Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Hard Truth About Hardware

Most of my nemeses can be found in any hardware store.
They lurk on the plumbing supplies aisle. There are also quite a few challengers on the electrical aisle. I have grudgingly accepted a cease fire from the nail bins, but the hardware store is not Brent-friendly.
Case in point—today I sought to change out a lighting fixture in our kitchen. Being moderately tech-savvy, and unapologetically cheap, I elected to light the new fixture with LED bulbs that will last beyond my life expectancy. I figured while I was at it, I’d install a dimmer switch on the fixture circuit. What could possibly go wrong?

I have a healthy respect for electricity. The first thing I did was turn off the power to that part of the house. I asked my wife to tell me when the light went off, as I headed for the garage. “It’s still on,” she said, as I approached the garage door.
Everyone’s a comedian.

Once I got the power off, I took down the existing fixture and noticed the brace in the ceiling to which it was anchored would not fit the hardware on the replacement fixture. Of course not. So off to the hardware store I headed, like a sheep to slaughter.

On my first trip to the store, I located a helpful associate in the electrical aisle and told him what I was going to do. He asked some very technical questions, like “is this light also controlled by another switch elsewhere?” (It is.) “Are you going to run LED bulbs in the fixture?” Another brilliantly insightful query. I felt confident as I returned home with $65 worth of hardware, a dimmer switch, and a box of high tech lightbulbs for my project.

With the able assistance of my Bride, for whom this entire ordeal was being borne, we got the new fixture installed with minimum trouble and use of colorful adjectives. I disconnected the old light switch, taking careful note of which colored wires were going where.

Instructional English grammar is a lost art form, especially in developing countries where inexpensive electrical parts—like dimmer switches, for instance—are manufactured. I was, therefore, not surprised when my first attempt at wiring the switch failed.
Not spectacularly so—there were no sparks or smoke.
It. Just. Didn’t. Work.

There are three wires plus a ground lead to be connected to this switch. That leaves 16-potential wiring combinations. Nine possible solutions, if you figure you’re pretty sure where the ground wire goes. After the first two wiring attempts ended in failure, I removed the wires, took a snapshot of the wiring box with my smartphone, and headed back to the hardware store. Not happily.

Chris, the helpful hardware man, looked at my wiring snapshot, looked at the switch, and unfurled the instructions for his own forensic analysis. We came up with two possible combinations involving the placement of one red wire, two black wires, and the copper ground. I returned home, cautiously optimistic. His solution matched neither of the wiring scenarios I’d tried before.

The next wiring combination I tried—Chris’s first suggestion--also failed. I was getting desperate. I forgot to turn off the power at the breaker, and the live wire reminded me of my mistake as I began to disconnect the wires (insert colorful euphemism here). On a hunch, I swapped the two black leads—the “traveler” and the black half of a twisted pair. 

Success! Sort of.

The light fixture sprang to life…the dimmer dimmed. But the second switch on the circuit had to be “on” in order for the dimmer switch to operate. Tough. The cover plate went back on the wall, and I rejoiced that I’d only had to make TWO trips to the hardware store to complete this chore.
For me, that’s a record.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Back to Blogging: A Nightmare on Main Street

(2:15am in the Master Suite) The nightmare awakens me as it releases its grip. Its paralyzing fear is deadline-based, a pounding inevitability that cannot be escaped without rousing. I am working against a clock.

I haven’t had a nightmare about school since…I left school, over 30-years ago. My recent return to the classroom, both as an instructor and a student, has apparently resurrected some old anxieties. This time their return comprises an interesting mix of phobias and infirmities compiled over six decades of life.

The month of May means graduation and freedom for the summer for students of all ages—at least until the summer sessions commence. May also means final exams, and tonight’s nightmarish scenario places me in a classroom in the midst of finals. The seat is agonizingly uncomfortable, built for the frame of a teenager, and its confining contours bind my body and my brain.

A former government professor is administering this course--some English Composition derivative in which I am certain I was enthused to enroll.  His cryptic and arcane instructions, however, are blurring before my eyes, and my hands will not obey my brain’s commands to commit to paper the answers to the test.

“Create your response in the ‘Lifestyle Narrative,’ describing blah-bluh blah-blah-blah,” the instructions drone across the page. My mind struggles to recall the chapter discussion on this particular style of prose, with its arcane textual properties and irregular sentence structures. Don't you remember the lectures? (I don't even know what that means--it’s a nightmare, remember?)

My brain infarction is double-teamed by an onset of crippling arthritis in both hands—something that’s not on the course syllabus. Each word is painfully inscribed on the test packet that is growing more rumpled by the minute.

“Indicate your satisfaction with the instructor by drawing a circle next to the word, ‘then.’” More instructions. “If you enjoyed a positive experience this semester, draw a green circle; if you did not have a good experience, draw a red circle.” 

College professors are on the hunt for feedback as they build their resumes and justification for tenure. I carefully draw a circle next to the word, and white ink comes out on the page. I scramble for a different colored pen as the classroom begins to sense the expiration of the test period. A low rumbling of tittering and shifting in chairs begins to stalk across the room. Students complete their tests and leave, one by one. I’m still struggling with Question Number One. And that red or green ink thing. My hands won’t work.

And suddenly, it’s over. 

The room is dark. I’m in my bed, our dog gently breathing between my wife and I. The test isn’t just over; it never happened.

Regular posts to this site have been suspended for the past few months, thanks to job changes and time shifts. And school. Watch this space for more regular and frequent submissions from the daily adventures of the human race.