math skills and the employees of Home Depot
Wednesday, November 6 2019
I spent the whole workday working on that migration of a Ruby on Rails web backend from one Azure account to another. Things that should've taken fifteen minutes of work were instead taking up an appreciable chunk of my week. The entirety of the problem was the useless messages Ruby on Rails produced, which tended to be "stack level too deep" (which implies runaway recursion) instead of something more actionable like "bad credentials," "server unreachable" or "insufficient permissions," the sorts of issues likely to come up when all one has done is change the location of an identical database for an unchanged backend. By this afternoon, I had decided that this problem was taking too much work to overcome and that the higher-ups should reconsider moving the database. But then, shortly before the end of the day, I found I was starting to get helpful error messages after creating a new database login and experimenting with connecting through that. Perhaps I was on the road to figuring this out. If nothing else, it would be something exciting for me to work on tomorrow morning. (I've found that work is best when I manage my time so that it's more like an old movie serial, with cliffhangers at the end of the day to pull me in and get me started the following morning.)
I had Ramona with me, and for our biggest walk of the day, we went back in that field southeast of the office complex. Much progress had been made in the creation of a massive solar farm there, with many dozens of metal frames in the ground and angled such that, once the solar panels are installed, they will be able to maximize their collection of solar energy. A couple guys were installing a long cross-member on one of the frames near where Ramona and I entered the field, and they were having the kind of loud, teasy conversation one expected such guys to have. Then a pickup truck crawled past on the grass nearby, and as it did so, a tiny dog leaned out the window to bark at Ramona.
At the end of the day, I stopped at Home Depot on the way home to get supplied for the enormous amount of electrical work I would have to do to connect up all our new split air conditioning units. Most expensive would be the all the copper wire that would need to be run. My plan at this point was to install two new extension circuit breaker boxes: one near the south end of the house to accommodate all the units down there, and one near the boiler room to supply the new heat-pump-powered hot water heater and the split handling the Gunther room (the smaller of the two basement guest rooms). As for the laboratory split, it looked like I would be powering that from the shop circuit breaker box.
Once I was at the Home Depot, I was quickly overwhelmed by all the different brands of circuit breaker box and circuit breaker. My plan was not to get any breaker boxes incompatible with the two kinds of circuit breakers the house already had (type QP and type HOM), and I also wanted one of the breaker boxes to be outdoor-capable should I decided to mount the southmost one outside. The problem I faced was the vagueness and inconsistency of the labeling on the products I was looking at. I found myself having to pull the actual breaker boxes out of their packaging and try the couple circuit breakers I'd brought from home to see if they fit. Even then, it wasn't always easy to tell whether the circuit breakers in question would fit. Not wanting to be there forever, I just picked a six-position Square-D box identical to the two I'd used in the past and decided to get the second circuit breaker box somewhere else. Then I turned my attention to wire. I got a 250-foot roll of 12 gauge two-conductor romex for the individual hookups and found a partial roll of 6-gauge three-conductor wire for connecting up a distant panel. When I took this order to the self-checkout place to find out about the partial roll, I got a good lesson on the sort of mental flexibility and math skills Home Depot employees have. Since there was no indication of how long the partial roll was, one of the employees insisted on cutting all the tape off it, unrolling and measuring it. By that point I'd looked up the weight of such wire per foot and suggested just weighing it. "We don't have a scale," the employee said. That seemed unlikely given that they had a whole tool department. But okay, I went through the long ordeal of unrolling and re-rolling the wire. It was about seventy feet, though I would be charged only for sixty. (I'd estimated it was sixty by doing a rough count of the number of coils in the roll and multiplying by a guessed average diameter of two feet.) But even once the employee charged with pricing the partial roll knew its length, she had no idea how to price it. She tried something that seemed mathematically absurd and quickly realized it must be wrong. So I suggested she just figure out what fraction of a whole roll 60 feet was and divide the price of the whole roll by that, which is pretty basic seventh-grade-level mathematics. After some hemming and hawing, she went with my idea, only to be overridden by some other employee who came over and tried unsuccessfully to look up a "baby SKU" in the database, something that had already been tried.
This whole Home Depot adventure took something like two hours, and I felt terrible leaving Ramona out in the car all that time. When I finally came out, I turned her loose to sniff around the parking lot like I always do when she's with me. By then it was completely dark.
Ramona with the rows of frames for holding solar panels in the background.
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