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Troubleshooting under the burden of preconceived expectations
Old 02-06-2010, 06:11 PM   #1
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Troubleshooting under the burden of preconceived expectations

I was going to call this post "Whaddya DO all day?!?"

Yesterday, nearly a decade after leaving the Navy, I realized that I still troubleshoot as though I was still in the Navy.

You know the old troubleshooting flowchart-- the one that starts with a box labeled "It's broken", leading to a diamond labeled "Were you messing with it when it broke? Yes/No". And if it wasn't your fault then it was either operator error or possibly, in a distant third/fourth place, caused by the environment or a design issue. And for those of you veterans who object to the term "operator error", I should point out that there's a reason the submarine force has done away with periscopes-- they're the only piece of equipment that officers were allowed to operate, and they broke more frequently than anything else. The periscopes, not the officers.

Anyway, two days ago at 8 PM I noticed that the pump on our solar water heater wasn't shutting down. (Yes, I still go around the house listening for signs of trouble. But at least I've pretty much stopped taking logs.) The pump controller is straightforward-- two separate wires leading to a hotter thermocouple (the collector on the roof) and a cooler thermocouple (the water tank). The controller turns on the pump when the roof thermocouple gets too hot (currently set at 12 degrees warmer than the tank) and runs until it cools to within four degrees (hard-coded into the controller's chip). At 8 PM I was pretty sure that the roof wasn't hotter than the tank, so I shut off the controller and tried to go to sleep.

11 hours later (seven hours of mental troubleshooting interrupted by four hours of actual sleep) it was light enough to go to work. Why did I wait until sunrise so that I could go on the roof? Because I knew that I hadn't been messing with the pump controller when it broke, and I was pretty sure that nobody else had been operator error messing with it either. (We'll get back to this latter assumption in a couple paragraphs.) That left environment and design-- Hawaii is notorious for UV, water, wind, and dirt/debris so clearly the environment was the source of the fault. Hey, we built the darn thing and it's worked flawlessly for over five years. That usually means the environment finally ate through something.

Up on the roof I had to spend about 15 minutes clipping tie wraps, peeling back electrical tape, pulling off pipe insulation, and undoing wire nuts. Everything looked fine, so maybe the environment wasn't the problem-- but I decided to verify that. With my 25-year-old Radio Shack analog multimeter and my thermocouple spec sheet (yes, I save thermocouple spec sheets) I was able to verify electrical response (to a butane lighter and an ice cube). With the wire's loose ends carefully separated and capped off, I trotted back down to the garage to check resistance where the roof wire connected to the controller-- infinite. Great, no shorts. I trotted back up to the roof, shorted the loose ends together, and trotted back down to the garage to check continuity-- zero ohms. Great, no breaks or bad connections either. While I was there I did a couple tests from the controller tech manual (you know I save those too). Everything responded normally but the controller was still convinced that the roof was way hotter than the tank. Of course at 9 AM that's probably true.

In the garage, I repeated all of the previous paragraph's steps on the tank's thermocouple & wire. Everything was OK until the final step (it's always the final step) when sonofagun, shorted continuity showed infinite resistance-- the wire had a break or a bad connection. Sure enough, when I went over the wire by hand I found that it was severed at the bottom of the tank. I replaced it with a new wire and the controller happily set about comparing temperatures again. I put back the wire nuts, pipe insulation, electrical tape, and tie wraps, had my spouse clear the tagout, and returned the hot water system to service. Hollywood showers for everyone.

But wait, we submariners know that troubleshooting isn't complete until the root cause has been identified and corrected. Luckily it only took one more day to complete that step-- see below for the results of the incident critique.

Next time something breaks without warning, I'm going to start troubleshooting with a different assumption...
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Old 02-06-2010, 06:22 PM   #2
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It's hard to tell Mickey's size, but he'd make a great new pet.

Phillis Diller: "So, my blender stopped working. I told my husband Fang about it and he said he would fix it. He opened it up and a big dead cockroach fell out."
"Well, there's your problem. The engineer died."

Maybe Mickey has been turning everything on and off for five years right on schedule. He takes one day off from work and the inquisition begins.
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Old 02-06-2010, 06:56 PM   #3
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Ouch - on several levels.

forum name unclemick

the trap looks like a small version of the ones I baited with chicken necks and threw of the pier to catch crabs in the old days.

ex- engineer a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

PLUS - not to cross thread but I feel old - the last two times I called the furnace/AC guy and watched while he trouble shot and fixed the problem secure in the knowledge my portfolio could take the hit.

heh heh heh - boy o boy how times have changed since my 'cheap and fugal' days of early ER. I think I'll go pee on my pants. .
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Old 02-06-2010, 07:23 PM   #4
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....
PLUS - not to cross thread but I feel old - the last two times I called the furnace/AC guy and watched while he trouble shot and fixed the problem secure in the knowledge my portfolio could take the hit.

heh heh heh - boy o boy how times have changed since my 'cheap and fugal' days of early ER. I think I'll go pee on my pants. .
We should make a list, Perils of ER: 1) uncontrollable glee. heh heh heh
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Old 02-06-2010, 07:25 PM   #5
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I was pretty good at troubleshooting back in my design engineer days. I remember once speculating on a particular bug and carefully setting up the logic analyzer for a 1 in a billion event. Then it would run for hours and finally I caught it! (And diagnosed and fixed the problem)

Nowadays, our motorhome gives us lots of opportunities for troubleshooting!

Motorhomes are wonderful. They are an earthquake on wheels so some things very gradually fail. Other things just go kaput for no obvious reason. There is always something because they are so darned complicated.

Rain leaks are the absolute worst. It is so difficult to figure out where the water is getting into the motorhome because it can follow a really circuitous route. And they are really hard to reproduce - sometimes it has to rain a certain way and when you are awake too! We just recently fixed a window leak that stumped us for a the past two years. It only recently got really bad, but if we hadn't been pulled over due to a rain storm and finally really seen clearly where the water was coming in, I don't know when we would have figured it out. We had already sealed everything we could think of, but we weren't even close.

Fortunately we haven't had any critter break anything on our motorhome (knock on wood!) but it's not uncommon. Squirrels have been known to do major engine damage.

Audrey
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Old 02-06-2010, 08:11 PM   #6
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Rain leaks are the absolute worst. It is so difficult to figure out where the water is getting into the motorhome because it can follow a really circuitous route. And they are really hard to reproduce - sometimes it has to rain a certain way and when you are awake too!
You're preaching to the choir again...

I have a rain leak I've been battling for seven months - it showed up big time when our 18 month drought ended last fall, but it is obvious it had been leaking at a much reduced rate for some time prior to that. I've spent hours and hours resealing every last seam, joint and possible opening in the roof (Eternabond) and sidewalls (caulk). It still leaks. I have only one other possibility that I'm going to try next week - the seals around the roof air units.

If that doesn't work I'm thinking about installing a floor drain in the bedroom...
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Old 02-06-2010, 08:39 PM   #7
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Rain leaks are the absolute worst. It is so difficult to figure out where the water is getting into the motorhome because it can follow a really circuitous route...
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Originally Posted by REWahoo View Post
I have a rain leak I've been battling for seven months - it showed up big time when our 18 month drought ended last fall, but it is obvious it had been leaking at a much reduced rate for some time prior to that. I've spent hours and hours resealing every last seam, joint and possible opening in the roof (Eternabond) and sidewalls (caulk). It still leaks...
AH HA!

Still just an armchair RV'er, but all my research on the Web pointed me to the right thing to look for when buying a used RV. Heh heh heh...

Sorry if I sound like a smart *ss, but no wonder when I posted something about the dirty word, delamination, it was all quiet out there.

Well, I might have posted too soon. Should have waited to hear from Rich and a few other RV'ers.
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Old 02-06-2010, 08:46 PM   #8
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Sorry if I sound like a smart *ss..
Hey, if the shoe fits, ...

Thankfully, no signs of any damage other than some mildewed carpeting.
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Old 02-06-2010, 08:49 PM   #9
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Hey, if the shoe fits, ...

Thankfully, no signs of any damage other than some mildewed carpeting.
Hey, to be a used RV buyer, I'd better be a smart *ss than a sorry *ss...

Just mildew? OMG, for a long time, I suffered from allergy so bad I thought I could die. Just mildew?
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Old 02-06-2010, 09:04 PM   #10
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Yes, only carpet damage and a water stain on the underlying floor.

Since leaks are fairly common, it is nice that most do not lead to delamination or other serious damage. However, if the leak goes undetected or neglected for an extended time period, then that is an entirely different story.
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Old 02-06-2010, 09:15 PM   #11
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Seriously, I have seen some newer used RVs with obvious water stains. Yet, there are used ones that appear to be safe, but who knows. At some point, I am going to pay my money and take my chances. But admittedly, the prospect of maintaining two houses, used cars, AND an RV does cause me to seriously reflect on whether I really want more work for myself. I am a cheapskate who just got to do everything himself.

I also look on the Web for RV covers. Are they any good? Can they really keep the water out? Perhaps a fixed cover like a tall carport? Oh yeah, it just money, right?

Talk about leak, I have a bad leak in my house right now. Tile roof supposedly lasts forever, right? Not the stuff underneath. If it is hard to find the leak source in a smooth RV top, how to with a tile roof with nooks and crannies at all the corners and angles? I have bad water stains on the ceiling right now. Will have to call a roofing company in spring.

OMG! The RV will have to wait.
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Old 02-06-2010, 09:17 PM   #12
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"For professional achievement in the superior performance of his duties while serving as a member of the Nords household, Electrical Division in the year 2010. Officer Nords' knowledge of the solar collection and heat exchange electrical control systems and complex electrical control systems directly contributed to the household's success. In particular, he developed and executed troubleshooting techniques that returned the household's Main Hot Water Control System to full capability, which played a major roll in crew's morale while that household was on a mission of vital importance to the Government of the United States. He displayed great initiative in not only identifying the cause of the malfunction, but in taking additional steps to ensure that the failure would not recur for the duration of the mission. Officer Nord's superior performance and dedication to duty reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Service."
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Old 02-06-2010, 09:27 PM   #13
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But admittedly, the prospect of maintaining two houses, used cars, AND an RV does cause me to seriously reflect on whether I really want more work for myself. I am a cheapskate who just got to do everything himself.
I cannot understand why anyone would want two houses and an RV. If you are the DIY type, you'd have to be retired in order to have the time to work full-time to maintain everything.

You might want to ask Rich about RV covers. I think he bought one for his new motor home.
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Old 02-06-2010, 09:35 PM   #14
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I thought I was retired for real when my part-time work dried up in 2008-2009. I never go out looking for work, but people I knew called me up to have work for me. And I couldn't say no after the recent market movement; I am too cheap to refuse money.

And about two houses and an RV, I am the accumulator or hoarder type. Once I have something, I get attached to it. So, I have to be VERY careful before I buy something. :-) And my wife is the same way. :-)
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Old 02-06-2010, 09:36 PM   #15
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I also look on the Web for RV covers. Are they any good? Can they really keep the water out? Perhaps a fixed cover like a tall carport? Oh yeah, it just money, right?
From what I have read RV covers are not a good idea, as wind will cause chafing and damage any painted surface and perhaps other things.

I guess covered storage is the best. But then again my RV has been uncovered since I bought it, but I am in it to discover leaks quickly! Well, relatively quickly.

Audrey

Sorry Nords - we hijacked your thread with these inevitably buggy RVs!
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Old 02-06-2010, 09:41 PM   #16
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Sorry Nords - we hijacked your thread with these inevitably buggy RVs!
Torpedoed again...
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Old 02-06-2010, 10:19 PM   #17
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You might want to ask Rich about RV covers. I think he bought one for his new motor home.
Wanna buy an RV cover? I have one slightly used. Otherwise it's eBay.

I think they are protective of the rig -- sun, rain, dust. But despite reading every trick for putting it on and taking it off, if you have a larger RV (ours is 36', not the biggest) you really can't avoid walking on that smooth, shiny fiberglass surface, often a bit wet from a variety of things. In that state, you are rolling out this large sail with tie-downs galore for you to trip on. After about 4 on-off cycles we decided that the risk of a fall was too great.

But plenty of folks swear by them, and I really would like to protect the RV with something. We just decided that our safety was more important. OTOH, full-timers rarely cover their rigs, and modern surfaces are pretty resistent. I check the sealants the surface pretty regularly.

I'd buy a used one if you can, and if it works for you great. Get the kid that "breathes" so you don't trap moisture beneath it.
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Old 02-07-2010, 06:39 AM   #18
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Get the kid that "breathes" so you don't trap moisture beneath it.
+1. Breathing kids are the only way to go, but even then we had moisture problems with both of ours for the first two or three years.
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Old 02-07-2010, 03:10 PM   #19
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+1. Breathing kids are the only way to go, but even then we had moisture problems with both of ours for the first two or three years.
Moisture problems, you say?

Did you try re-caulking all the seams?
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Old 02-07-2010, 03:36 PM   #20
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It's hard to tell Mickey's size, but he'd make a great new pet.
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Ouch - on several levels.
forum name unclemick
the trap looks like a small version of the ones I baited with chicken necks and threw of the pier to catch crabs in the old days.
I don't know if he's Mickey or more appropriately named "Ralphie". Six inches plus tail. We have a strawberry guava tree in the front yard that attracts these critters, and the tree's between crops so they've been foraging.

He's been safely transported to a remote secure undisclosed location and released on his own recognizance...

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"For professional achievement in the superior performance of his duties while serving as a member of the Nords household, Electrical Division in the year 2010. Officer Nords' knowledge of the solar collection and heat exchange electrical control systems and complex electrical control systems directly contributed to the household's success. In particular, he developed and executed troubleshooting techniques that returned the household's Main Hot Water Control System to full capability, which played a major roll in crew's morale while that household was on a mission of vital importance to the Government of the United States. He displayed great initiative in not only identifying the cause of the malfunction, but in taking additional steps to ensure that the failure would not recur for the duration of the mission. Officer Nord's superior performance and dedication to duty reflected great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Service."
Hey, this reads better than the other awards in my service record-- thanks!! Spouse had to clean her own nasal-spewed liquids off the monitor.

For those of you outside the submarine force, you have to read about a thousand of these to appreciate the subtle humor in its phrasing. It's even funnier when you've had them read to you by an XO at a command awards formation held outside in the noon sun wearing full-dress uniforms...

You've clearly written up far too many deployment awards packages.

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Sorry Nords - we hijacked your thread with these inevitably buggy RVs!
No problem, I'm one of the board's worst hijackers and it's an honor to have it happen to my own.
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