Monday, January 13, 2020

The Curse Of The Intermittent Technical Problem

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 15, 2020] ©2020

Is it just my imagination, or do I spend an inordinate amount of time getting stuff fixed?  Something is always broken, whether it’s a computer problem, a funny noise the car is making, a broken sprinkler head, or an ice maker that isn’t making ice.  Even our security cameras decided to fog up for no known reason. 

Of course, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the stuff I’m getting fixed wouldn’t have needed fixing in my youth because it didn’t yet exist (like computers).  Or didn’t exist at my house (like ice makers, sprinkler heads, and security cameras).  There was a lot to be said for the era of manual typewriters, hand-washed dishes, ice cube trays, and a climate where it actually rains.

But the true insanity-making problem to fix is the intermittent one. Just as intermittent reinforcement is the quickest way to strengthen a desired behavior, an intermittent technical problem that absolutely refuses to manifest itself in the presence of an entity actually qualified to fix it is the fastest way to make people bats--t crazy.  

Cars, of course, are notorious for this. I am sure if you are the auto repair biz there is nothing you hate more than a person such as me bringing in a vehicle that is making a “funny noise.”  What kind of ‘funny noise’? they ask patiently.  Is it more like a knocking, or a squeaking, or a clunking?  OK, clunking. 

They take the car out for a test drive. Does it clunk?  Not a chance.  Cars are designed to never clunk on command. They only clunk again on your way home.

Our heating system has developed a whine.  It is annoying beyond belief.  But the alternative is being cold.  The heating guy has been out twice and the system purrs like a happy kitten when he is on the premises.

So that brings us to the problem of the pictures on both of our TVs “tiling” (also known as “pixelating.”) The picture will suddenly break up and get totally fuzzy and unwatchable, always, maliciously, at some critically important point in a program or sports event. The fact that it happens on both our TVs which have two different cable boxes suggests that it is not the TVs or the cable boxes but something to do with the cable itself. We allowed it could always be transmission issues from the channels themselves. But surely our cable company could troubleshoot this for us?

Our cable provider sent out a gentleman named George who had the social skills of a sock.  Unfortunately, the technical skills of one too.

Let me just say that we have actually had some very good people come out over the years to deal with the various cable problems at our house.  We have also had a fair share of ones who wish to get out of your home with the greatest possible expedience and least possible service.  I really wish you could give Yelp ratings to cable guys.  There’s a bunch I’d like to see re-employed in trash pickup.

George showed up during our early afternoon appointment window and turned on the TV sets.  No pixelating or tiling was occurring.  He tested the signal on our cable box and pronounced it “fine.”  But, of course, as we noted, the problem was intermittent. Olof mentioned that our cable installation had been done some years ago so we wondered aloud if the wiring was getting a little corroded at this point, especially being so close to the ocean. 

George, however, insisted that he can’t send a “maintenance technician” out to look at a problem that he can’t see on the TV.  He suggests – and we were a tad incredulous – that we reschedule for a service call for an evening time when this problem was occurring. 

Olof, who is a far nicer person than I, reiterated that we notice this problem in the evenings because that is the only time that either of us ever watches TV.  Could very well be happening at other times too.

I, a far less nice person than Olof, queried if the technician would be joining us on the couch for the evening hoping the screen would break up. (I offered to make popcorn.)

But George just shrugged. He left. And our TVs continue to sporadically pixelate.

I couldn’t help but reflect that in my youth, TV picture problems were solved by adjusting the rabbit ears on top of the set.  It helped, or it didn’t help.  But it was vastly less aggravating.

So now I’ll take the route I should have taken in the first place: crowdsourcing.  Anybody out there having this problem too? Were you able to fix it? Olof is hoping to find out before our TV screen disintegrates during the last five minutes of the Super Bowl.

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