rare instance of actual Intelligent Design
Saturday, December 10 2005
The Macintosh computer and the Palm PDA are two devices that made names for themselves by concealing their complexity from users and allowing people to "just do what they need to do." While not exactly refrigerators or Priuses, which have almost completely concealed their complexity, they were huge advances from the alternatives available at the times of their creations. All you have to do is watch a Windows computer boot to see it recapitulate every stage of the evolution that the Macintosh avoided through a rare instance of actual Intelligent Design.
But computers are complicated beasts, and the complications multiply when two devices are expected to interface. In general, I've found that the more user-friendly the devices, the less likely they are to be able to communicate with one another in cases where they have different manufacturers. The result is that getting a Macintosh to talk to a Palm device can be an endless series of headaches. Today I was at a housecall trying to get an older Handspring to sync with a G4 cube, and it didn't matter what I did, it just wouldn't work. Mind you, it had once worked. But something had changed - though what that was proved impossible to determine. I kept getting errors described only with seven or eight digit negative integers or an infuriatingly-unhelpful message reading "cannot open file" (but what file?). Uninstalling and reinstalling the software did no good, though it was difficult to figure out what version of the Palm software I should try to install. There are lots of them, and some of the latest releases do not work with older PDAs. Complicating matters is the fact that you can't just go to the Palm or Handspring website and download a version of the software. Once there you are forced to wade through a bunch of windows and give lots of information (including the serial number of the device) to get anything, and then the thing you download is either corrupted or is compressed by a super-duper new version of StuffIt that you don't happen to have and that takes an additional 20 megabytes to download. (In the past I've found it easiest to get Palm software from file-sharing networks.) The upshot of all this is that I spent two hours trying to get that godforsaken PDA to work with that Mac and I had no luck at all. Remember, I'm the expert and I still needed to be paid at the end of my efforts.
While I was out, our brand new refrigerator was delivered and installed. I thought they'd be hooking the icemaker hose up or at least leaving behind a kit for me, but no, they just moved the old refrigerator to the garage and dropped the new one in its place. (I'd had to raise the cupboard directly above its spot, since it is taller than the old one and two cubic feet larger, though it consumes 32% less electricity.)
So I drove out to Lowes and bought the more expensive of the two icemaker kits available. The cheap one had a plastic hose, but the one I bought had a hose made of a material I trust: copper. With both kits, the method of obtaining water is through a saddle valve, which clamps to the pipe and then punches through its wall in the center of a rubber gasket, allowing small amounts of water to bleed away through a threaded connection when the punch is retracted. A reader had suggested saddle valves as a quick and dirty way to purge air from my solar heating loop, but I'd been leery of a technology that clamps in place and punches a hole.
This evening, after getting home and trying to install the saddle valve, I felt sorry for all the poor people attempting such an installation without my level of experience. The poorly-written (or, more likely, poorly-translated) directions that came with the installation kit weren't any help at all, telling me to tighten the saddle bolt's pipe clamp completely while advising me not to overtighten. So I did as instructed and the predictable result was water spraying out into the room. In plumbing, as a rule, I've found that the difference between tightening enough to prevent leaks and tightening so much that you destroy what you're tightening is a rather subtle one (that's why I love soldering). This rule was confirmed moments later when I went to tighten a related compression fitting (which was also leaking) and the necessary force caused the body of the saddle valve to come loose from its clamp. The threads that had held it there were less than a quarter inch deep and nothing in the directions had alerted me to the fact that I would need to ensure the valve body was well seated in the clamp before proceeding. I was able to get the valve body back into the clamp despite its now-somewhat-stripped threads, but by now the screws for the pipe clamp part were pretty badly stripped and there was no way I could tighten the clamp enough to stop it from leaking.
I ended up improvising a solution that didn't use a saddle valve at all. I cut the pipe at the saddle valve perforation, soldered in a T-fitting, and ran it to a three-quarter-inch brass fitting with a quarter inch threaded "bleed" hole (suitable for attaching an air purging system) and I attached the compression fitting (and the thin copper refrigerator line) to that. But of course my ordeal was still far from over. There was that other end of the copper hose to attend to. I'd like to shoot the moron at Kenmore who decided to recess the refrigerator's water intake nipple (which points at the sky) inside a slot in the back, making it nearly impossible to get a wrench in there to tighten (and Jesus, you have to tighten!) the compression nut. Now I know why the guy who delivered that refrigerator left all that stuff for me to do. I'm sure a plumber would have charged me hundreds of dollars and left one of the ends of that thin copper line leaking.
For those still interested in things Dan!el Reitm@n-related, this is a picture of the man, the legend, the way of life, from 2002, where he is shown attending a Filk confab in Portland, Oregon (thanks to Matt Rooooogers for uncovering this). Dan is the man in the lower right. Compare and contrast with these pictures from 1988.
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