Everything Breaks

My surroundings seem to be in a physically flawed state. I’m feeling fine, so I don’t want to make the complaint more general, but you’ve heard the toilet story and that yesterday I enjoyed the first full day of an automatic flush toilet in 1.5 weeks.

Then, last night around 9 PM, when I came home from the office, I noticed that the fan from the air conditioner was permanently on, even though it was in the “auto” setting. I wasn’t exactly sure if any really cool air was coming out, but the moving air was definitely better than the 86 degrees Fahrenheit inside. Poor Diana.

At around midnight, finally, the air conditioner died completely. Definitely no cold air, and also no fan anymore. That reminded me of Diana’s suggestion to buy a few mobile fans, just in case we need them. We should do that. I’m pretty sure in this apartment complex, more things than just ACs and toilets are going to “crap out”. Pardon the pun. I wish I had a ceiling fan in my bedroom. I wonder if I can install it by myself.

Doing things by myself is a big pattern here: I try to fix everything myself, or at least know what is broken and what needs to be done before I call maintenance. The first time the AC died in the summer of 2004, when I had just moved in, two of the handymen here “fixed” it, but on the same day, the AC completely died, and I had to endure the weekend without AC. I always used to complain that the girl I was seeing at the time had her thermostat set too low; that weekend, I begged her to let me stay.

During both the summer of 2005 and 2006, the AC was dripping water from the unit above my bathroom onto the floor. Because the AC worked and it wasn’t too inconvenient, I preferred to put a bucket underneath to asking the repair guys to work their magic. In 2006 I decided to take a look above the cover plate. I have no idea how ACs work (besides some fuzzy thermodynamic concepts and van der Waals equation), but I noticed that what seemed to be a “reservoir” was overflowing. It was supposed to go through a PVC pipe and come out on top of my bathtub. That explained one mystery: I had always wondered what that outlet was, what would cause it to drip, and why they didn’t bypass the bathtub and connect it directly to the waste water line. Maybe they were trying to be environmentally friendly and wanted to fill the toilet with it, but did it wrong. Who knows with these guys?

Anyway, that reservoir was overflowing, but the pipe was leaky, so instead of going through the pipe, it dripped out over the reservoir and into my bathroom. When duct tape didn’t work to fix the leak, I finally called maintenance but told the man exactly what he needed to do.

Tonight the AC broke again, but in a strange way. It seemed like a bad contact, so I disassembled the control panel. I knew how the magnet and the bimetal coil work, but I had never looked at the circuit board below. Because I have left my multimeter back in Germany, I couldn’t really do much much more to find out what was going wrong than read and understand the circuit diagram and then “hot-wire” the AC by directly connecting wires. It turned out the problem was unlikely to be in the control panel.

I was about to give up, but decided to give the AC unit above the bathroom another look: I was shocked by the shabby job (must have been done in my absence or by the guy that fixed the leak): Wires were simply twisted together and right below where the water used to be dripping. I examined the wires, and found that the furnace wires had corroded and didn’t make good contact. I stropped some wire, twisted them together and insulated them much better against water. I believe all is well know.

Other things break too, because I do things too well but then forget: I had set up my nice crontab to automatically update the RiceMBS and the Concutest news if necessary. Then, just to be safe, I made a backup of the crontab listing and restored the listing whenever I booted. Later I beautified the scripts but forgot to update the backup, which got restored and therefore uglified.

Here’s my crontab right now (ignore the line breaks)

00 00,09,14,21 * * *

05 00,09,14,21 * * *

The two scripts update-ricembs and update-concutest-news are set up to output simply to stderr and return a non-zero value if they fail. echo-if-failed executes the script specified as 2nd argument, and if all goes well, then it just logs the output to the log file given by the 1st argument. If the script fails, however, then the output is also visible to stderr, and that means that cron will send an email notification. That way I immediately find out if one of my cron tasks has failed, but I don’t get useless emails that merely state everything went as expected.

Anyway, time to do other things.


About Mathias

Software development engineer. Principal developer of DrJava. Recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Computer Science at Rice University.
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