dot-matrix printer by yanking on the cord real hard. My dad paid me $10. Thus ends the highlight reel of my tech support career.
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:12 PM on November 4 [15 favorites]


Well, this week I figured out why my friend has strong wifi signal but effectively no Internet connectivity in most of her house. It is not the plaster and brick. It is that she and all her neighbors all rent their crappy hardware from their ISPs, and the 2.4 GHz band is full. Also, there are two jokers who've set their channels to 3 and 9, because they just want to watch the world burn. Between that and the location of the modem/router, the cordless phones, and everything else that interferes with 2.4, it is not possible to get Internet unless one is less than 10 feet and in line of sight. Bluetooth has interference at 5 feet in line of sight.

Manually changing the channel didn't last long as a work-around, so we're going to have to go with my original plan: separate router attatched to the rental unit. If not for VOIP, I'd have her return the thing and buy her own. But those are stupidly expensive and have other issues.

Currently I am trying to figure out a way to sleep at her house. I spent the night for the first time this week and have discovered that my inability to sleep on a mattress has become worse since I discovered the magic of hammock sleep. I finally get good sleep, but only in a hammock. But if she gets sick or something, at this point I'm the only one around who can drop everything and stay there (her husband is bedridden and needs turning every 2-3 hours). Luckily, she's pretty easy going, so if I do show up with a hammock stand the problem is going to be where is it possible to actually set it up. Being a princess good troubleshooter has its disadvantages.
posted by monopas at 9:26 PM on November 4 [2 favorites]


Back in 1996, I was supporting Windows 95. You could get free technical support during business hours on weekdays, but at night or on weekends, technical support was $35. One weekend, I got a call from a man who, when starting up his computer, got an error message: "non-system disk or disk error". Right away, I asked him if he had a floppy disk in the disk drive, and he said that yes, he did. I asked him to take it out and reboot his computer. We were soon past the point where he had repeatedly gotten the error message. Voilà! Success! I insisted that we wait until he was Windows was fully loaded, and asked if he had any questions about using Windows. I wanted to make sure he got full value for his $35, and 1.5 minutes of technical support didn't seem really fair. But he said he was completely satisfied and had no questions, thanked me for my help, and ended the call. It took me longer to write my notes than to solve his issue.

And then there was the woman who called in to Windows support in tears for help with Microsoft Bob. Heaven help me.
posted by QuakerMel at 9:38 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]


Troubleshooting stuff is my favorite thing in the world.
The other night I woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible pain in one eye, and I was on vacation. So I was like hm I need someone to look into my eyeball. The next morning I went to a local optometrist office and the doctor had time so she took a look and told me what the problem was and gave me some eye drops. So like I didn't technically look into my own eye but I knew how to get it done so I consider this troubleshooted and problem-solved by me.
posted by bleep at 9:57 PM on November 4 [5 favorites]


I've spent the free time (two kids, not much) over the last few days using my new Silky brand manual pole saw. Let me say, it is a pleasure to use and has held up long enough to more than pay for itself with it's easy cutting and long reach. /pepsiblue and all that but damn it feels good to have all those limbs out of the way for, probably, as far as a grounded human can reach.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:10 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


This summer I finally pried my Mom's fingers from her system running Windows Vista and got her all set up on a brand new box with Windows 10. And, replaced my Dad's ageing, hot, cranky old HP laptop running Windows 7 with a Chromebook--which he loves. Kind of tricked my Dad into it. I ordered two Chromebooks on a daily deal site and had them sent to my folks' house for pick up later. Dad asked what they were and I said "Well, they are these kinda crappy laptops that I want as extras for school. They aren't that good , but go ahead and try one if you want. It cost 98 bucks so don't expect much." He never looked back. When I went back for a visit I brought my much better nicer Toshiba Chromebook 2 with me and asked him if I could please have the one he'd been using if I could the Tsohiba with him because it was bigger and heavier and I didn't want to travel with it anymore. Trying to get him to ditch his ancient malware infested laptop had been going nowhere for years.
posted by Gotanda at 10:13 PM on November 4 [17 favorites]


"What's the best bit of troubleshooting or problem-solving you've ever performed or watched?"

We were three days out and about 50 miles off the New Jersey coast when the wind died. Up until that point we had been on a broad reach, making good time and staying on one tack all the way up the coast. Standard operating procedure was that we'd start the engine - run up the iron genny - to make way and keep our schedule. As the other boats in the pack headed off, the chief engineer came to me.

"We have a problem."
"Show me."

He gestured to the fuel filter, a small blue-and-white cylinder with a translucent dome hanging underneath. The dome contained a vortex that siphoned off particles from the diesel, keeping them from the finicky 50hp Yanmar nestled in the hull. You could tell it was working, because the usually the red diesel had a few grains of something, algae maybe, sitting in the bottom and swirling around when the motor ran

The dome was totally black, black like motor oil.

"What does the book say?" I already knew, and I knew he knew as well. I had drilled these kids for two weeks before we set off, ten, twelve hours a day. We knew the little sloop inside and out.
"We have the spare filter, but ..." I flipped the book - our operating manual for the boat - open to the "FUEL FILTER REPLACEMENT" section. In bold letters it said DO NOT CHANGE FUEL FILTER AT SEA. ONLY CHANGE FUEL FILTER WHEN TIED UP.

Oh well.

"Here's what you're going to do. Take two of the off-watch. Study the procedure and gather the tools. In one hour, walk the XO through the change. Then you and the XO will walk me through the change. Then we'll all do it together." The book had everything to change the filter in it, but all the directions were screwey - things like "use shore power" and "place tools on dock." That wasn't going to happen in 5' rollers and a couple-a-hundred feet of water.

We ended up cutting the male end off the water hose in order to siphon (I say siphon - really, it was the trick where you put your thumb over the end of the straw) diesel out of the 55 gallon conformal tank wedged into the bilge. We needed the fuel to prime the replacement filter, but the fuel pump only ran when the motor did, and that wasn't going to happen. That kid pulled off the filter change like it was another day in the shop, and the big red motor coughed to life on the first try.

Never did figure out what had happened to that filter.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:30 PM on November 4 [22 favorites]


I do tech support for a cellular company. My whole life is figuring out why a phone might not make calls, text, or be unable to access data.

So I like troubleshooting and problem solving simple things like. Oh it's cold. Why? Oh, I didn't close the window. So I closed it. Which is something I just did.

Simple things, simple solutions. Simple pleasures.
posted by Fizz at 11:01 PM on November 4 [4 favorites]


I troubleshooted my child. Full-on temper tantrum to which I did not react other than to escort him to the car and wait for him to calm down.
posted by bq at 11:29 PM on November 4 [20 favorites]


Today we solved the problem of not being able to find anything in the snack drawer and pantry by cleaning things out and reorganizing them. We now have fewer stale snacks in the house, and a bag of beers we will never drink ready to go to the next party we go to.

(Also, earlier this week, a coworker called me to ask for help in fixing some weird line breaks in a post on our site and without even looking, I said, it's div tags, it's always div tags, switch to text view and take them out. She acted like I was some kind of miracle worker. It was stupidly gratifying.)
posted by rtha at 11:46 PM on November 4 [11 favorites]


When my dad died a few years ago, we were clearing out a load of stuff at my parents' house and realised that all the photo albums from when me and my sister were kids were locked in a filing cabinet in the garage and no one could find the key.

Using a hairpin, a small screwdriver and everything I'd learnt from the lockpicking minigame in Skyrim, I got that sucker open on the first attempt.
posted by terretu at 1:46 AM on November 5 [29 favorites]


The closest bodega to me is a couple blocks away. The two middle-eastern men who own it are brothers or father/son. I only go there once every couple weeks. Both dudes have bantered/flirted with me and I them. I went in there tonight and there was a short line at the register. I was 3rd in line and kind of zoned out. Then I heard one of the owner-dudes say “get out!” to a guy who had the clothing and the heavy backpack of a homeless person.

My face got angry for a minute and when I got to the counter to pay I made a big deal out of picking up some giant sticks of jerky. As I was paying I was trying to make some small talk with the owner-dudes and they both had this look on their faces that I can only describe as this 😦

I ran to catch up with the dude they'd kicked out and said I was sorry about how he had been treated. He said, “It’s OK I was counting my money too slow or something.” I reminded him that that’s bullshit gave him the jerky and told him he deserved better than that.

That’s the only significant troubleshooting I can do these days.
posted by bendy at 1:57 AM on November 5 [26 favorites]


I have an old tv in my lounge room. Every now and then the picture goes weird and the way to fix it is to give it a quick smack on the side. I call it the Fonzie maneuver and thus have introduced a small part of 'Happy Days' into my children's lives without them ever having seen the show.
posted by h00py at 2:18 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


My own personal triumph of this was when we moved into our apartment, and the previous occupants had left their shit locked up in the storage case. I taught myself to pick the large padlock - from above head height - using a mini screw driver set I had bent out of shape using the blow torch from a creme brulee kit. This was before "locksports" totally exploded so I thought I was, frankly, amazing, as I'd rated my chances at about 15% (it did take much practice, I should add).

Today I was defeated in my attempts to problem solve. Our PIECE OF SHIT I HATE YOU YOU PIECE OF SHIT dishwasher broke for the third time, overall, and the second this year. Said dishwasher is under five years old and has already been completely replaced once, so I was not feeling great towards it, you might way.

As is the law with dishwasher breakages, you only find out when there's a full load inside. So, after unpacking the dishwasher, handwashing the load in our one sink whilst the remnants of the powder slowly erased my fingerprints, I then unpacked our under-sink cupboard (so. many. plastic. bags.) to try and manually drain the dishwasher. The following two hours or so included me sucking in a lovely mouthful of half-run dishwasher water whilst I siphoned, spilling said liquid all over the floor when I mindlessly tipped my drainage bucket into the very sink I had just unplugged from the drain, trying to get the cat out from our under cupboard space as the little bastard ran straight in there when I took out the skirting board, and then putting the dishwasher back together and using some zip ties to secure the cable, which I thought maybe had kinked.

Sucking and blowing demonstrated there was now no blockage at all. But would the fucking flashing light go off, allowing me to attempt a normal cycle? Dear reader, no it would goddamn not.

So I took the ultimate problem solving fix that having two corporate jobs allows us: I vengefully went online and hate-purchased a new dishwasher (different brand, take that, whirlpool!) with a five year warranty. It's coming tomorrow, and the delivery dudes will take away the old one. If they weren't, it would probably be surrounded in a nimbus of piss-steam and smoke as I lit it up in the back yard.

It's kind of funny, I had been having a really tough day for no real reason at all. My little adventure with the dishwasher actually made me feel a bit better.
posted by smoke at 2:27 AM on November 5 [20 favorites]


It's not recent or impressive, but it's useful: Mr. Too-Ticky wears expensive outdoorsy trousers, and he had an old pair with holes in both knees. I took those old trousers and made them into a pair of fancy outdoorsy shorts + a shopping bag.
That shopping bag gets used several times per week. It's nearly indestructible because the fancy outdoorsy fabric is so strong. Plus, we get to make silly innuendo jokes about all the stuff that's in his trousers.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:11 AM on November 5 [25 favorites]


Back in 1996, I was supporting Windows 95. You could get free technical support during business hours on weekdays, but at night or on weekends, technical support was $35. One weekend, I got a call from a man who, when starting up his computer, got an error message: "non-system disk or disk error". Right away, I asked him if he had a floppy disk in the disk drive, and he said that yes, he did. I asked him to take it out and reboot his computer. We were soon past the point where he had repeatedly gotten the error message. Voilà! Success!

...I have literally performed this precise troubleshooting task for labmates this year. More than 20 years later. Our lab has several (offline) computers running Windows NT or Windows 95 that support exceedingly expensive legacy equipment, and the younger grad students and the undergrads (not to mention older grad students and postdocs who weren't particularly computer-inclined 20 years ago) are absolutely missing some basic troubleshooting instincts for devices that old.
posted by ubersturm at 3:57 AM on November 5 [4 favorites]


One time when I couldn't find my glasses, I used a glass of water as a magnifying glass to thread the needle of my sewing machine. It was a Christmas related sewing emergency. The clock was ticking and I actually tried to blindly thread it a few times before I remembered a Little Rascals episode where a lady reads a letter through a fish bowl. It worked! (My glasses were on top of my head the whole time, too, so live and learn).
posted by marimeko at 4:10 AM on November 5 [45 favorites]


For weeks, months even, our washing machine had been periodically stinking. At first, it was intermittent, but over time it became more regular; an eggy, fetid smell that would silently waft out of the machine seemingly at random. It was powerful enough that you could even sometimes smell it across the hall in our bedroom. It was awful.

I tried every single internet recommended cleaning technique on that fucker at least twice. Hot water, bleach, Affresh tablets, essential oils, everything. Nothing really worked; sometimes the smell would go away for as much as a day, but it would always come back.

Months in to the ordeal, after several phone calls to plumbers and a lot of hand-wringing about the cost of replacing a relatively new washer, I was struck from the blue by the realization that holy shit the washer is upstairs and it sits in its own tiled-in little area and it's probably got an overflow drain underneath it and the trap has dried out because it never gets used. It was such a joyous and unexpected insight. Two cups of water later, life is good again.
posted by saladin at 4:12 AM on November 5 [17 favorites]


The cleverest bit of problem-solving I ever did was repairing our clothes dryer with two note cards and a pair of scissors. The start button was going in but not starting the machine, and after pressing it a few times I realized that pressing it actually felt different in some way I couldn't quite explain, so I took the back off the control panel at top and found that there's a long flat board-like thing inside, the entire width of the control panel, and that the electronics were all attached to it, and that each corner was screwed in place but that one of the corners had broken. So what was happening was that when you pressed the start button, the start button wasn't completing the circuit because the entire corner of that board was moving back. The electronics were all on the front side of that board-like thing and there weren't any wires close, so I got some note cards, cut them to size, folded them over themselves three or four times, slid them between the back of the large broken piece and its housing, then put the back cover back on. And then the dryer worked! It has continued to work without issue over the last six years.

The most meaningful bit of problem-solving I ever did was helping a patron find some obituaries at work (I'm a librarian). She was looking for obituaries of three relatives but it became apparent that I wasn't going to find them quickly, so I got her email address and promised to get back to her as soon as I had some information to share. She just had a bit of information about each person, but she had something wrong about the first two--one died in a different town, another had gotten married and was no longer going by her maiden name, but there was enough corroborating information that I felt confident they were the right people. I emailed the patron with what I had and told her I was having trouble with the third one but would keep looking. I tried absolutely everything I could think of--Ancestry Library Edition and Heritage Quest of course, Google's News archive, websites for newspapers in the town where the person had died, websites for newspapers around where the person had died, general Google searches of various complexity.... Even bearing in mind that the patron might have some of the details wrong about her aunt since she had had some details wrong about her other two relatives, I just could not find this one obituary. After almost an hour looking, it occurred to me that maybe the detail she had gotten wrong was that her aunt had died. So I went into ReferenceUSA and searched for someone by that name in that town. One result.

I emailed the patron saying that I failed to find the third obituary but that I had found the phone number for someone by that name in that town. (Have you ever tried to give someone something you hope is good news but in a way that makes it clear you don't want to get their hopes up too high because it just seems too unlikely and you might be completely and devastatingly wrong? It's awkward.) She wrote back saying that she had called the number and that it was her aunt, and that they hadn't seen each other in fifty-eight years, and that they were going to spend Christmas together. Then she wrote back again saying that they had spent Christmas together, and that it was wonderful, and that her aunt was able to explain much of what she (the patron) hadn't understood when she was a child, and that she had been reunited with her sister, and that they had moved in together.

That was about six years ago. I remind myself of it on the occasional days when my job is stressing me out beyond belief.
posted by johnofjack at 4:17 AM on November 5 [246 favorites]


johnofjack—I absolutely LOVE your library story!
THIS is why I adore the Saturday night Metatalktails— it’s like getting to read excerpts of a lot of really great novels!
posted by bookmammal at 4:32 AM on November 5 [6 favorites]


saladin: Two cups of water later, life is good again.

You could even use vegetable oil, which doesn't evaporate, and fix it forever! (Or use some oil on top of the water, which helps keep the water from evaporating.)
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:46 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


1. Once upon a time I visited someone who gave instructions to reach her house that were extraordinarily complicated and ended with "and knock on the door, the doorbell doesn't work, it never has, I have no idea why!".
Eventually found the house and then followed the wire from the bell push all the way to a box on the wall. Opened the box. Added batteries to the place where batteries needed to be. Result!

2. The other day, I had a gizmo that couldn't find a certain folder even though that folder was right there. I noticed that the error message had three weird characters "​" on the end of that folder name, although nothing looked wrong in the config file where the folder name came from. I looked up the latin-1 values for those characters, concatenated those values together 0xE2808B and googled it. It's a utf-8 ZERO WIDTH SPACE character. Someone had managed to paste one of these into the configuration file. Deleted it and everything worked fine.

3. My house had a serious storage problem. The bed was in the way of the wardrobe door. There were two large but extraordinarily inconvenient cupboards downstairs, one of which housed the boiler. Then some horrible and unhelpful built in furniture in my tiny box room. Solution: Move my boiler by a foot so I can demolish one useless cupboard, making space to put the washer and dryer and freeing up room in the kitchen for a dishwasher. Get rid of a chimney breast from my dining room, and move the door to my understairs cupboard by a foot, making room for a WHOLE WALL of cupboards and making the understairs cupboard suddenly ten times more usable. Move all the box room crap to the new cupboards, rip out the built in furniture and make a walk in wardrobe in the box room. PROBLEM SOLVED. Suddenly my house works!
posted by quacks like a duck at 6:02 AM on November 5 [13 favorites]


I have been lonely! I have discovered I can solve this by asking existing friends to do things with me

I have been getting better at that this year! After my mom died and I spent the whole summer basically alone in her house doing projects, I decided that when i got home to Vermont I would busy myself up, see my friends, and just do whatever with them and let work deadlines be a little less important than my own mental health. Turns out this is sort of a winning plan and I've been pleased with feeling more connected.

But troubleshooting! I saw a great program at a library conference where a librarian talked about how teaching troubleshooting techniques for computer stuff (in a library setting) has very little to do with knowing the actual computer stuff and everything to do with the processes of solving a problem. So she turned "teaching troubleshooting" into a game for her librarian staff so they wouldn't flee when a patron came to the desk with a computer issue and say "You need to talk to the person who is good at computers"

My personal story is coming home with my brand new laptop (which I'd agonized for months about buying) only to find my desktop machine had mysteriously died that same day. Or, sort of died. It had an odd series of ailments, would sort of boot but not entirely boot, etc etc. I asked an AskMe about it. I asked friends. I had a back-up (a backup computer and a backup of all my data) so I wasn't panicky. But the backup computer was itself sort of broken. And while i was at it, I had a backup laptop that was also acting weird, would freeze when it got on the home network. So I've spent the last ten days making lists with a clipboard and a ton of cables basically troubleshooting all three machines with the help of some local friends and internet people (I was on the phone for 90 minutes with a veritable stranger talking about computers and it was just dandy). It's really one of the easiest things for me to do that gets me into a "flow" state. I could do it for the rest of my life.

Now ten days later, my desktop machine is still broken but we're all pretty sure it's the logic board. My old desktop and my backup laptop are now working better than ever. I've made some nice connections with my techie neighbor friend and I got some RAM in the mail from one of my internet friends which is going to make old desktop better than ever. I'm as surprised as you that a troubleshooting story that ends with "And the original thing is still broken" could be so positive, but there you have it.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 6:46 AM on November 5 [16 favorites]


I was putting together my accordion-playing machine at an art festival in a fancy pants part of Brooklyn, around 9pm on the night before the festival opened, and the plastic pulley on the accordion hoist motor snapped in half. While I was panicking, my friend K ran out to a bodega and came back with two-part epoxy and dental floss. We epoxied the two halves of the pulley together and then wrapped it in about a thousand turns of epoxy-soaked floss. It held up for two weeks in Brooklyn, and then a few years later it ran for a couple of months as part of an installation in a museum in Paris, as good as better than new. Since then, whenever K is feeling underconfident about anything, I remind her about epoxy and dental floss.
posted by moonmilk at 6:54 AM on November 5 [15 favorites]


I've been a professional troubleshooter for most of my adult life. I used to troubleshoot hardware and printer problems around New England but now I work on larger applications at a hospital. I spend my days putting out fires so I have a million stories about fixing computers with paper clips, or soldering cold solder joints on fuser assemblies, or spending days trying to recover a doctor's manuscript off a hard drive. Stuff like that.

But probably my best bit of troubleshooting is the story I will tell now.

It was my first job as PC tech, working on things like original IBM ATs, HP Laser Printers, and the old luggable Compaq "portable" computers. The sales people would sell service contracts and the techs would go around the area on support calls. We had the usual division between sales and tech and one salesman in particular was a real jerk, and totally clueless. He'd sell things we couldn't actually deliver, send us out on service calls for things we had no business touching, stuff like that.

All the sales people had computers in their offices, built from whatever spare parts we could find. This guy would always complain that his computer was too slow and demand that we give him a 386, which at the time was the *fast* microprocessor from Intel. Of course we didn't have a 386 to give him. We'd tell him that but he'd still act like we were holding out and he'd continue demanding that we hook him up.

Finally, we got sick of his complaints and told him we'd get him a 386. The next time he came back to the office he saw the "386" label on his computer and thanked us over and over again, telling us how much faster his computer was. He never complained again and we were very happy to get him off our back.

The only thing we changed about his computer was the label.
posted by bondcliff at 7:34 AM on November 5 [19 favorites]


Not recent, but probably the thing that people were most appreciative of, when I worked in a SRO with thirty women who lived there. We had this Ice machine that was teetered on barely working.

I honestly have no idea what was actually wrong with it, and I worked there part time. Every shift at least one of the women would give a damage report, and I'd go and fiddle until it worked and there would be a minor celebration at dinner.

When I left all the ladies were upset that they wouldn't have ice anymore.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:38 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]


1. Once upon a time I visited someone who gave instructions to reach her house that were extraordinarily complicated and ended with "and knock on the door, the doorbell doesn't work, it never has, I have no idea why!"

When I first moved into my current place several years ago, the property manager pointed out, among other things, that the clock on the microwave had never worked, nor had the lights in the fridge. (The property manager and his family had previously lived in my place for several years, as had at least one other tenant.) On the first day I was here, I hit the "clock" button on the microwave, typed in the time, hit "clock" again, and that's worked ever since. I lived for multiple years with no light in the fridge until I eventually noticed there were no light BULBS in the fridge; purchasing and installing two light bulbs meant that I can now see my food.

That property manager was normally very good at troubleshooting, so I have no idea why those fixes didn't occur to him.
posted by lazuli at 7:46 AM on November 5 [3 favorites]


I have a bad tendency to want to envision the whole of a project before I start. This is useful, say, in making a hooked rug or a loaf of bread; I have a plan, and I can get my tools and back-up gear ready in advance, and know that if I make a mistake, I'm ready to course-correct on the fly. This is being an adult! A first-aid kit! A bicycle pump in the trunk! I am more or less prepared! Except--holy shit--for when I'm not. Because sometimes things go wrong, and my stomach contracts and I hear the refrain of my childhood--"You have no common sense! You can't DO anything!"--in my head for a moment before I breathe deeply, grab my shoes, and get a good look at whatever problem has cropped up.

For the last ten days or so, the problem has been hungry, bored pigs who like to scratch their ribs against fence posts, popping the fence staples off in the process. What's this, they ask, an open panel with grass and walnuts and bins of apples on the other side? Whee, let's run away! One of my children will suddenly yell "Pigs out, pigs out!" as a 600-pound bacon on surprisingly agile legs lollops past the window. We have a process: one child runs to the gate, the other child spots the break in the fence, and I walk over to the escapee, food in one hand and a step-in post in the other, and say in a disappointed voice "Be a better pig!" I can usually get her (or them) to walk over to the gate and she'll walk through if I toss food in front of her. Child on gate duty then runs to the barn for chain and a carabiner, which is then given to the other child at the breach for fence repair. It looks funny, but we have it down. Between temptation (soft apples), encouragement (holding the step-in along her line of sight), and my tone (disappointed concern), I have built a weird toolbox for this situation, and not one I could ever have imagined having years ago. Telling panic and helplessness to fuck right off has saved the day surprisingly often!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:57 AM on November 5 [31 favorites]


So terretu, your story reminds me of three lock issues I troubleshot successfully about 5 years ago and a year ago, respectively.

1. When my father had his third stroke and was in the hospital, then assisted living, I had to get into his house to get important documents and start the year-long process of cleaning it and clearing it out. Complication: He had stayed in his house so long, past when the stroke was already happening and he couldn't get up off the floor or sit up on the couch without assistance, because he'd taken apart the lock on his front door and he was waiting for the locksmith. (His phone messages about the problem were cryptic at best, so we didn't know how bad all the issues were until we found out he was in the hospital.) So now we had a broken but locked front-door lock with no knob, a new lock that needed to be installed but was inside the house, and no one with keys to unlock it. So I successfully used my lock-pick set for the first time for the task of breaking into his back porch via the back door.

Then I tracked down a key to the inner porch door where he'd hidden it. My father is legally blind, lived alone, and went for a lot of walks/guerrilla tree-planting sessions, so he always had fallback options. A few hiding places were possible, and we found most of them: a jar buried in the front yard, a couple jars hidden on a shelf somewhere amid dirt-encrusted tools and spiderwebs on the back porch, a key with a magnet epoxied to it, stuck to the bottom of one of the storage shelves, etc., each with keys of varying age and usefulness. I can't remember now whether any of those keys actually worked or I ultimately had to go back to work on the front-door lock to get in. But after we were in and had dealt with some of the immediate issues in the house, I successfully figured out how to put back together the front door lock so it at least resembled a lock, then later installed and configured the new lock.

Even the new lock required a bit of additional troubleshooting over the subsequent year and change we still owned the house, because if the front door wasn't shut firmly and you didn't check after you locked it, the lock could seemingly engage but actually leave the door unlocked. So often after the house was shown or there was an open house, one of the neighbors would call to let me know the front door was ajar, and I had to go through another troubleshooting process of a sort: Did someone break in, or did the front door just manage to open because someone didn't shut and lock it properly? As far as I know, always it was the latter.

2. When I was working on another house, I had a contractor install new lock sets all over after doing what I do: reading all the reviews, choosing the best ones for a good price, and ultimately going with ones that I could easily rekey without a locksmith—allegedly, anyway. When I went to do that, I followed all the instructions, watched videos on how to do it, but for some reason the mechanics of it didn't actually work consistently. There was some step I was omitting or doing backward or otherwise misunderstanding every time, and that was the step that basically bricked the lock, rendering it incapable of being unlocked by the key it had allegedly been rekeyed to accept. You were supposed to have to take it back to the store after that, to get the entire cylinder swapped out, but thankfully, some locksport enthusiasts had made videos explaining how you could take apart the entire lock and rekey it that way. And that was how I ended up taking apart every lock in my house, one by one, stripping them down to the pins, rekeying them, and reinstalling them.

3. Then I went to install a lock on a closet door—same kind of lock, same process I already knew how to do from dealing with the exterior doors. This had an added difficulty level, though: The lock would lock, but not catch whatsoever in the existing mortise. And that was how I learned to use lipstick and masking tape to assess the actual path of the bolt, then chisel out a new mortise at the right location and depth, install a new strike plate, and shim it where necessary. Success! I have a closet door that locks.

As my mother points out, I'm definitely my father's daughter with regard to mechanical and technical troubleshooting ability. I've always been able to untangle knots and fix things. When we cleaned out my father's house, in addition to half a basement's worth of tools and electronics in various states of repair, many of which he'd taken apart and put back together or jury-rigged (e.g., power tools with chopped-off cords he'd spliced back together), he had dozens of old lock sets in various states—locks were definitely a minor hobby for him, long before people talked about locksport.

I just realized my MetaTalkTail Hour note last week involved troubleshooting, too. Heh. It's what I do. Setting up my recording equipment did involve troubleshooting, as I had to figure out where to mount the mic suspension boom so it would reach but not come off my desk, then figure out why I wouldn't hear anything through headphones after enabling the audio interface, etc. That Zoidberg bug report I filed for Chromium has also gotten so much attention in the past week, with other bug reports merged into it! Hopefully the fix will actually make it into a release soon.
posted by limeonaire at 8:14 AM on November 5 [7 favorites]


I have just now figured out which thread color to use on a bird on a cross stitch sampler I am trying to finish. I stitched the bird in eight other colors before coming back to a slightly darker blue than I used originally. Bird is only made up of 18 stitches so not huge amounts of energy...just frustrating enough that I was internally screaming, "WHY CAN'T I FIND THE RIGHT FUCKING COLOR?" for about an hour.

Also, grey cats keep showing up in my yard. One of them is definitely going to end up as my indoor cat because he's been hanging here for months. But now there's another one that's shown up and this is the fifth grey cat that has shown up in the last couple years. I was planning on getting a tortie friend for the grey guy I'm planning on keeping but maybe I'm supposed to have grey cats 4eva.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 8:20 AM on November 5 [8 favorites]


I have a grey cat on my lap right now and he's purring up a storm. Grey cats are the best.

and say in a disappointed voice "Be a better pig!"

This will never work. Pigs have no sense of shame.
posted by elsietheeel at 8:55 AM on November 5 [5 favorites]


So, this one is most relevant if you have ADHD and have taken stimulant medication for several years, but I just discovered that taking CoQ10 supplements has completely eradicated the 'brain fog' and overall 'fatigue' I've come to associate with being on stimulants for a long time. It didn't matter how much sleep or exercise I was getting, or how hydrated I was- I was feeling foggy and rudderless no matter what.

This is something I've read about on a few ADHD/psych med forums, and while there is no peer-reviewed testing (that I know of) on the matter, I was shocked to discover what an incredible difference it makes. CoQ10 is unfortunately expensive, but it's been so worth it that I've adjusted my budget to make room for it. I talked with my psychiatrist about this. While he acknowledged and agreed with me that my and others experiences are just anecdotal, since no peer-reviewed lit to back it up, he gave me the greenlight to keep using it because he said if it feels like it's working for me, I should.

I went for about a week where I either didn't take it, or took half the normal dosage, and noticed my brain fog come back full force.

So, IANAD and TINMA, but this may be something other ADHDers suffering from stimulant-brain-fog may want to investigate on their own and with their doctor. I'd feel remiss if I didn't share it.
posted by nightrecordings at 11:06 AM on November 5 [2 favorites]


monopas: we're going to have to go with my original plan: separate router attatched to the rental unit. If not for VOIP, I'd have her return the thing and buy her own. But those are stupidly expensive and have other issues.

Hey, that's somewhat similar to my problem a few years ago. My solution was to get a stand-alone modem and separate VOIP box, and then fail to use the VOIP box, so we've been a cell phone-only home, and we don't particularly miss the landline much. Still, hooking up that VOIP box is on my "to do, sometime, maybe" list.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


I have a colleague that's just moved to Madrid in the same cross pollination program I'm on following the company takeover. She's in her mid-50's and this is her first expat posting after a lifetime in Calgary. She's getting the culture shock effect full force and together with a couple of other colleagues we're looking after her. She's a brave lady to do this and she will be OK, but every day is a battle at the moment.

So this week I went to her place and fixed her TV for her, it was on all the time, she couldn't turn it off and it was in a booting cycle all the time. Landlord and the relocation agency were useless and it was just one more insult in the hard time she's having.

After a few mins of playing with the multiple remotes, I did the old field engineer trick of reaching behind the bud rack and pulling the plug. Got it booted up, messed with the menus until it spoke English and got the channel guide working. We figured out which remotes she needed, wrote down the instructions and then set up Netflix for her. I also figured out her mobile for her and the landline. We then took a safari on the metro so she was comfortable using it and got her some lunch. None of these things were particularly epic, but when you're on your own in a new place, then they take on the size of insurmountable obstacles. Small victories.
posted by arcticseal at 11:26 AM on November 5 [44 favorites]


None of these things were particularly epic, but when you're on your own in a new place, then they take on the size of insurmountable obstacles. Small victories.

Bless you, arcticseal--sounds like your kindness and tinkering were really needed and appreciated.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:40 AM on November 5 [1 favorite]


All my best ones are long-forgotten bits of debugging from the 90s and 00s when I still understood how to program computers. My best recent bit of problem solving was last year while walking on Kinder Scout, my boot sole unexpectedly started to part company with the upper. This could actually have been quite serious as I had a lot of rough tracks and descent to do even if I got off the moor by the quickest route, and it became clear that the sole would definitely trip me up, but that walking without boots was not an option. Solution: stretch one of my spare socks over the toe of the boot.
posted by crocomancer at 11:56 AM on November 5 [8 favorites]


when presented with an older man who thinks he deserves all the attention of the women present just because he's, like, a dude, that I can solve that problem by walking away

That reminds me of a similar moment I had where I realized that when some guy inevitably interrupts you in a meeting, you don't have to stop and let them talk, you can just keep going until you have finished your point. Whenever I have done this the interrupter stops after half a sentence, and even usually looks a bit abashed when they realize what they had done. One guy actually seemed to develop a crush on me after I did this, which was like,
really? now? that is a weird way to relate to women
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:03 PM on November 5 [8 favorites]


The greatest moment of problem solving in my entire life was actually performed by my dog.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:45 PM on November 5 [6 favorites]


Another bit of troubleshooting I did:

We have a sink in our basement that we use for the sorts of things basement sinks are used for: cleaning the dirtiest, filthiest, most disgusting things. The main thing being the litter boxes. Before we switched up our litter and technique, we would often empty the litter and then clean the boxes in this sink and all the shit residue that we scraped off the box would wash down the drain.

Since the sink is below the level of the septic outflow pipe, there's a pump on the floor that gets the flow from the sink drain high enough so it can go out the outflow. One day I noticed the sink wasn't draining and I realized it was because the pump was no longer working. I'd never worked with a pump before but I knew I'd have to get in and fix the damn thing. It was a literal black box, just a black tub with a few pipes and an electrical cable going into it.

The contractors had plumbed up the pump with no easy way to disconnect the pipes so the first thing I had to do was cut the PVC pipes going to it so I could get at it. I did this and then removed the screws that held the lid on. It was basically a sump pump sitting in a tub. When the tub filled to the right level, a float switch was activated and the pump turned on. No biggie. I could fix it.

The main problem I faced though, was that since the tub had filled without draining it was a) heavy and b) full to the brim. I knew if I moved it I'd surely spill this filthy, disgusting shitwater all over the floor. I thought about what to do to empty it and realized siphoning the water out was the thing to do so I found a hose and a bucket and thought about how to begin the siphon.

I didn't have any other way but my lungs, so I sucked into the hose, thinking I'd feel the water coming closer and remove it from my lips before the filthy, disgusting shitwater went into my mouth. That was the plan, at least.

Nope. The filthy, disgusting shitwater went into my mouth and I swallowed a good bit of it. I swallowed water that had been sitting in a tub, after years of litter box cleanings and countless paintbrushes and mops were cleaned in this sink. I swallowed it. It was not good.

I emailed my doctor and she said I'd most likely be fine, but of course to call if I felt sick. I spent the next few days expecting to die, but nothing really happened.

Eventually I managed to fix the pump and installed it with some quick disconnects and we stopped using the sink to clean the litter box. I've had to fix it a couple more times since then but of course now I know better than to attempt to start a siphon with my mouth.
posted by bondcliff at 12:45 PM on November 5 [4 favorites]


None of these things were particularly epic...
I dunno, arcticseal. Seems pretty darned epic to me. (BTW, hello from Calgary!)
posted by angiep at 1:00 PM on November 5 [1 favorite]


- Telling someone in their 50s about misophonia after learning about it on MetaFilter. His doctor says he has the worst case the doctor has ever seen, and he no longer feels so alone about it.

- Asking a teen bike mechanic who used to pilfer stuff from our local bike collective what his plans were for after high school, learning he wasn't planning to go to college because it's pricey, telling him about the Board of Governers Fee Waiver in California (free college for low income residents) and learning later that he was planning to go to community college for plumbing.

- Etc. I just really love hooking people up with information.

P.S. Fixing the squeaky door hinges. It just takes a little tri-flow.
posted by aniola at 1:19 PM on November 5 [5 favorites]


SIPHONING TIP: Take the tubing you are going to use. Submerge it in (clean, if possible) water until it is full of water, with no air bubbles. Put thumbs (or your whole hands, or whatever) over both ends. Put one end into the stuff you’re siphoning. Put the other end into your destination, and un-block the ends once you’re ready to go.

Presto! No sucking required!
posted by Huffy Puffy at 1:21 PM on November 5 [26 favorites]


Mods please put this thread into a time machine so I can read it in 2011, kthx.
posted by bondcliff at 1:36 PM on November 5 [14 favorites]


too late, the poop is inside of you forever now
posted by poffin boffin at 1:45 PM on November 5 [10 favorites]


I was standing on a tiny ledge halfway down from the summit of Blob rock in Boulder Canyon Colorado, with my best friend from Jr. high and a friend we'd met in the dorm, and our rappelling rope was stuck on something on the ledge we'd just rappeled from.

Our friend had just bought a 9mm, 300 ft. Perlon climbing rope, my Jr. high friend had a climbing guide (High Over Boulder), and we had decided Blob rock was a good candidate for the first ever climb for any of us. It was at the very beginning of the climbing boom, and none of us actually knew any other students who were climbers, although there were some; Perlon ropes had just been introduced, Goldline was the default.

And it had gone pretty well up to that point; I'd learned to rappel with only a rope, my tennis shoes had been sufficient so far (our friend had climbing shoes and my Jr high friend had work boots). Our friend led the climb because of his shoes and belayed us up, though I had serious doubts about his ability to catch me if I fell, since I outweighed him by fifty pounds.

But now we were well and truly stuck: each of us had tried and failed to pull the rope down; the ledge limited our ability to combine our efforts, and that failed too.

The only thing left was for the wearer of the climbing shoes to climb back up to the ledge we'd vacated, adjust the rope and rappel back down to us.

But I think we all knew he couldn't do it. His right leg was already shaking uncontrollably after his second step back up the sheer wall, and I insisted he come back down so I could make one final try to pull the rope down.

I wrapped the rope around my torso so that the part going up the wall came over the back of my right shoulder, and one of them held onto the free end. I walked my feet up the wall to an overhang well above my head, so that all my weight was hanging from the rope and I was upside down in a crouched position, twisted the rope around my hands and forearms as best I could, and tried to straighten out with all my strength. Nothing, except the rope stretched more than I would have expected.

Blood was absolutely pounding in my head, and I panicked; I gave kind of a guttural scream (they told me later -- I might have said I grunted) and I threw myself into it with everything I had, there was a cracking noise from above and the rope moved a couple of feet but not so far that I fell on my head, fortunately.

We rappeled down the rest of the way without incident, got in the lead's car and went back to town, but during that whole time (30-40 minutes) I was in a stupor, and would simply stand there looking off into space until one of them told me in very explicit terms what to do.
posted by jamjam at 2:02 PM on November 5 [4 favorites]


In desktop support, whenever somebody reports that their mouse, keyboard or screen is doing "something funny", be sure to glance at their keyboard when you get to their desk. Quite often there will be an item - a file or pen the like - resting on one or more of the keys and causing the "funniness". Reaching down and gently moving something a few centimeters to solve their problem is very gratifying. (That's what she said.)
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:54 PM on November 5 [1 favorite]


jamjam.... eponysterical! (Glad y'all made it out ok)

I've had to learn how to do much as a solo person.... everything from construction to critter care. But my most steadfast problem solving ability seems to be forgetting to give up and instead thinking differently.

Like when I stupidly cut off the end of my finger when cleaning off the lawnmower after putting it away... the only thing I could figure out to do to stop the gushing blood was to stob the cut off portion back in place (what the heck...it, and everything else, was dirty) and then smear blood all over my cell phone as I called my neighbor for a lift to the emergency department. She wanted to know if I'd put the cut off end in a cup of ice water....um, no...was I supposed to? My odd solution serependitiously kept blood going to the cut end and less blood going into the towel. Reattachment was successful (so very thankful for nerve blocks) and I went to work the next morning.

One of the most satisfying problem solving solutions I experienced was with a horse that just didn't want to go into the horse trailer because of a bad experience. Everytime his hoof would touch the ramp, he'd dash backwards. The idea came to put a towel over his eyes and lead him forward to the ramp; but his hoof touched the ramp and made that familiar 'ramp noise' so, backwards he went. So the soluition was to lead him about (still blinfolded-he was very docile except for the trailer thing) and then back him up towards the ramp (you can see where this is going; but he couldn't)...when 'ramp noise' happened he predictably went backwards into the trailer; and he traveled beautifully.

The type of problem solving I most enjoy seeing aren't those quick thinking types as mentioned above, but the slow methodical empirical approach that engineers and their kind seem to possess. It seems magical that someone can isolate the single little bit that's out of kilter and keeping the whole gizit from working. It gets me every time.
posted by mightshould at 3:02 PM on November 5 [5 favorites]


Mightshould, how did he get out of the trailer?
posted by freethefeet at 3:11 PM on November 5 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: too late, the poop is inside of you forever now.
posted by Wordshore at 3:47 PM on November 5 [3 favorites]


filthy light thief: My solution was to get a stand-alone modem and separate VOIP box

Thank you. If only I could. But the landline is manditory, and has to be location-tied and verifiable. And the hardware choices are limited by the service provider. Otherwise, I'd have had her buy her own modem and router months ago. Hopefully adding a dual band router will solve this problem.
posted by monopas at 4:21 PM on November 5


-bondcliff-

I have the same system in my basement, I installed it because my basement has no drain and I was too lazy to hump dehumidifier water up the stairs three times a day.

I made sure to plumb it so I could get to everything easily, as well as adding a drain to the bottom of the tank and setting the tank on six inch legs so I could drain it. It's only broken twice in twenty years, both times the switch went bad. After the second time, I added a water sensor alarm so I don't get surprised.

But my best/worst problem solving experience? My father had a great idea: put pull chain switches on the basement florescent lights, so all six wouldn't light up when he flipped the switch. I was ten, and loved "helping" my dad do "man stuff." I knew a little about wiring, and saw he was putting in the switch wrong, he was wiring it across the hot and the neutral, instead of breaking the hot. I said "Dad, I think the switch is in wrong, when you flip it it'll blow the breaker." He didn't even slow down, and said " I know what I'm doing." He plugged it in, and the light came on. "See" he said. I said, "Pull the chain." The light went out. "It works fine" he said with a grin. I told him "Pull the chain again." Nothing. "The breaker popped. I told you so."

He went to the breaker box, reset it and the light came on. When he came back, he smacked me in the back of my head. "Nobody likes a smart ass," he said with a smile, "and never say I told you so to your father."

So, two lessons learned.
posted by Marky at 4:42 PM on November 5 [4 favorites]


This afternoon I broke up with someone who is perfect on paper but was bad about making plans. Bad to the point of being a poop milkshake.

I have enough poop. I deserve an untainted milkshake. I’m proud that it only took me six weeks to figure this out, and that I didn’t go the ultimatum route. I just ended it. Luckily he didn’t try to ‘fix it,’ probably because I didn’t offer him another chance to. So. Not the most brilliant bit of problem solving I’ve ever done, but certainly the most recent. And it’ll feel good in a few weeks when I’ve forgotten about it. For now it kinda hurts.
posted by bilabial at 4:53 PM on November 5 [20 favorites]


I have put an obedience title (novice, but still) on a hunting lines coonhound, and then birthed a child with that very same good-natured stubbornness and unwillingness to try new or difficult things. The result is that the past decade or so has been daily getting mightshould's horse into the trailer situations. I've gotten really good at gently coaxing creatures who don't want to do a thing into doing the thing, and then making them believe it was their idea all along. It's my secret superpower.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:07 PM on November 5 [6 favorites]


When I was recovering from a badly broken leg and hand last year, the hospital sent an occupational therapist out to my apartment to make sure I was able to eat and shower and generally take care of myself. Between me and my husband, I was getting along fine, so I didn't need her services after the initial visit. But she did solve one problem for me so beautifully, I couldn't believe I never thought of it. I was telling her how hard it was to bring food from the kitchen to the living room when I was home alone. This is a small 1BR apartment, but because I had to crutch with my good hand and hold things in my casted broken hand, even a bowl of cereal was an extreme challenge. The way I had addressed this problem, if I recall, was by shuttling the ingredients (milk, cereal, bowl) one at a time over to the coffee table, and then making the bowl of cereal there. And then shuttling everything back. Or maybe I loaded all the things in a bag and carried them to and fro. Whatever it was, it was a huge pain in the ass. But this OT instantly seized my husband's wheelie desk chair, pushed it across the room, and was like, "could you put a bowl of cereal on here?" It was the perfect solution. I was in awe, and she was just like, "Yep, I get a lot of mileage out of that one."
posted by gueneverey at 7:14 PM on November 5 [8 favorites]


I'm in tech, but am often faced with people and communication issues. The advise that I've gotten the most mileage from is that when faced with a communication problem, is to set aside the need to be 'right', and to assume that what they're telling you is true from their perspective. Ask questions to get at what that perspective is. Their perspective may include a partial understanding of the problem, a partial communication, or words they heard that mean something different to them than they do to you. Or they may know something you don't. Statements like, "In going into this, I'm assuming X, Y, and Z" and questions like, "what is it you saw or heard that lead to you believe X?" can be very useful.
posted by dws at 7:40 PM on November 5 [9 favorites]


I've been a tech, so troubleshooting things is something I sometimes actually do in my sleep.

When I've worked help desk, at multiple jobs I've had the very real problem that problems fix themselves around me. This is a problem because if I can't replicate problems that users are having, I can't fix or identify the problem. On the other hand, at one of my jobs half of my "service calls" were students coming in and waving their laptops at me in some kind of weird voodoo tech ritual and then walking away satisfied.

When I was in the ER over 7 years ago I was coming out of sedation kind of early, and through the echoing fog I overheard the ER nurses/docs complaining about their patent records computer was not responding, and I went into tech support autopilot, probably slurring and mumbling through the sedative drugs "Do you need to save any data?" "Uh, no?" "Press and hold the power button until it shuts off. Then push it again. Wait. Log in." "Oh, that worked."

One of my favorite troubleshooting jobs isn't really supposed to be possible. This was early 2000s, maybe 2003ish.

Client was a certain brand of high strung self employed businessman that's the bane and bread and butter of independent IT techs everywhere.

Client wanted to finally upgrade their old Windows 2000 machine, but a problem existed in the form of about a dozen different software licenses for stock/commodity day trading, data analysis and other related tools. These software licenses were easily worth 10 new computers. Of course, the client doesn't have any of the registration keys, has none of the original documentation or packaging, nor anything resembling an installation disc.

Oh, and additionally the existing OS was dead on arrival, which is, of course why they want to upgrade now. It was also a fully encrypted NTFS volume. This is not good.

Further complicating the problem was the fact that this software was spread out over a number of real and logical hard drives, complicating the options of just cloning and bit-copying the drives. This also didn't allow for reinstalling and upgrading the entire OS to XP.

So, for starters I cloned all the drives for safety, and put away the originals for safe keeping. The target drive was one single larger drive, so I made a matching set of logical drives and partitions and cloned each old drive to the singular new drive.

And at this point I'm essentially stuck. We do have the login credentials, but the existing Windows 2000 OS is hosed, so I couldn't even get to the registry to try to extract software reg keys if I wanted to.

I can't remember how I stumbled on trying this, but I had been at it for about 8 hours at this point trying to repair the Windows 2000 install to at least boot into safemode or something.

But at some point I fired up Knoppix (live linux on a CD) and started fucking with the drive type and boot flags using fdisk. (A powerful command line disk formatting utility.) When using fdisk and changing/setting flags, it only changes the flags and does nothing to the data itself - unless you actually write it out and format a drive in that format. Flag changes don't format anything by themselves.

I can't remember the exact sequence that ended up working, but it was something like setting the flag to FAT32, exiting fdisk, rebooting, then setting the filesystem type to a unix-friendly flag (perhaps EXT, I can't remember now), exiting fdisk to write the flag, rebooting, going back to fdisk and then resetting the flag to NTFS again? I may have left it at a unix/linux friendly flag.

And then, finally, at some point during the reboot these flag-setting shenanigans corrupted the MBR or something just enough that a Windows 2000 repair/reinstall disk finally recognized that the drive and installation was corrupted. Which then let me actually scan the disk for errors and try to recover lost blocks on the drive, and repair the Windows 2000 install.

Which then eventually allowed me to upgrade that installation on the new drive to XP, which imported all of the old software, keys and encrypted drive permissions from 2000. At which point it booted up in XP to the clients old desktop, start menu and settings, fully intact like nothing had ever happened.

I still have no idea how that even worked, and a number of people who are way more knowledgeable about file systems have also told me it shouldn't have worked.
posted by loquacious at 9:31 PM on November 5 [10 favorites]


I am not sure what the exact problem was, but I found the solution. I got laid! (And I wasn't even trying.) Had been feeling kind of down. My kids are off to college or living on their own, I am divorced living in a place all alone and had had a long string of bad blind dates or dated for 2 or 3 dates and realized this person was insane. I am not the type to love em and leave em so to speak so I generally like to wait until we have been dating for, I don't know, 5 or 6 dates before we do much more than heavy kissing.

Well, it was a Saturday, last Saturday actually, and I went to a town a few towns over to get something at a store that I could not get here. I stopped at a nice bar/restaurant for a quick burger and beer or so I intended. Sitting at the bar watching college football, this woman came up to me and said, "Excuse me, are you [Real name]? Hesitantly, I said, "Yes. I am sorry but I don't recognize you. How do we know each other?" "Actually, we don't know each other. You will never believe this, but I went to the same summer camp as you. I am two years younger. 35 years ago when you were a first year counselor, I had the hugest crush on you. Today, I came to get lunch and was sitting on the other side of the bar not knowing how I knew you and then when I thought I had it figured out, not being able to overcome my fear of coming over. I got divorced two years ago and I have not been getting out much. My kids keep telling me to go out, but you know how it is. I had had some dates, but the guys were meh. I decided to just do things on my own. So I came here for lunch. Fate brought us together. " "Well, I replied, "Don't just stand there, please sit down. We have a lot of catching up to do." She blushed and sat down.

Well, that evolved into a date I guess. We literally spent the next 24 hours together. We're both trying to down play it and play it cool, almost saying we are FWB, but I think that is because we are both afraid of being hurt so we will take it casual. Also, she lives about an hour away, so getting together often is logistically a challenge. She has a busy calendar and there are all sorts of excuses, etc.

But, for the last week, I have had a smile on my face and life just seems easier. Problem I didn't even realize I had, solved.
posted by AugustWest at 10:02 PM on November 5 [46 favorites]


Child. Eyeball. Leech.

I don't think I had ever conceived of those three words together prior to the day they stared me in the face. I was minding two eight year old boys I didn't really know while their folks were elsewhere on the large remote property. We'd had a swim in the creek and walked back to the shed when one of the boys turned to me and said "I've got something in my eye".
other kid: It's a leech!
[me thinking: Holy fuck. Right. OK. I'm the adult here and this kid who doesn't know me needs my help. Stay calm. Hmm. A leech. On his eye ball. Yikes. ]
Me: can you pull it off?
Him: I can't grip it.
[Hmm. I've got tweezers in my pocket knife. But I might scrape his eye and nothing is sterile and if I miss I'll stab his eye. Not a good outcome.]
Him: will I go blind?
[How much blood can a leech suck through an eyeball? Should I drive to the property at the head of the valley? Poor kid. He's obviously upset but he's acting calm. Can I burn it off? Can I salt... Yes! ]
Me: no, no, you'll be fine. I'll give you a salty eye bath, that'll get it off.
Him: That'll sting!
Me: nah, it's only salty like tears.

After mixing around a quarter teaspoon of salt in a full glass of water and tasting it to test saltyness, I showed the boy how to bath his eye. A minute or so later he showed me the glass with the leech squirming in the water, a smile on his face, and a red dot plus trust in his eye.
posted by Thella at 10:29 PM on November 5 [51 favorites]


AugustWest

*dabs eyes with lacy handkerchief*
posted by infini at 11:43 PM on November 5 [3 favorites]


Years ago, when I worked overnight at a copy place and the high-speed copiers there were new enough my employers didn't have a 24-hour service contract with Xerox yet, I had a pretty nerve-wearying night of one of these beasts jamming in a completely clear and unobstructed area to the point of putting that job at a standstill. The new daytime manager guy at the time was, well, to put it politely, he made that job more stressful than it needed to be, so throwing up our hands was not really an option.

The area where the jam kept happening was just the gap between the print engine and the finisher, and the thing was shut correctly and all that, but when I opened it up and looked at it with a flashlight, the sensor for that area, which was mounted on a little plastic right-angle bracket, had somehow snapped off and was hanging at the end of a wire.

There was a little bottle of superglue in the supply room, but of course, it had all cured in the bottle.

So I took a piece of duck tape, seated the sensor in its half a bracket back into its other half a bracket, stuck the tape across the back of the thing, and it ran perfectly the rest of the night.

Sometimes the way to get a multi-thousand dollar piece of equipment to behave is a scrap of tape the size of a postage stamp.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:02 AM on November 6 [3 favorites]


So there I was, standing in my storage room, straightening things up, I look at my fishing tackle box and then somehow I remember that no, it's *not* my fishing tackle box, it's a fishing tackle box I stole out of somones garage when I was a teen. So it's not mine, but I'd had it at least 25 years, no way in hell to ever find the person I swiped it from. So how am I going to make this right?

Freecycle.org had just started (this was maybe 12 or 15 years ago) and I posted on it for things I wanted and for things I wanted to give away. I decided to put that tackle box on freecycle but with a catch -- whoever was going to get it had to have had a fishing tackle box stolen from them. It was totally on the honor system but I pointed out in my post that if you got the tackle by lying about it no fish would ever strike any hook that came from that box.

It was something. Immediately I began getting emails but most of them just saying "Gimme gimme!" and hadn't had any tackle stolen. But it generated so much interest that freecycle.org moderators in different cities around the country got interested in it, and a couple of them got together and talked it out and then asked me if I was open to putting it on more cities freecyle page. Sounded like fun. It was.

No idea how many hundreds of responses I got, but 28 were legitimate IE they were from people who'd had fishing tackle stolent from them. So I took those 28 people, ordered them by email address, found a site that generates random numbers, I plugged it in, needed a random number from 1 to 28.

Turns out it was a kid who lives outside St. Louis, fishes in the Mississippi river. I contacted him, got his address, mailed not only that box but another tackle box, also. Then I sent everyone who'd responded an email, thanked them for participating, and let them know who got the tackle, etc and etc.

People magazine was doing a write-up on Freecycle, got wind of the fishing tackle saga, a reporter called me to verify, which I did. Then they asked me my name, and I told the reporter that my name is dancestoblue. Reporter says "No, no -- your real name." and I said "Nope. I didn't do this to get my name in any paper or magazine. You're welcome to use the fishing tackle bit in your story but only using my online nick. The reporter was really surprised, even a bit annoyed, told me that people love to be in People magazine; I said yeah, I got that, but that's not what's going to happen here.

And that is how I solved the problem of returning a tackle box stolen decades before.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:45 AM on November 6 [22 favorites]


I am finally, finally getting over the bronchitis I've had for three weeks now and I'm so glad for that. My sleep schedule has been a train wreck but hopefully I can fix that soon. Speaking of troubleshooting, I guess, I started a web-based "boot camp" for full-stack JavaScript even though I'm already a developer, because work has been suspiciously unsupportive of my spending much time in that arena and that's what I'd very much like to be doing with myself, and I got some outside funding for it. My mentor for the first part is actually at a similar point to me career-wise, but I'm actually really tickled about that because I already enjoy talking with him about stuff more than I enjoy talking with anybody at work. I was a bit suspicious about getting another white guy, but some of them, gasp, have a little humility.

I guess in a way this is kind of related, aside from just life-fixing: The whole debugging process is something I ordinarily enjoy, but at work lately I've been dreading literally everything because I just want to stab everybody I have to deal with regularly. I will be happy to be solving some problems here that don't make me hate anybody.
posted by Sequence at 4:51 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Since I'm sitting next to the cat food bowl, I'll drop this tip:

If your cat vomits because it eats too greedily, put a tennis ball in its food bowl. Then it will have to slow down and pull out one kibble at a time.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:29 AM on November 6 [5 favorites]


Saturday we managed to get the wiper blades changed on my car -- a task that is so simple yet so complicated because how do these motherfuckers come off again?? and you just have to stare at the stupid diagram in the owner's manual and poke and prod at the damn things until finally something positive happens -- with a minimum of cussing and no actual yelling. Miraculous.
posted by JanetLand at 6:02 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


My dad and I were about to go on a road trip. He drove his truck over to my place, and then the truck would not start. Dad kept trying to see if there was enough room to do a rolling jump, or troubleshoot some other way. I kept asking what I could do to help, or if I should get my jumper cables and getting not much response. Then I remembered that I am an adult, drove my car around nose to nose, pulled out my jumper cables, opened my hood, and proceeded to set up to jump start the truck. In fact, I know how to do this because my dad showed me how to do exactly this sort of thing when I was a kid. We went on our merry way (though we did have to do a rolling jump later in the trip.) It turns out that you do not actually have to stand around waiting to be given instructions, even when the person "taking charge" of the situation happens to be your parent and you have both apparently forgotten that one of you is no longer a child.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:27 AM on November 6 [16 favorites]


Last year, I was staying at an airbnb place and the key fit well enough into the lock, but the lock was stuck in such a way so that the key wouldn't turn to open the door. After realizing I'd been effectively locked out of my rental, I had to figure out what to do. I ran back to my car, hoping to find some pliers to help me get enough force to be able to turn the key, or perhaps some lubricant. All I found was a relatively dull pair of pruning shears. The key got dented slightly in the process, but I was able to get inside!
posted by PearlRose at 6:45 AM on November 6


I solve complicated problems for a living so a lot of my creative solutions are domain specific and/or just not fun to talk about. After a knee injury a few years ago, though, I ended up in physical therapy. The therapist worked on strengthening a particular muscle and getting it to engage again when I walked, and in the process she noticed a weird issue with my gait. With every step I took my knees would oscillate sideways (out and then in). Even after working to get that one muscle engaged this was still happening. She gave me instructions to pay attention when I walked and see if I could get that under control just by being aware it was happening.

At home one day I noticed it didn't happen when I was barefoot. At my next session I mentioned it to the PT, and she said "show me." So I took off my shoes and walked along the specified path (with a mirror at one end), put my shoes on and repeated the walk again, and she said "huh." She had me take off my shoes one more time, and she said, "maybe you should try some different shoes."

Now I've become That Guy with zero drop shoes, but just emulating being barefoot all the time has gotten rid of a number of problems I used to have with my knees and ankles.
posted by fedward at 7:55 AM on November 6 [5 favorites]


loquacious: I still have no idea how that even worked, and a number of people who are way more knowledgeable about file systems have also told me it shouldn't have worked.

When computers are magic, always opt for more magic.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:50 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


My dad's mother was known as a tinkerer, fixing all sorts of things, mostly. I think her most storied repair was an alarm clock that would only work face down, so you would have to pick it up to check the time, but put it back on its face so it would keep working.

"Life hack" for old rice: if you're tired of making fried rice, then you're tired of life. Wait, strike that. If it's breakfast time and you have old rice and you don't want breakfast fried rice, you can make rice waffles!

Or if it's breakfast time and you want protein in your pancakes instead of on them, try (slightly modified) Rosa Parks' "featherlite" peanut butter pancakes. Or make your normal pancakes and slather them with peanut butter, then add maple syrup, and enjoy life.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:09 AM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Life hack for wanting that banana cake slathered in custard at midnight from your parent's fridge when visiting: Whisper "Winter's coming" to yourself as you sneak back to your room to surf on Mefi while slurping.
posted by infini at 9:30 AM on November 6 [4 favorites]


...the way to fix it is to give it a quick smack on the side.
posted by h00py


Around here we call that 'percussive maintenance.'
posted by workerant at 10:03 AM on November 6 [7 favorites]


One of the weirder troubleshooting incidents that I'm most proud of happened in NYC two years ago. I was at the halloween costume parade, and as we were leaving, I saw this guy just flat out collapse onto the pavement. He was brown/black. There was a sizeable crowd around, but nobody wanted to do anything, and I hesitated as well because 1. I was a non-american tourist and didn't even know what to do in these situations; and 2. I'd just seen a cop with his hand on his gun yelling at someone who was trying to break into the parade street through an unauthorized entrance. There was a distinct feeling of tension in the air. Then I remembered an article, probably linked here on MeFi, that in these situations, people generally start reacting if someone takes the first step. So I just walked up to the guy and knelt down trying to see how bad it was. As soon as I did that, people started coming up, someone called another cop over, and slowly, there were others tending to the situation. I then stepped back, having done nothing really except set events in motion.
posted by dhruva at 12:36 PM on November 6 [44 favorites]


It was 1999 and I was supposed to be done training at a temp tech support job for BankBoston, but I still had my "mentor" on the phone listening in because I'd not had much luck solving problems in the morning. Worse, I'd tried and failed to pronounce "Billerica" properly three times ("BillRICK-ah" makes no sense, New England!). So I was dispirited. A teller called in to say her screen was purple and almost impossible to read, so I excitedly (finally, one I knew!) asked her to smack the right-hand side of her CRT monitor firmly. My "mentor" looked appalled and like she was about to intervene on the call when the teller said, "That worked! You're a genius!"
posted by ldthomps at 12:36 PM on November 6 [11 favorites]


Worse, I'd tried and failed to pronounce "Billerica" properly three times ("BillRICK-ah" makes no sense, New England!).

Back at my old job, in the days before cell phones and GPS, we were having a company picnic at the boss's house. One of the guys called up his girlfriend to give her directions and apparently she didn't quite understand him. She showed up two hours late when she finally got a hold of him to tell him she had no idea who Bill Ricca was or where the hell his house was.
posted by bondcliff at 1:42 PM on November 6 [4 favorites]


Apropos of Massachusetts and their nutty town names, I like this video.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 2:06 PM on November 6 [2 favorites]


Hey, jessamyn, did you ever find out how that sculptor obtained all of those survey markers from the -tron thread?
posted by loquacious at 2:18 PM on November 6


I re-learned how to walk last week!! Fedward's comment made me think of it. I've had back and hip and foot problems for a few years, and have tried any number of things to try and address the issues. Things work for a bit but then another symptom appears or the solution seems to trigger another injury/issue; e.g., barefoot shoes help hip pain, but plantar fasciitis rears up. I keep trying to fix things myself, after numerous failed PT attempts, and it just hadn't been working and I was despairing at ever feeling good in my body. Walking in particular was challenging after about 5,000 steps.

I started going to a local yoga place about a month ago and LOVE the teacher; the approach is very non-yoga-y, gentle, and with a focus on mindfulness that is really resonating with me. We ended up doing some private sessions and last week I re-learned how to walk!! It's kind of a long story but basically I was doing a lot of accommodations when I was walking, including turning my feet out. I'd been trying to pay attention to keeping them straight under my body and not kick them out as I walked, but it wasn't until we tried what felt like some really exaggerated corrections that I realized how badly they were still turning out. To me, what looked pigeon toed was in fact straight. We spent the whole hour just walking back and forth across the studio, making corrections, and talking about strategies to remind myself of various things while walking. I was so sore when we were done, but I could *feel* that I was finally walking 'correctly' or in alignment for the first time in my life. It was an amazing feeling. PLUS, this weekend I went canvassing for a local progressive candidate running for our municipal elections and I walked over 11,000 steps and my body felt GREAT afterwards!
posted by stellaluna at 2:24 PM on November 6 [15 favorites]


I'm in tech (still), and have developed a reputation as one of the people to see when you're stuck. Many times that means asking people to walk me through their problem, possibly verbally, sometimes at a whiteboard or screen. The conversation often goes:
Them: .. and then this, and then this, and then... uh... oh... d'oh! Thanks!
And they wander off happy. I get credit for helping solve the problem, but in reality I could have been replaced by a rubber duck, and the results would likely have been the same (and there are plenty of stories in tech of people doing just that).

Sometimes, being a passive sounding-board isn't enough, and I have to actively help. I've found that two techniques have the highest pay-off.

The first is to ask, "What problem are you trying to solve?" In software, it's kind of funny how often developers will hear the first part of a problem statement, then tune out and mentally jump ahead to sketching out a solution (often involving the cool tech toy du jour). Sometimes merely re-anchoring them to the problem is enough, but other times interrupting their solution with, "how does that relate to the problem?" a few times does the trick.

The second technique, which I learned from Gerald Weinberg, involves paying attention to your attention. If, while listening to someone explain their problem, I notice myself losing focus and zoning out, I stop and ask them to back up, and then watch very carefully for the trick. Some problems stay problems because the way they're phrased embeds a slight-of-hand trick that clouds the mind. It might be a word or phrase that suddenly changes meanings; or a switch into the passive voice, leaving it unclear who or what is responsible for something. Once you can spot it, a solution often follows.
posted by dws at 2:38 PM on November 6 [13 favorites]


did you ever find out

I did not.The good Dr. Evermor himself is retired (and in a nursing facility) and his wife is reachable via a web form and a phone number. You can drop them a note there. I did some web poking around and did not find anything specific except that I looked up close and they're clearly from all over the place so I think the answer of "They are salvage and this is a salvage yard" is about as close as I feel I am likely to get.
posted by jessamyn (temp) at 3:00 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


A longgg time ago I was a volunteer for a community garden that also teaches classes and has a harvest festival. At the harvest festival, they always sold bags of cover crop seed. We were chatting about how much to buy and the person who did the buying said "Oh, but the seed is so expensive, and we never make that money back!".
I had just spent 11 years as an associate buyer and was able to put some simple formulas in a spreadsheet (which they used for many years) to ensure that they always made at least their cost on the seed. Then we measured it by weight (as it was sold to us) into small bags for sale. Previously, they just guesstimated what to put in the bag. Those two things meant that they actually *made* some money (not much, but better than a loss) that year!
posted by dbmcd at 3:57 PM on November 6 [1 favorite]


I think the answer of "They are salvage and this is a salvage yard" is about as close as I feel I am likely to get.

Thanks! Yeah, that's about where my intuition would take me. They had a lot of other remarkable bits of metal in those sculptures as well, lots of vintage car parts and barely recognizable bits of industrial machinery.

My guess is that they probably showed up at the yard as a lot, perhaps from a foundry or worker at a foundry, or someone who was a surveyor. I'd further guess that they were intentionally collected by someone as objects and not just melt value (a foundry would recycle them in house) - and then it was later found and decluttered to a scrap yard by someone else who had to deal with it.
posted by loquacious at 4:20 PM on November 6


dhruva: Then I remembered an article, probably linked here on MeFi, that in these situations, people generally start reacting if someone takes the first step. So I just walked up to the guy and knelt down trying to see how bad it was. As soon as I did that, people started coming up, someone called another cop over, and slowly, there were others tending to the situation.

I hadn't heard of this social behaviour before but now that I have, it makes sense. Worth knowing, and one doesn't have to have any particular training or skill set to be part of saving someone' life through this simple act.
posted by Thella at 1:42 AM on November 7 [3 favorites]


These Saturday night (yet it's Tuesday) Metatalk Hours generate the feeling of sonder.
posted by Thella at 1:44 AM on November 7 [4 favorites]


Boring, but recent and effective troubleshooting:
Halfway through July, my left elbow/arm started to hurt. After some searching, Dr. Web told me it was a tennis elbow. I had probably developed it doing the preparations for summer camp. Here's how I solved the problem:

- I wore an elastic band for some support and warmth
- I was careful to keep moving the arm, but not to strain it
- At summer camp, I talked to the doctor to verify that my diagnosis and treatment were correct
- When it was getting better, I installed an anti-RSI application on my laptop and used that as an incentive to do gentle stretches and exercises, briefly but often
- I also did this under warm (shower) water. But without the laptop.

Reader, I healed. It's gone. I'm pain-free again.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:57 AM on November 7 [2 favorites]


I adore problem-solving.

I'm sure there are better ones, but these got some fun reactions on social media:

1. Mixer broke mid-dessert-making. I could have beat it by hand with a whisk, but I had several batches to make, so that option wasn't appealing. Ended up sacrificing an old whisk which happened to have a handle that, when cut, slid perfectly into my cordless drill's bit channel.

2. While at work, my shoe's stiletto plastic heel tip chipped away, exposing that metal nail in the heel. I hated the sharp clacking sound and it was hard to walk on, so I cut up a Nerf bullet so all the foam was removed (we have a lot of them at work) and pulled the hollow rubber bullet end cap up around the heel tip with pliers. Much better, and neon orange!
posted by rachaelfaith at 6:40 AM on November 7 [5 favorites]


My mom has a couple of small, high windows in her living room. Our neighbors on that side of the house for some years had a tendency to sit in their windows half- or fully naked, so my mom bought some curtains for these windows, just one piece of fabric on a dowel rod that slots into 2 half-circle eyes that're screwed into the window frame. She got sick of having to stand on a chair to put the curtains up every evening and take them down every morning, so I marched into the kitchen and grabbed a pair of barbecue tongs. If you grasp the curtain rod in the middle with the tongs, you can easily slide it into place. The tongs live on the mantle now.
posted by coppermoss at 4:16 AM on November 8 [1 favorite]


My favorite bit of problem solving was not mine, but saved me an expensive (in time, money, and potential medical complications) surgery.

I had developed a very painful case of "trigger finger." The tendon system in my hand was curling my index finger progressively further toward my palm. Home remedies (splinting, per a medical friend's advice, heat packs, ice packs, massage, switching from holding books to reading on an ipad) did nothing. My family doc sent me to a hand specialist. His examination, forcibly straightening the finger, made me scream in a way that caused a concerned nurse to run in. Excruciating. He gave me a steroid shot, not fun, and prescribed physical therapy. "If it comes back, we'll do surgery."

I have systemic lupus. One of its complications is that I will do almost anything to avoid setting off my immune system, because who knows what damage it will do while it's raging, and when it might quiet down again. So I am VERY surgery adverse. And, not knowing what caused the trigger finger in the first place, there was no telling if it might recur. So I did the weeks of physical therapy. I watched my finger begin to curl again, and started trying to choose between bad options.

Then I bumped into a door or something, and went to see my long-time chiropractor. I told him about my finger in passing. He looked at my hand, looked at my arm. Squeezed my elbow. "Can you straighten it now?" Fearfully, I did. No pain. He found a spot at my collar. Pressed. "Now?" No pain. Followed a line up to my neck and jaw. "Huh. Did you have any dental work around the time this started?" Yes, as a matter if fact, I had. "I can help you today, but it's going to come back. Go see your dentist. Your bite is off just a little. You're compensating, not knowing it."

Holding my jaw wrong was messing with the tendons in my neck, which was messing with the next in line, etc.

Saw the dentist. New crown was, in fact, a tiny bit too high. Dentist ground it down to proper spot. Resolved hand problem. It's been four years or so, and still working great. And I learned a lot about looking for root causes when problem solving.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 4:29 AM on November 8 [20 favorites]


I watched my wife dismantle, clean, then reassemble the carburettor on the lawnmower to fix a fuel leak. She might as well have slain a Balrog as far as I was concerned.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:08 PM on November 8 [10 favorites]


My laptop is seven years old, a veritable old man. It was also one of the first touch-screen (swivel-screen) notepads that Acer produced. And about two months ago the central hinge that rotates the screen snapped. The laptop's spine broke and the screen just fell flat.

Fortunately the wires that powered the screen weren't damaged so it was still usable, and because I'm a colossal miser I decided to try and get it fixed rather than shell out money for a new/refurbished model.

Well, apparently, according to the dude in the repair shop, it was beyond repair. I tutted, tucked the old man under my arm and marched home to my Dad's shed, armed with a coat hanger and a pair of pliers.

And, lo, I build a new backbone for my laptop. I reckon it's got years left, as long as a treat it gently.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 1:52 AM on November 9 [4 favorites]


I watched my wife dismantle, clean, then reassemble the carburettor on the lawnmower to fix a fuel leak. She might as well have slain a Balrog as far as I was concerned.

That is hilarious, cause three weeks ago our 5 year old mower, wouldn't start, and I figured it was the carburetor after exhausting the other options. Some mowers appear to have this kinda on the side in the youtube vids I watched, mine was right in the middle of the mower, so basically everything would have to come off. After looking at it for about five minutes, I just went "fuck this", and went off to bunnings and bought an electric mower with some of my bonus money.

I doff my hat to your wife, as soon as I realised where the carburetor was, and that I would need to buy special cleaning fluid, I was basically out.
posted by smoke at 2:07 AM on November 9 [1 favorite]


When my son was 33 months old he was still mostly mute but he watched every thing including me putting together a 60 screw cart to tow behind the mower. So one day I am pleased that he is occupying himself in his room while I mop the whole house.

He had a screwdriver and the canister/cylinder vacuum cleaner was apart and laid out on the floor in an interesting pattern. Very pleased he was and I'm not one to ruin accomplishments so I made him a deal. Pork chops, garlic mashed potatoes, beans and a chocolate pecan pie if you put that all back together before the small hand gets to the six. Deal.

I was going to make that anyway but he got to work and by the time food was ready he had made a strange corded leaf blower that almost looked like the old vacuum and he was upset that it blew stuff around rather than sucked.

That's ok we can use this too. Plugged it in outside and set him to work blowing leaves off the deck and he still got pie.

So we got another used commercial Hoover from the repair shop for the floors. Scary the number of discounted Dyson's left behind by people who make a deposit and decide the final bill is too much. Boy happily took care of the leaves with a Frankenstein leaf blower he created and gave life to.

Good all around.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:59 AM on November 9 [18 favorites]


I dunno, arcticseal. Seems pretty darned epic to me. (BTW, hello from Calgary)

Hello! Strangely enough, I'm missing the snow and -18C!
posted by arcticseal at 1:26 PM on November 9


The lock on my front door is getting old and needs to be replaced in the somewhat near future. In the meantime, here are some work-arounds that work for me:

Problem: it's hard to push the key all the way into the lock.
Solution: try using a spare key if you have one. You may still have to jiggle it gently to get it all the way into the lock, but it's probably easier to do it with the spare key than with the original one, and you may end up having less trouble with the original key as well.

Problem: key goes all the way into the lock but it won't turn to open the door.
Solution: first turn the key all the way clockwise / righty-tighty like you would when you close the door. Then try turning the key counter-clockwise / lefty-loosy in order to open the door. You may have to repeat these steps a couple of times, but if your lock is anything like mine you'll usually end up being able to turn the key to open the door without much effort.
posted by rjs at 2:21 PM on November 9 [1 favorite]


Righty opens a deadbolt, lefty locks it, unless they installed the deadbolt upside down.
posted by Oyéah at 6:12 PM on November 9


Did you know that when a Lenovo laptop malfunctions, it plays a jaunty tune? There's a diagnostic app that listens to the song and translates it to an error code. Unfortunately ours translated to "near death, seek professional help" but I was still mildly proud of figuring out This Means Something and finding the app for my phone.
posted by Flannery Culp at 6:21 PM on November 9 [6 favorites]


Unfortunately ours translated to "near death, seek professional help"

I hope the tune was "Daaiiisy Daaaaiiiiisy, giiiiive meee yourrr aaaaansweeerrrrrrr..."
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:42 AM on November 11 [2 favorites]


Not quite as elegant as mightshould's trailering solution, but this was my problem solving as a teen: we had 3 horses. 2 of them hated trailering. One (my lovely horse Agent) loved it for some reason, but he was very big. We had a stock trailer with a divider in front. Agent was too long for us to close the gate that separated the front and back sections, and in fact he was too wide to fit between the front section's divider and the wall as well. So we would do this:

1. load Agent into the front with the divider not fixed in place, so it wasn't split evenly in half
2. load the smallest horse next to him in the front and give that horse grain to distract him
3. back Agent out of the trailer, then fix the front divider in place creating two equal spots in the front section
4. load the remaining horse into the front
5. close the front gate and load Agent into the back section

With these same 3 horses, the other two were afraid of swimming but Agent was only mildly nervous. So I also remember taking the horses swimming across a small creek with my cousin's dog. The dog jumped in the water first, which was all the encouragement Agent needed to follow in, and then the other horses came after without much fuss.
posted by Emmy Rae at 10:25 AM on November 11 [3 favorites]


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