Saturday, November 5, 2011

box of worms

Lest I leave the impression that the lack of blog posts are due to the possibility that I have gone fishing, allow me to show you 'behind the curtain', so to speak ( ;-) ) ...what I have been up to. I have been fishin' for a troublesome electrical problem that volunteered to show up some months ago. A certain light fixture that is situated at the bottom of a dark flight of stairs leading to 'the facilities' decided to go on the blink, literally, and then completely went dark, also literally. Having witnessed the erratic circuit-popping behavior of the electrons passing through this portal, I know there is something amiss within.

When guests occupy these quarters, and nature calls at 3 a.m. there is no (appropriate) alternative but to descend into these catacombs. Without a sentinel light along the path, it can be, I would imagine, disconcerting in unfamiliar territory, if you can't throw a switch and shed some light before heading down a curving staircase in the night. I have my own path memorized, so I can do without electricity in the middle of the night, but if I was in unfamiliar surroundings, I'd probably need to commit to waking up a bit more, grabbing a flashlight or using the Braille method.

A switch is located at the top of the stairs, which is where the box pictured above is located, as well as at the bottom of those stairs. Such a switching arrangement (a switch in two locations) is called a '3-way' switch.  Not sure why. Maybe because of the 4 wires that connect to it. A light or series of lights controlled by switches in three locations is called a '4-way switch', of course. In the box pictured above there are three 3-way switches and one 4-way switch. There are also other wires, lots of other wires,  just passing through, going who knows where! This looks COMPLICATED!

I initially just called the electrician who did the original wiring 10 years ago and asked him to come 'fix it'. After a couple of hours scratching his head he left with a cheerful promise to return with notes and drawings and get things working. He must've gotten busy with easier or harder projects, becasue I haven't seen 'r heard from him since. I'm still waiting for him to return my call.

Not liking the feeling of being in the dark, I've finally decided to take matters into my own hands.
I am proceeding on the theory that careful, step-by-step progression of disassembly, labelling and identification of conductors at their origin and destination and trying different stuff will eventually lead me to the cause and solution of the problem, as well as give me a better comprehension of the layout of the wiring in the building.

After the first day of puzzling and head-scratching I made my first breakthrough, and have begun to track the course of each conductor that enters this box and where and why those conductors enter and leave the several other boxes scattered throughout the building.

Things worked properly at one time. Then, trouble cropped up, unbidden. (It does do that, doesn't it, though!?) The bafflement is discomforting, and I struggle with a stubborn resistance to tackling it. But the solution is there, isn't it? If the problem exists, its removal is just a matter of perception and interdiction. The bafflement slowly gives way to persistence and applied problem-solving. Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle begin to coalesce into a comprehensible big picture. The nascent apprehension of this fact has, from past experience, taught me to trust in the process of TRYING. Often, resistance to taking action is the most time-consuming phase of problem-solving. As progress begins to build, so does my enthusiasm and faith in the ultimate satisfaction of conquering the unknown.

I'm still fishing, but I've got some nibbles on my line, so I know the fish are biting. Eventually, I will get a strike, and when I do, I will reel it in, close up my box of worms and head back to shore to enjoy my catch.


Jeannette said...

Master of metaphors, your mastery of problem solving lies partially in your perseverance.

John said...

I am not an electrician, don't play one on TV, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express once or twice. I am sure you've thought of all this with your skills but I find myself compelled to write anyway.

The problem can be only one of four things, in order of easiest to fix to hardest to fix.

One of the two switches is shorting out
The fixture is shorting out or not functioning
The CB has a fault and trips prematurely
The line has a break or a nick that causes an interrupted electrical path.

When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. Arthur Conan Doyle.

Mark said...

John, I love your comment. The distillation of Holmsian wisdom is priceless. I have eliminated the first three as causal factors, and just came back up from the battle front with the grim realization that #4 is my problem. 3 conductors occupying a circuitous conduit behind stone walls share an illicit continuity with one another, and with ground that returns to the neutral bus in the panel indicating broken insulation on all three conductors in some as yet undiscovered location.
I will nevertheless persist.

What does the Holiday Inn Express have to do with it? Should I book a room there?

John said...

There were a series of commercials about how staying in a holiday in makes you smarter. I think one had a group of tourists viewing a Nuclear plant when al the sudden the core went critical. The tourist told them what to do. When things calmed down they asked -- are you a nuclear engineer? He answered, no, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Good luck with the fishing on the break.

Rosannah said...

oh those squiggly, gooey little worms! yeck!