Troubleshooting Professional

Back IssuesVolume 1, Issue 8, August 1997Back to Troubleshooters.Com
Copyright (C) 1997 by Steve Litt


Contents

Editors Desk
Black Cats Don't Break Cars
The Power (and Peril) of Positive Thinking
Luck: Master or Servant?
Remedial Tech 101
Letters to the Editor
How to Submit an Article
URLs Mentioned in this Issue

Editors Desk

By Steve Litt

As technological pace increases and time-to-market shrinks, we need more and better Troubleshooters. The technical elite can no longer carry the load. We need to empower the general population in the ways of Troubleshooting.

Every autumn colleges integrate inadequatly educated students into their carricula, placing them in remedial courses teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. We face the same challenge teaching Troubleshooting to the population at large. The 10 step Universal Troubleshooting Process is simple, but these fundamentals are necessary:

Unfortunately, there's not much money in teaching remedial Troubleshooting. I'd anticipate only the government and some truly altruistic and idealistic individuals trying to implement this, and I'd anticipate the goverment will fail. To the few who are ready, willing and able to teach remedial Troubleshooting, I salute you and stand ready to help. The articles in this issue are a good starting point.

To those of you who aren't ready to address this problem I say this: I don't want to hear you griping how your car wasn't fixed right, or your computer shop can't fix your PC, or how hard it is to get good employees these days. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

So kick back, relax, and read this issue. And remember, if you're a Troubleshooter, this is your magazine. Enjoy!.

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


Black Cats Don't Break Cars

By Steve Litt

Cause and Effect is the foundation of Troubleshooting: without it all is lost. What's the opposite of cause and effect? Superstition. A superstitious person cannot troubleshoot. Unfortunately, a large part of the population is superstitious. This presents a major challenge in bringing Troubleshooting Process to the population at large.

Superstition is the (almost) arbitrary assignment of cause to an effect. That assignment might be based on what worked once, or an oversimplification, or folklore. Sometimes superstition contains truth, but general truths are often wrong in specific circumstances.

Consider "folk remedies". TV news often reports that scientists have finally scientifically validated a folk remedy in use for hundreds of years. Yet even valid folk remedies become nothing but superstitious mumbo-jumbo if used wrong. Consider a rain-forest plant (let's call it mumbojumbo) reputed to reduce blood pressure. In fact, it might be a diuretic which reduces the body's salt content, reducing blood pressure in a person whose hypertension is salt-induced. But if the high blood pressure is caused by thick, inelastic blood vessels associated with plaque, and if the individual already has a low salt-content, mumbojumbo will do little. The knee-jerk reaction, "mumbojumbo cures high blood pressure", is superstition. It ignores the cause and effect chain leading to the symptom.

Then there are the oversimplifications. Biorythms (numerology), a belief system where you divide the number of days you've been alive by a small number (like 3) to determine your "good" days. Or maybe they spice it up with different divisors for different life aspects -- every 3 days is good for love, every 4 days is good for money, every 5 is good for the soul, and when these three converge every 60 days, it's awesome.

Of course our lives would be different if we were born a day later or a day earlier. Our Mother's might have had different doctors, different medical care. Driving home from the hospital a day earlier or later our parents may have had an accident, or met someone with a business opportunity to make them rich. On one of our birthdays we might have forgone a wonderful opportunity in order to to attend our birthday party. Or, we might have taken an opportunity we would have missed had it been our birthday. But the smartest human mind and the most powerful computer could never fathom the cause and effect chain leading to our present state, and any attempt to fake it with fourth grade arithmetic is counterproductive to say the least.

I remember meeting a guy who claimed he and his girlfriend used "astrological birth control". Upon further questioning, it was clear that "astrological birth control" was really the age-old "rythm" birth control with a little star positioning thrown in for good luck. I explained that according to Planned Parenthood statistics, "rythm" was about 80% effective for each year of typical use, meaning that if he continued his present course of action, odds were 2 to 1 that he'd be an unwilling father within five years. The blood drained from his face.

The case above is typical of the outcome of superstition -- by ignoring cause and effect, superstition leads to decreased control over one's destiny (just the opposite superstition's intended outcome). In Troubleshooting, it results in wrong cause fixes (coathangering), and non-fixes, and greatly increases repair time while decreasing customer satisfaction.

We must de-program superstition by teaching cause and effect. Explain how things really work.

Take a slot machine. You pull the lever and three wheels spin, eventually stopping to reveal three pictures. You win if the pictures are the same. Explain that a slot machine stops on three figures because of the speed it's spun, the friction in the bearings and ratchets, and a hundred other little things creating a system too complex to anticipate -- thus being random for practical purposes.

Explain that spitting on your hands before pulling the machine's arm will effect the outcome only if the sound vibrations of the spit dislodge a dust particle inside the machine, allowing it to spin more freely. Of course, free spinning could cause a beneficial or detrimental three pictures, so the spitter has no control over the outcome.

Create a machine of chance with a bicycle wheel. Add a little friction so the heaviest part doesn't alway end up on the bottom. Show how the final resting position of the wheel depends on its friction and how hard it was spun. Show that once it's spun 4 or 5 times, the spinner has little control over the final resting position. Wishing won't make it so. Do it on different days to show that biorythms and astrology have no control. Record all spins so you can show statistically that the probability doesn't change. Show how by creating a high friction spot in a certain place in the revolution (use a cotton wad on the fork, and adjust the wheel out of true so it rubs the cotton only in a certain place), a certain outcome becomes more probable.

Explain that a detrimental change (symptom) in a system has a root cause, and that to fix the symptom you must fix the root cause.

A good, healthy dose of math will help dispell superstition. The more the student knows about the way things really work and the math behind them, the less he'll depend on throwing salt over his shoulder. Teach statistics so the student knows the difference between random variation and a real change.

It's unfortunate a large portion of the population is superstitious. This must change, because black cats don't break cars. And crystals don't fix them.

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 Power (and Peril) of Positive Thinking

By Steve Litt

Norman Vincent Peale wrote "The Power of Positive Thinking" in 1952. Since then everyone's been talking about the powers of "positive mental attitude" and "good self esteem". Yet doesn't it seem that some of the most screwed up people sing the praises of "positive mental attitude" and "self esteem"? If these things really worked so well, why are there still failures and criminals?

In chapter 3 of his 1960 book, Psyco-Cybernetics, Maxwell Maltz describes a method of lowering your golf score by sitting in an easy chair and "imagining" yourself golfing right. When I first read it, I though he was saying I could *learn* to play golf from my armchair. Only upon subsequent reading did I discover it was meant for someone who already knows the rules and techniques of the game.

This is a great example of everything wrong, and everything right, with "positive thinking". Positive thinking and accurate self image is necessary for any undertaking, but it doesn't eliminate the need for hard work and practice. When PMA (positive mental attitude) is sold as a solution and not a tool, it fails miserably. When used as a tool in a toolbox including practice, hard work, ethical behavior, etc, it becomes a major enabler.

The novice Troubleshooting trainee has no experience to draw from, and likely has no models of Troubleshooting success to emulate. He or she will likely have one of two attitudes: "I'm great at everything, so it will be a snap", or "maybe other people can do this, but I'll never be able to do it". The former won't do the work and will fail, while the latter will fail because of a mental block. Your job as a mentor is to promote the correct attitude: "Troubleshooting requires hard work, practice, and adherance to the Universal Troubleshooting Process, but anyone of average intelligence can learn to be an effective troubleshooter. This is as true for me as for anyone else.".

Of course, the trainee wants proof of the above assertion. Show him that for a reproducible symptom in a well defined system, it is a mathmatical certainty that he can solve the problem by continually narrowing its scope. I find the diagram at the right valuable in getting this concept across. Of course you'll need to back up the concept and diagram with real-world examples and exercises, including hands-on.

Positive thinking isn't the answer, nor is negative thinking. The answer is to think realistically, then do the preparation to make the reality positive.

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


Luck: Master or Servant?

By Steve Litt

Headwinds smothered me the first nine days of my bicycle trip, limiting my progress to 80 miles a day. A couple days I got only 60. I had ridden to the end of Door County Wisconsin, and was on my way back. I was used to getting 100 miles days on other bike tours. I kept muttering "give me one day of favorable winds, and watch what I do". Then a darker side of me whispered "The wind's just an excuse. Maybe you're getting weaker as you get older".

I woke up the tenth day in in Manatowoc, Wisconsin, 168 miles north of my home in Chicago. Returning home should have been two easy days of riding, but the way things had been going I could count on nothing.

I set out on my tenth day of riding with my first tailwind. I was surprised to pull into Sheboygan, 26 miles south, an hour and a half later after leaving Manatowoc. I hung around Sheboygan for a couple of hours. I was in no rush....

Setting out again at 11:30am, I peddled 120 rpm in a 100 inch gear (that's about 35 mile an hour). Cars were passing me me on the highway, but with a gentle whirr, not a whosh. THE IDEA hit me at 3:30pm as I hit the outskirts of Milwaukee. Could I possibly make it home today? Fighting Milwaukee traffic, I exited the city's southern limit at 6:30pm. It was 80 miles to Chicago.

I crossed the state line at 8pm, with 50 miles to go. I was exhausted now, but the tailwind was still with me so I cranked. I got home at 10:30pm. 168 miles! Not on a racing bike in a draft line, but on a Schwinn Contenental with 40 pounds of camping gear on the back.

Some people believe luck plays no part, and that the individual is responsible for everything that happens. Drunk driver run a red light and ram into you? Should have been more careful. Downsized out of a job? Should have managed your career better. Meteorite destroyed your house? You must have caused it somehow. Hearing my cursing the wind, they would have said "don't use the wind as an excuse, you should do 100 miles per day in spite of it".

Others believe life depends only on luck. Heart attack? The cigarettes and french fries had nothing to do with it, your number just came up. Lost every cent you had on that Florida land deal? What rotten luck! Lost your license for drunk driving? What a bad break that the cop saw you weaving. Their reaction to my 168 mile day on a camping bike would be "you were just lucky you caught that tailwind".

The truth about luck is contained in this story. I had 9 straight days of "bad luck" (headwind). The "no such thing as luck" believer would have exhausted himself trying for the 100 mile day, and would have had to abort the trip. The "luck is everything" guy wouldn't have prepared physically. After all, it's all luck anyway. He'd have gotten 30 miles a day the first couple days, then given up.

The successful person prepares as best as possible to ride out the bad luck, then ride the good luck for every last mile. The new troubleshooter needs to know this. Needs to continue Troubleshooting and technical studies while looking for a job. Needs to keep on going in spite of the bad luck the job market seems to throw at every job seeker. Thus he is ready when the good break comes and he hears about a job as an entry level repair tech or tech support person. Preparation provides advantage over other candidates and he gets the job, then goes on to work long hours learning on the job. His skill and dedication are recognized, so he moves up the ladder, becomes successful and affluent. A few years later a friend from the old neighborhood, still working as a security guard, comments that he "sure got a lucky break". The (not so new anymore) Troubleshooter just smiles.

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


Remedial Tech 101

Troubleshooting process is machine independent, but there are some basic machine dependent technology the novice must master before setting out:

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 especially welcome additions, clarifications, corrections or flames from vendors whose products have been reviewed in this magazine. We reserve the right to not publish letters we deem in bad taste (bad language, obscenity, hate, lewd, violence, etc.).
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 two to five articles per issue, with issues coming out monthly. We look for articles that pertain to the Troubleshooting Process. This can be done as an essay, with humor, with a case study, or some other literary device. A Troubleshooting poem would be nice. Submissions may mention a specific product, but must be useful without the purchase of that product. Content must greatly overpower advertising. 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