Troubleshooting Professional

Back IssuesVolume 1, Issue 4, April 1997Back to Troubleshooters.Com
Copyright (C) 1997 by Steve Litt


Editors Desk
Letters to the Editor
Tales From Pacific Stereo
The Hair Care Crisis
The Ultimate Cost Reduction
Tales from Pacific Stereo, Part 2
Ice Ran in Their Veins
How to Submit an Article
URLs Mentioned in this Issue

Editors Desk

In honor of April Fools Day, the April edition of Troubleshooting Professional is devoted to humor, and we all know Troubleshooting is fertile ground. Of course, the most obvious humor source is the "defective customer". Oddly enough, my 15 years in computers have yielded only one "defective customer" story deserving of inclusion (see The Ultimate Cost Reduction). Nobody rolling a floppy in a typewriter, no white-out on the screen, no pointing the mouse at the screen or using the mouse as a telephone, no scanning a document by placing it on the monitor.

But before that, in my life as an audio technician, boy did I have some defective customer stories, experienced either first-hand or by people I knew. Some of those stories appear in Tales from Pacific Stereo and Tales from Pacific Stereo, part 2.

Then there are the technician stories. "Stupid technician" stories aren't funny, so you won't find them here. But how about those "macho technician" stories? The humor is a little different though. The laughter comes out of shock, and a little fear that it could happen to you. See Ice Ran in their Veins for two Macho Technician stories.

Then there's the story of the Colossal Troubleshooting Screwup, whose very humor comes from its hugeness. And who can screw up bigger than the government? Check out The Hair Care Crisis for a fictional example of the ultimate end to patching a symptom instead of discovering the root cause.

Most of these stories were based on real situations. Of course, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Thanks for reading Troubleshooting Professional. If you're a Troubleshooter, this is your magazine. Enjoy!.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.


Tales From Pacific Stereo

By Steve Litt

Pacific Stereo was a large audio chain in California, Illinois/Missouri and Texas. Due to extreme price-competition, it went out of business in 1985. I was an audio tech at Pacific Stereo from August 1978 to April 1981. Pacific Stereo was a fun place to work. You got to laugh a lot, as you can see from these three stories:

High Expectations for a Receiver

The customers male voice at the other end of the line was pleasant enough, but he wanted satisfaction: "You fixed my receiver yesterday, but when I got it home there was no sound, even though the lights go on.".

After verifying that all his switches and controls were set right, I told him what to do: "I remember your receiver. I fixed it, then I went over it with a fine tooth comb. It worked perfectly during testing, so I suggest you bring in not only the receiver, but also the speakers and the speaker wires so we can test them.".

He was adamant: "The problem can't be in the speakers or speaker wires."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

He replied, "because I never had the speakers or speaker wires connected!".

Does That Conform to the National Electric Code?

This happened to my boss, and he told me about it.

Customer (an older lady, on the phone): "You fixed my receiver yesterday, and it doesn't work. There's no sound, and the lights don't come on."

My boss: "Is it plugged in?"

Customer: "Yes!"

My Boss: "Is the power switch on?"

Customer: "Yes!"

My Boss: "Please check again to make sure it's plugged in"

Customer: "It is plugged in"

My Boss: "Well then there must be something wrong with the outlet it's plugged into".

Customer: "Young man, there's a perfectly good outlet on the back of the receiver, and that's what I have it plugged in to!"

Incendiary Speakers

This was a piece of Pacific Stereo folklore, and I believe it. This dialog takes place in the store between a salesman and a big, burly, male construction-worker customer. The scene opens with the customer carrying two refrigerator sized speakers into the store. The speaker cones are shredded and charred, and the cases themselves are burned.

Customer: "Yesterday I told you I wanted the biggest, loudest, most power-handling speakers you had, and you sold me these. They didn't work. For thirty seconds they just buzzed loudly, then they burst into flame".

Salesman: "What kind of amplifier did you hook them up to?"

Customer: "No amplifier, I connected them directly to an electric outlet".

Steve Litt is president of American Troublebusters and Troubleshooters.Com, and editor of Troubleshooting Professional Magazine. He's also an application developer and technical writer. He can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

The Hair Care Crisis

By Steve Litt. This is adapted from my December 8, 1993 presentation, titled "Problem Solving Follies", to the American Society for Quality Control. It's a tongue in cheek look at what can happen when symptoms are patched rather than root-causes eliminated.

Problem: Bad haircuts
: With the government's cooperation, the barbers create the American Haircare Association (AHA), as a professional and licensing body, and to certify hair schools. To prevent inferior foreign barbers from practicing here, the Immigration and Naturalization Service imposes draconian immigration quotas on foreign barbers.
Side effect: Barber shortage.

Problem: Barber shortage causes crowded barber shops
: The barber shops raise prices to decrease demand.
Side effect: Expensive haircuts.

Problem: Expensive haircuts cause inadequate access to hair care
: Third party payers crop up, including private insurance, HariAid, and HariCare.
Side effect: Barber shops once again become crowded.

Problem: Crowded barber shops again
: A new hair-care provider, the "Parabarber" is instituted. The parabarber doesn't need the special education, isn't as regulated, and doesn't charge nearly as much money.
Side effect: Some of the parabarbers give bad haircuts.

Problem: Bad haircuts
: Specialists. The toughest cases are sent to highly educated and highly paid specialists. There are specialists for thin hair, kinky hair, straight hair, dyed hair, and hair with bald spots.
Side effect: Specialists' high fees cause haircare costs to escalate.

Problem: Specialists escalate costs
: Hair Maintenance Organizations (HMO's). HMO's charge a per-customer monthly fee (capitation fee) no matter what services are rendered.
Side effect: HMO's can't provide the customer with quality hair care at the capitation rate.

Problem: HMO's can't fulfill their agreement:
Solution: HMO's hire the cheapest barbers, work them to death. They reduce their workload by implementing phone systems that hang up on customers, six month waiting lists, utilization review, routine claim denial and undertreatment. Barbers working for HMO's are pressured to limit haircuts to five minutes and to not inform customers of their costlier alternatives.
Side effect: Bad haircuts.

Problem: Bad haircuts.
Solution: Customers hire lawyers to file malpractice suits in order to get adequate haircare. Litigation increases each year.
Side effect: The hair care system is now out of control.

Problem: The hair care system is out of control.
Solution: The President and his wife implement "hard choices". Only three basic hairstyles, certain conditions such as extremely kinky hair just aren't covered. We all know that if haircuts were free, we'd all go to the barber every day, so the President makes any hair benefits over and above the basic package taxable income. Barbers, lawyers and insurance companies all send lobbyists and make multi-million dollar political contributions. The barbers say all the problems are caused by an oversupply of barbers and urge the president to force haircutting schools to cut their enrollment.
Side effect: Hair care is costlier, less available, and shoddier than before the AHA took over.

Problem: Hair care is costlier, less available, and shoddier than before the AHA took over.
Solution: First, repair the damage done by all the symptom-coverups. Eliminate the AHA, HMO's, para-barbers, litigators and politicians. Let anyone who wants to train for and practice hair care do it if they pass an objective test measuring their ability to care for hair on the job. Allow foreign barbers who pass such objective tests to practice in the US. Watch prices drop with competition.

Then do what you should have done originally, and attack the root cause of the original bad haircut problem. A simple complaint tracking system and a little consumer awareness should do the trick.

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

The Ultimate Cost Reduction

When I programmed medical management software, I had some medical clinics as clients. The larger clinics had several physicians and billed thousands of dollars per day. Their receivables are at least thirty days worth. The DP manager for one such clinic called in a panic. "Steve, help us. We were in the middle of backing up our data, when the computer crashed. Now we can't read either our hard disk or the backup tape. Help!"

"Don't worry", I said. "You can always go back to your last backup".

"No we can't.", cried the DP manager.

"Why not?", I asked.

"Because that backup was on the same tape as the backup that crashed. We overwrote it to make the present backup that crashed". The DP manager continued "you see, we have only one backup tape".

I was flabbergasted. "Why only one tape for backup?"

The DP manager replied, "Tapes cost fifteen dollars each and management didn't want to spend the money for extra tapes".

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Tales from Pacific Stereo, Part 2

By Steve Litt

This is a continuation of the story, High Expectations for a Receiver. After the customer delivered his bombshell about never hooking up the speakers and speaker wires, I invited him to return with his receiver, speakers and speaker wire. I made the appointment for 4:30pm the next day. I told some of my co-workers what happened.

He came at 4:30 sharp. I expected someone like the banjo player in "Deliverance", but this was a pleasant, ordinary looking guy. At least five employees helped him in with his equipment. The customer was thrilled at our level of cooperation. It never dawned on him that the employees wanted to "see this guy up close". An audience watched as I powered up his receiver (sans speakers).

With a flourish, I plugged it in, set it to FM, disabled the FM muting, tuned in a station (using the meter), turned up the volume and put my ear to the case of his receiver. I turned to him:

"You're right -- no sound", I said. He nodded pleasantly.

I said "Let me try an experiment. I'll hook up your speakers and see if you get sound". That was OK with him, so I proceeded. When supplemented with speakers, the receiver sounded quite good, clear FM with heart-pounding bass and stereo separation.

"How do you like the sound when you hook up the speakers?", I asked.

"Really great!", the customer answered.

"Some receivers just won't make sound without speakers", I explained. "I can do one of two things for you. I can either undo yesterday's repair and refund your money, or you can take the receiver with my partial repair and make sure to hook up the speakers". Store employees watching the dialog were struggling for control.

The customer, who was very happy with the receiver's performance once attached to speakers, agreed to use the speakers, inconvenient as that was, and left happily. The store employees who witnessed the incident were able to return to work after a suitable time out for "attitude adjustment".

I'm Not Kidding. This Really Happened!

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Ice Ran in Their Veins

By Steve Litt

As a troubleshooter, you know that technicians come in all shapes, sizes, colors, sexes, and ESPECIALLY temperaments. You also know that some of the funniest stories come from fellow technicians. Here are two stories of technicians unusually cool under pressure.


Bill was a good technician, and he had the best hands I've ever seen. This guy could repair a tiny tapedeck pulley by cutting electrical tape to a 1/16 inch strip, and exactly wrapping it around the pulley. I suppose anyone could do that, but I saw Bill do it in 30 seconds. His greatest feat, however, didn't involve his hands. It involved his (fill in your own synonym for macho).

He replaced the blown components on a 200 watt per channel SAE amplifier. If you're not familiar with SAE's, they're a 70's vintage high power amp with components so specialized that transistor replacements involved not only identical transistor numbers, but also identical gain characteristics as indicated by a color code. Parts cost over $100/channel. They were hugely powerful and tended toward instability. Often as not, blown SAE's burst into flame.

Standard procedure after replacing known bad parts in an amplifier is to power it up with a current limiter, either a series-lightbulb or a variable transformer (variac). That way, if your repair was incomplete and caused a short, the bulb lights or the variac draws current before further damage occurred in the amp. This is especially important for those high power units which can become quite incendiary.

Bill turned to me and said "I just fixed this SAE, but I'm not going to bother with a variac". You wanna watch? I backed up, covered my ears, and watched with disbelief as this animal guided the power plug toward the wall outlet. In my minds eye I imagined the SAE bursting into flame with a loud explosion. I couldn't believe the guy was this crazy.

The plug slid into the wall outlet. Music came out. The unit worked perfectly.


Max was one of my early role models. He could produce. Any time he wanted, he could repair twelve to fifteen units in an eight hour day, with very low recalls. His commission checks were enormous. Another tech once asked him how he did it, and he said "my fingers are divining rods that go to the defective component". He obviously had a great Troubleshooting Process and was unaware of it.

Max had been in the electronic repair business for fifteen years, and had owned his own shop. That made him cool under pressure. I found out just how cool when a customer brought in an expensive new Dual turntable under warrantee, with a tracking problem. Max brought the turntable to his service bench, and in view of both the customer and myself, began to bend the tonearm.

Now we all know the right way to fix a tracking problem is with the many adjustments provided, but you can save an hour on a Dual turntable repair by bending the tonearm to fix the tracking problem. Let the innocent man cast the first stone. I don't know one audio technician who hasn't fixed minor tracking problems by slightly bending the tonearm. But Max's luck ran out that day. The tonearm broke in half with an audible snap.

My jaw dropped. Part of me wanted to laugh, and part of me wanted to scream. My second worst nightmare was damaging a customer's unit. My worst nightmare was damaging his unit while the customer watched. Time stood still as everyone watched what Max was going to do.

Max took a second to gather his thoughts, then turned to the customer and spoke Popsicle cool: "I need to order parts for your turntable. We should get them in a couple days. Please call back next Monday".

The customer nodded, thanked Max, and walked out happy as a clam. Max ordered the tonearm and went back to work

Steve Litt can be reached at Steve Litt's email address.

Letters to the Editor

All letters become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), and may be edited for clarity or brevity. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in bad taste (bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).

These first few issues, we'd greatly appreciate feedback type letters. Especially valuable are balanced letters, mixing suggested alternatives with criticism, or mixing areas of improvement with praise. Flames for flames sake or sycophantic praise aren't as valuable.

Submit letters to the editor to Steve Litt's email address, and be sure the subject reads "Letter to the Editor". We regret that we cannot return your letter, so please make a copy of it for future reference.


How to Submit an Article

We anticipate five to eight articles per issue, with issues coming out monthly. The next few issues we'll be looking for articles on how to bring the Troubleshooting Process to all areas of business and society. This can be done as an essay (like the articles above), with humor, or with a case study. A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. We are *not* looking for ultra-technical or system-specific articles in the next few issues. Submissions should be between 250 and 2000 words long.

All submissions become the property of the publisher (Steve Litt), unless other arrangements are previously made in writing. We do not currently pay for articles. Troubleshooters.Com reserves the right to edit any submission for clarity or brevity. Any published article will include a two sentence description of the author, a hypertext link to his or her email, and a phone number if desired. Upon request, we will include a hypertext link, at the end of the magazine issue, to the author's website, providing that website meets the Troubleshooters.Com criteria for links and that the author's website first links to Troubleshooters.Com.

Submissions should be emailed to Steve Litt's email address, with subject line Article Submission. The first paragraph of your message should read as follows (unless other arrangements are previously made in writing):

I (your name), am submitting this article for possible publication in Troubleshooters.Com. I understand that this submission becomes the property of the publisher, Steve Litt, whether or not it is published, and that Steve Litt reserves the right to edit my submission for clarity or brevity. I certify that I wrote this submission and no part of it is owned by, written by or copyrighted by others.

After that paragraph, write the title, text of the article, and a two sentence description of the author.


URLs Mentioned in this Issue is Steve Litt's website.