I wish manufacturers would realize that some things are good enough as they are. I don’t mean to be so hard on those guys; I’m sure that it isn’t easy to keep a product competitive these days. I also realize that that some bad ideas are a step along the way to something truly remarkable, like the condiment jars that you can stand upside down in your fridge. Yeah, I am easily impressed. For today though, I’m sticking with my opening statement, some things are simply good enough and should be left alone.
A couple of months ago, for no apparent reason, the power unit of our central vacuum system started malfunctioning. The symptoms were pretty frustrating:
First, the power unit wouldn’t start when we inserted a hose into one of the outlets.
We checked the outlets, the visible wiring and the breaker but everything looked fine and tested correctly.
Finally, I pressed the reset button (everything should have a reset button). We re-inserted the hose and the vacuum system came to life, but when we removed the hose, it wouldn’t stop. In case you’re wondering, when a central vacuum power unit starts sucking against a system full of closed outlets, you should prepare to hear some otherworldly sounds of mechanical anguish.
We dug out the manual that came with the unit and performed the series of troubleshooting steps listed under “Unit fails to start” and “Unit fails to stop.” There are six different things to check when a unit doesn’t start. We checked all of them. All were fine. All systems go.
There is one step for a unit that fails to stop:
…and actually, that really wasn’t much help.
The next thing we did was to check to see if the unit was still under warranty. Of course, you know the answer to that question.
Despite the unit being almost a year beyond its protected lifespan, I called the number listed for Technical Support. I explained the situation and I added that I had already performed the troubleshooting steps. The process was much easier than most computer tech-support calls. The woman did not make me perform all the steps listed in the manual again. She simply said:
“It sounds like there’s a problem with the motherboard.”
Why on earth does a vacuum cleaner need a motherboard?
runs ran at one speed and It is was turned on and off by a set of switches and a relay (invented in the 1830’s). The motor has to be protected from overheating, but that’s why they invented fuses – replaceable fuses (also invented in the 1800’s). The only function that might have had to be programmed onto the motherboard was the “logic” that powered the series of LEDs that indicate how full the dust bin is.
Note to vacuum designer: When you are close enough to see which bin-content-level LED is illuminated, you are close enough to look into the window of the dust bin…just sayin.
The LEDs were never accurate anyway. We have a dog, so the bin has to be emptied when there is about ¼” of dirt at the bottom and about 10” of fluffed-up dog hair floating around, a point at which none of the LEDs were ever on. Besides, by the time we make the trip into the burner room to check the bin, we’re going to empty it regardless. Nobody is going to go to all that trouble and then say, “Ooh, it’s good for a couple more days.” We just empty the thing every Thursday when we put out the trash.
We were told that the unit could be repaired. The diagnostic fee would be $75. A new motherboard would cost $140 and there would be the labor charges to install it. We would have to have used an authorized service company (about 45 minutes away). We couldn’t simply buy the board.
After purchasing and installing a new power unit, built by a different manufacturer and without a motherboard, I took the old one apart. Yes, I’m one of those guys.
I removed the motherboard, isolated the low-voltage wires and connected the wires carrying 120 volts from the fuse (overheating) to the switch (on/off) to the motor. The unit is now hanging in my garage and will soon be sucking stuff off the floor or out of a car.
I was going to talk about several other things that have been perfected beyond the point of being ridiculous, but I’ll save those for a future post.
By the way, the guide for interpreting “we” is as follows:
If it involves vacuuming, emptying the vacuum, being able to find the instruction manual for the vacuum or a receipt for anything purchased more than 20 minutes ago; “we” means my wife.
If it involves checking electrical things, pushing reset buttons and tinkering with something that when you plug it back into the wall could potentially cause an electrical shock and / or result in a fire, “we” means me.
Do you have things in your life that have been improved too much? Please share your thoughts below.