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Being the Detective that Solves the "Case"

When people ask me what I do, my usual response is, "I'm the last guy that gets called to fix something after everybody else who could possibly screw it up has been brought in and has failed to find or fix the problem, and usually, only after sins of the installer or subsequent service\installation people have been obscured or exacerbated by subsequent repair or troubleshooting attempts." Over the course of a career, a manufacturer's technical representative gets to see about every kind of "equipment failure" imaginable, and even some that aren't so imaginable.

As Hugh Laurie of the TV series "HOUSE" is fond of saying, "everybody lies", and my personal experience is, that can include the very people who hire me to help them "solve" problems. I have been in more than one situation where an individual manager or employees knew what, why, and where of the problem, but did everything they could to keep me from finding it. The bottom line is, nothing is impossible, and in many cases, you really don't know who can and cannot be trusted to provide full and accurate guidance, no matter how improbable that might seem at the moment. If your eyes, head, test equipment, and instincts are pointing you in a different direction from everyone else, remember that no avenue of investigation should be ignored. In my career, I have encountered just about everything that is bounded by stupidity to sabotage.

Some things that I have learned over the years that you may find of some use are:

  • Never presume anything is good if it's brand new out of the box. In fact, I find it has been useful to adopt the opposing attitude that every "new" part or piece of equipment is defective, until proven otherwise.
  • Don't believe manufacturers' tech support people who are telling you that their equipment "can't do" what you are observing it doing. Nobody tests commercial systems under every possible combination of conditions. Because a piece of equipment wasn't designed or intended to act in a particular fashion doesn't mean that, under the right set of circumstances, it can't or won't.
  • If the same part fails more than once, there is a reason, and you probably didn't find it the first time around. It may be time to break out the old meter[s] and expand your search. It never hurts to take a closer look, even if all you do is satisfy yourself that there is nothing going on that needs to addressed, even though correcting the root cause may be beyond your capabilities or the limits of your tradesperson's license. [In the last part of this series, we will look at a "problem" whose solution involved 4 different trades.]
  • Go with your gut. If a little voice in your head is telling you that you missed something important, you probably did.
  • Over the years, I have observed an increase of phenomena I call unintended interactions of building sub-systems. Two common culprits that can be the bane of a low voltage contractor's existence are VFDs and electronic ballasts. Since some broadcast bands have been returned to the FCC, and then re-sold to telecommunications and other manufacturers, I fully expect there will be a tipping point where unintended interactions will begin to cause instability in some currently popular wireless systems.

As a technician, I literally hate to not know what I have "fixed" because I invariably leave with the dreaded expectation that the problem will re-appear, when least convenient [Murphy's Law]. Admittedly, a certain degree of obstinacy is sometimes needed to find all the answers, and for some, finding out "who done it" is its own reward.

Next time: Some of the more distinctive and\or interesting situations I have encountered.