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I Should Have Made That Look Harder

July 23, 2014

Rodney, before you go, do you have a wrench that will fit down my garbage disposal?

Maybe. . .Let me see it. Why do you want a wrench to fit down your garbage disposal?

There’s a screw that’s loose and I think it needs to be tightened.

Well, there are supposed to be moving parts.

Yeah, well it’s making a weird noi. . .

Fixed it.

. . .

I maybe should have made that look a little harder, huh?

I’ve spent 25 years in the software and IT business. My first program was recorded on cassette tape. And yet, given the choice, I would much prefer to get my hands dirty building or fixing something. I’ve been helping a friend remodel a house in Provo for the past several months. I stripped a basement room to bare walls and complete rebuilt it.

In the story above I was helping another friend. He’d called the “In an emergency, when you call today, we come today” guys and it was an emergency and they didn’t come. He needed a new toilet installed. I’ve replaced quite a few.

The worst part about changing out a toilet is what’s called the wax ring. It connects the toilet to the drain. I’ll spare you the pictures. It’s no fun to replace. But, if you’ve never done it, you have no idea where to even start.

I was just putting the finishing caulk around the base of the new toilet when my friend asked me about his garbage disposal. He explained it had been making a rattle noise for weeks. In his limited experience the solution was a “loose bolt.” That wasn’t the problem. In fact, I’ve never heard of a bolt inside the disposal becoming loose.

I literally fixed the problem in 5 seconds. We laughed about it, but it reminded me that sometimes it’s important to make something look harder than it is. And not for the reason you think.

Richard Feynman was a brilliant physicist who helped build the atomic bomb at Los Alamos during the Second World War. He was also an amateur safe cracker. He made a game out of cracking the combination locks on the scientists’ filing cabinets. He had a strict rule whenever he was asked to break into a colleague’s filing cabinet. He always worked alone. The only tool he required was a screw driver that he always had to retrieve from his office. The same office where he had been storing a list of every combination lock he had previously deciphered on the base.

Once in the office, Feynman would quickly open the filing cabinet and then sit for 20 minutes reading a magazine. He realized that the longer it took him to open the cabinet the more impressive it looked to his coworkers.

WordPerfect (Back To Where It All Began) was one of the first programs to experiment with locking files. Their document password algorithm wasn’t particularly sophisticated. (Kind of like their email password (Forget You Ever Knew How To Do That.)) Whenever you have a program that will set a password, you will have people who forget that password. WordPerfect would allow people to send in their files and WP would unlock them for them. In the days before the internet this was a process that might take weeks.

And wherever there is a potential business opportunity there will be a company to step in and fill the need. A couple former WordPerfect employees wrote a simple little app to unlock WordPerfect password protected documents. For fifty bucks, they’d send you the program on a floppy disk. I don’t know the algorithm, but I know it was very simple and very fast. In the days of slow computers, the password breaker program could unlock a password in less than 3 seconds.

The programmers added in a delay of about 30 seconds. Thirty seconds is a long time when you are waiting. The program would show a spinning disk and say something like “Processing – Please Wait.” Why the delay if the program already broke the password in the first three seconds?

Perception.

For fifty bucks you want a program that is going to do something hard. If the results popped back right away, people would feel like they overpaid. It’s strange when you think about it. We don’t pay for results, we pay for the experience. The password guys made good money for a long time.

As for my garbage disposal friend, this was his problem.

20140723-045405-17645350.jpg

A tiny rock had found its way into his disposal. I assumed this was the problem based on his description of the problem. While he was still explaining his loose bolt theory I simply reached into the disposal and fished around with my fingertips until I found the rock I’d assumed was there. If I was charging him for the repair I probably should have made it look a little harder.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children and one grandchild.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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