When the Answer Doesn’t Make Sense, Get a Rubber Duck

Debbie likes explaining how the rubber duck was good for problem solving in her information systems jobs. Anytime you hit the wall and just can’t work something out, you need a rubber duck. You stop messing with the problem and verbalize the steps you’ve taken and the results you’ve obtained. Then the answer just seems to jump out at you, whether you explain it to a person or to a rubber duck. Might as well use the rubber duck.

We moved from Homer to Kenai Alaska today. A short drive in the rain, we had a nice easy day getting here. Parking in the Diamond M Ranch RV Resort was very easy, almost all the sites are pull-throughs and have full hookups.

Debbie and I work together to connect electricity from shore power to the trailer and to chock the trailer’s wheels. Then we split up and Debbie moves stuff from the truck and sets up house in the trailer again. This takes a little while because we stow things so they don’t jump around inside the trailer and get broken as we bump down the road.

I meanwhile unhitch the trailer from the truck, move the truck a few feet, stow the chains and cords that connect the truck and trailer for towing, and level the trailer front to back. Just as I finish my little part, Debbie lets me know the small portable space heater won’t work unless she plugs it into the receptacles above the kitchen counter.

Thinking I’m the patient and wise teacher, I suggest she open the trailer’s circuit box, find a tripped breaker, and reset it. All the breakers are fine. I check polarity and voltage on the two culprit outlets, and find they are fine, but the frequency regulation is wacky. I mess around with this question a few minutes then go return to trying the space heater in the same outlets.

Same result for the two wall outlets, one under our dinette and one beside the sofa. The space heater won’t work in either of these outlets we usually use for it. I try the space heater in the receptacle above the kitchen counter again and this time it won’t work. Wait a minute, this is the one receptacle that worked five minutes ago.

I start carefully wiggling the space heater’s power cord and it turns on, then turns off again. Aha! The problem was never the wall receptacles. Our heater has an intermittent connection in the power cord or in the connections inside the heater.

It’s been a little while since I had a worthy project and this qualifies on several accounts. Debbie and I like this space heater, it’s the best one we’ve had. It is an expensive little thing less than one year old. When things quit prematurely we hope we can extend their useful life. I folded down the truck’s tailgate, opened up my tool chest, and took the heater apart.

Everything looked good inside, and with my ohmmeter I detected which wire was broken. In a few minutes I narrowed down the location to a spot on the power cord a couple of inches just outside the heater. The insulation was in perfect shape but the wire was broken through without any evidence of why.

I found a four-inch piece of suitably rated wire in my toolbox and, with help from a friend, soldered in the new piece of wire. While the heater was all in pieces anyway, I blew compressed air through the heater’s ceramic elements to remove eleven month’s accumulation of debris. The heater went back together easily (and that’s justification for buying good stuff) and is working like new again.

We weren’t asking the right question and so couldn’t figure out why the heater wouldn’t work in two of the receptacles. We repeatedly asked why the receptacles weren’t working, and it just didn’t dawn on us the problem might be our nifty-keen nearly new heater. If we’d been thinking straight we would have more quickly worked this out with the rubber duck.

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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One response to “When the Answer Doesn’t Make Sense, Get a Rubber Duck

  1. The retired preacher sees a sermon illustration here. Thanks.

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