Common sense

I finished the book I have been working on for the past 4 months and just about the time I pushed the big button to send it off, I got a call from my wife letting me know that the A/C seemed to have been running constantly all day and yet the house wasn’t getting any cooler.  For you folks up north in the fall season, I am quite certain that you’d say to yourself “No big deal!  I have 9 months to get it fixed!  RELAX!”  In south Texas, a non-functional A/C unit in September is a 4 alarm emergency.  So the euphoria of “book finishing” led to a quick check of checking account balances and the looming knowledge of a weekend $ervice call adding up to the cost of a vacation trip to the Cayman Islands.  Better take a look first, when I get home…

Now, you are probably thinking that a guy who would attempt an A/C repair is right up there in insanity with a guy who would do his own brain surgery.  You are probably right, but after fixing things by making simple repairs, I operate under the assumption that a look a problem with some common sense can often save money and time in getting a broken thing running again.  Most of the time, I am rewarded with success, and, even when you include trips to the emergency room,  I am money ahead.

I have cracked our A/C unit open before for a little preventative maintenance.  I have fixed two furnaces, simply by replacing a $50 igniter, so, foolhardy or just plain lucky, I feel pretty comfortable cracking open things and “taking a look”.  I wish I would have taken a picture of what I saw in the control box of the A/C unit that was non-functional.  I HAD turned off the power (foolhardy yes, stupid no) and and almost immediately noticed a wire, burned at the end, that seemed to be going nowhere.  Now, just because there is an un-terminated wire in an electrical circuit, it doesn’t mean that is the issue.  Sometimes a wire is clipped off because of an “engineering change” to accommodate a non-original part so I don’t immediately assume that a loose wire is the culprit.  In my case, I have TWO identical units, so I disassembled unit #2 so I could compare the wiring.  Sure enough, the burned wire *should* have connected to the big honking capacitor and somehow had come loose.  I called Debbie out to watch and call 911 in case the capacitor chose my tinkering as an opportunity to discharge, and pulled the now orphaned connector off of the capacitor and re-crimped the burned off end on the connector and re-connected it.  I closed my eyes, I threw the big switch, waited for smoke and the unit rumbled back to life.  Life-giving cool air was now flowing from the ceiling vents.  Success!

When asked how I knew what to fix, I said “It was just common sense” but as I thought about it, I realized some folks have no common sense, especially when it comes to simple repairs.  Yeah, I am a geek and I admit that I was in electronics class in high school: That is where I developed a healthy respect for capacitors which jokesters would fully charge and then toss back into the parts box, just *waiting* for someone to rummage through and find it the hard way…. But you don’t have to be an electronics geek to be able to figure out simple stuff like I did in comparing the two wiring layouts.  You don’t have to be a licensed HVAC engineer to look at a furnace and notice that the “little thingy” in front of the burners isn’t doing any thing and looks burnt out. What it takes is “common sense”.  To me that is having a way of evaluating things logically.  You don’t have to fully understand everything, you just need to be able to logically walk through how something works.  That is usually enough to identify the problem, even if you don’t have a damaged frontal lobe like I do that doesn’t prevent you from proceeding to attempt to fix it.

Technology is working against humanity developing common sense because so much of the world’s operation is now hidden in “black boxes”.  When I was a mechanic, long ago, most repairs to engine problems involved tweaking or replacing tangible items.  Points, condensers, distributor caps, spark plugs were the items I worked with.  Now my Chevy Volt is plugged into a computer that evaluates the computers in the Volt for software updates that may fix an engine issue.  I may be a programmer, but hacking into my Volt to fix one of a million lines of computer code is beyond my capabilities or interest.  Give me tangible hardware any day!  But it brings about a bigger question and that is:  Are we losing our ability to logically think through simple repairs because we have handed off “logic” to the “black boxes” in our lives?  Is “common” sense becoming extinct?  If so, I’d recommend a job in the “trades” like HVAC, electrician, plumber.  Although I “robbed” my HVAC guy of $250 in fixing my A/C unit, I’ll just be handing it over to the Chevy mechanic to update my Volt’s software….zero sum, I guess.

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