Garrett (garote) wrote,

Learning The Components (Plus a digression)

How often do you think about the ventilation system in a place?


When you own the place, you need to think about it, because it needs regular maintenance. And if you haven't been doing it ... then surprise! No one has!


This is the central heating unit in the basement. There's a big metal tube feeding into the right-hand side. See that bent chunk of white cardboard in there? That's a filter, and it's supposed to be flush against the wall, covering the opening of the tube. Obviously, it ain't.

When was the last time this filter was changed? Let's pry it out of there and see...



Okay, time to order some new filters, pronto. They vary by size, shape, and filtration level... These will do the job:


Here's the old one next to a new one, for reference. You know, I don't think that filter has ever been changed out since the house was remodeled. Not even once. No wonder the place was getting dusty during the winter.


While I was learning about filters, I also learned about smoke detectors.


These guys are modular now. They're wired in to the house electrical system, and they use that wiring to communicate with each other as well, so when one detects smoke they all sound off. They only use the 9-volt battery when the house power fails, but they still test the 9-volt at regular intervals, since you want the battery to be ready to go any time. Pretty good design, and the devices themselves are only about nine bucks each.

For some reason, all seven alarms in the house started beeping in the same four-week period, and I had to swap out every battery. That's a detail that hasn't been sorted out yet, I guess... Perhaps house wiring for smoke alarms can have its own battery backup, in one place, so there's only one battery to deal with? Or maybe that would be too risky, since the alarm itself would not be able to beep to signal a wiring fault, even if the house battery was fine... Hmmm.

Well, anyway, I broke the battery compartment on one of them, which is how I learned they only cost nine bucks to replace.

Speaking of cheap replacements:


After years of faithful service, this toilet mechanism started to leak. It's a design I haven't seen before, but thanks to the wonders of YouTube I learned how to disassemble it in about five minutes. One bike ride over to the hardware store, and seven bucks later, and I had these:


The one on the left did the job perfectly!

This would all be a lot harder without the internet. For the air filters, the smoke detectors, and the toilet components, it was trivial to find descriptions of what they were for, watch video tutorials on how to maintain them, and comparison-shop for the best parts and prices. I could do it all from my phone! In the past I imagine I would have to buy an expensive book, or corner an expert in a hardware store - and the information I got would be stale or limited.

No, the problem these days is false confidence. I can find a lot of answers online, but the questions that make the difference between an amateur and an expert are the questions of "what", not the questions of "how". As in, deciding "what do to." For those decisions, I need to keep reaching out for experts.

I'll digress here and say: That's the real superpower I've learned in my 30's, I think.

There's something very refreshing and efficient about working with a real expert: They will happily tell you exactly what they don't know, as well as what they do. Over the last decade of my career I've developed the confidence to present my own relative inexperience up front, without defensiveness or insincerity, then seek out an expert and use that honest exchange as a foundation for a working relationship. Meantime, if someone comes to me with a question I can't answer, I just introduce them to someone I know who can help.

It's more than just networking - it's living by a kind of Hippocratic Oath that goes, "First, spread no bad information." If I were to pass off a guess as informed knowledge, simply to avoid embarrassment or win a contract, the consequences of being wrong would be severe, and if I happened to be right by sheer luck, I would only be creating an opportunity to be more spectacularly wrong later on - because the next question would be harder. What a relief to simply admit ignorance, and then go about seeking an expert! Someone who will either have the answer, or pass the question along again. When you live by that Hippocratic Oath, you earn the respect of others who do the same, and it's like joining an exclusive club. Soon enough, people start calling you an expert too - and handing you work and opportunities - because one way or the other, you always help; you never harm. And you never had to lie to get there. Bonus conscience points!

Actually this digression reminds me of a quote, from "Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account From Curiosity's Chief Engineer":

"There are few things more satisfying then talking to a person who listens carefully to reasoning, weighs what you said, and is willing to change his mind on the spot if you've succeeded in convincing him."*

That's the kind of expert I'm talking about, I think. Who wouldn't jump at the opportunity to work with - or for - someone like that?

(* If this was my quote, I'd use gender-neutral pronouns. Oh well.)
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