Reading List: Pleased But Not Satisfied

This small book by David Sokol holds some interesting perspectives about managing change, from one of Warren Buffett’s chief lieutenants.  A lot of focus is placed on the Plan, Execute, Measure, Correct cycle, and after reading this book, it’s very easy to notice the absence of the “Measure, Correct” portion of the cycle in many change initiatives.  Too often as leaders, we have a tendency to stick to the plan simply because we are committed to our decisions. 

Sokol makes judicious use of personal and business anecdotes to highlight the points he’s making, but doesn’t belabor the reader with too much domain specific detail.

If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s an excellent quick read.

Buy from Amazon.com

Reading List: Googled

Ken Auletta has written a great book about the changes that are happening in advertising and in media, against a backdrop of Google’s rise to prominence, with some interesting insights into the Google culture.

Auletta seems to have enough proximity to some of the major players that he paints a vivid picture of the personalities and motivations of high-level Googlers, specifically highlighting why Google is different from most major corporations.  It would be interesting to hear an inside opinion of how accurate the portrayals were.

This book is a worthwhile read, whether you are involved in the tech industry, media, or even as a consumer who wants to understand more about why and how “free” really works on the Internet.

Reading List: Sway – The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Sway is one of those books that makes you think about human behavior in an entirely different way.  By running through some common scenarios where people behave in seemingly inexplicable ways, and identifying some common themes, Ori and Ram Brafman provide perspectives and tools to help identify and avoid irrationality.  The story-telling reminded me a great deal of the styles of Malcolm Gladwell or Steven D. Levitt.  Anecdotal evidence was backed by some more rigorous analysis that made the ideas both compelling, and personally believable.

After reading this book, I settled on a new definition for Irrational Behavior: Acting in a way that is counter to or wasteful with regard to your true goals.

Just because someone doesn’t do what you want, doesn’t make them irrational, but when they start making choices that move them away from what they want, they have entered the realm of the irrational.

Fixing a Drippy Ice Maker

A few weekends back I spent the morning fixing a drippy ice maker in our Whirlpool Gold Side-by-Side refrigerator, so I figured I’d do another “fix-it” post. 

One morning when I opened the freezer there was a bit of a winter wonderland scene, with frost and icicles covering the upper-right corner of the freezer.  The in-door ice bucket was full of huge chunks of refrozen ice, and frozen up to the point where it couldn’t move the agitator to dispense ice.  Pretty much just an icy mess.

I originally thought that maybe someone had left the freezer a bit open, but there was still a bit of water dripping around and I know the door had been closed before I opened it.

Still not knowing what was wrong, I removed the ice bucket, emptied it out and melted all of the ice that was frozen around the agitator.  I put it back in the freezer and then went about my morning.  A bit later, I went to get some ice and remembered that I hadn’t turned the  ice maker back on, so I hit the switch.  I closed the door and waited for the ice to drop (It’s an in-door bucket so it doesn’t drop until the door closes).  Right when the ice dropped I opened the door and was then able to see first-hand the real problem with the dispenser.

Evidently in this model fridge, the water is dispensed into a small collector that then lets it flow into the ice tray.  The collector is circled in orange in the picture below.  Somehow this collector had filed with a solid chunk of ice, and was blocking the flow of water directly into the ice tray.  Since the float switch to stop the flow of water is in the tray, this means that the water stays on until enough water dribbles around the collector to fill up the ice tray (as well as coating a good portion of the freezer with water.

At first I thought I could attack this with a hair-dryer, but after removing all of the food from the top two shelves and then sitting with a hair dryer on the collector for about 5 minutes, I realized this was not getting me anywhere.  My next idea worked much better.  I used a turkey baster to squirt near-boiling water into the top of the collector (with towels positioned below to catch the overflow) and this unfroze the collector in about 2 minutes.

icemaker

We haven’t had any further problems with the ice maker.  I’m not sure if this was just a fluke, or if there’s some sort of accumulation of ice in the collector that will come back again, but for now it’s working great and I know how to fix it quickly it it freezes up again.

If Your Dodge Caravan’s Power Sliding Doors Stop Working, Consider Replacing the Battery

I’ve now seen this on two different cars of the same model & year and I couldn’t find a reference to this specific resolution on the Internet so I figured it would be worth posting.

The symptom is simple.  The power sliding door on one side or the other will stop working.  I’m guessing that this problem is shared between the Dodge Caravan and the Chrysler Town & Country since they share the same parts for this mechanism.  Some people on the Internet say that the problem went away after they had the dealer flash the BCM (Body Control Module).  Other people had to get an entirely new BCM before the problem disappeared. We never went down either of those paths since I had a simple quick, although temporary, fix.  If you open up the fuse panel under the hood next to the battery:

Then remove, count to 5 and then replace the following fuse:

The doors should work again for a while.

With the first van that had this problem, we went for many months just pulling and replacing the fuse whenever a problem occurred, and it would usually only stop working every few weeks.  A while later we ended up replacing the battery after the van wouldn’t start one morning.  Since the door issue was only an occasional problem, I never really realized that it never happened after we got the new battery.

Fast forward a few years, and we ended up having to replace the van, and we opted for the same exact model & year.  When we had the “new” used van for a couple of weeks, the left power sliding door stopped working one day.  We were on a trip so I did the quick-fix fuse pull & replace, and the door started working again.  Within a week, the van wouldn’t start one day.  A jump start got us working again, but I took the van to Auto Zone to have the battery checked, and it failed the load test.  I replaced the battery on this van, and we haven’t seen the doors stop working again!

My guess is that the Body Control Module (BCM) that gets so much attention has a failure mode that is supposed to disable the sliding door motor if it detects a short or a stuck electric motor, but that when the van’s battery starts getting marginal, it trips into this mode unnecessarily.

UPDATE:

Since this post still gets a bit of traffic, I wanted to add a bit of an update.  After many more years of wear, we have had a few more challenges with these sliding doors.  If you get to a point where most functions work, but one doesn’t then you’ve probably managed to actually break a wire in the harness.  This can manifest as something like locking or unlocking no longer working, or open/close not working, while other things still work.  If the break is still not quite complete, this can be an intermittent problem for some time.

I tried finding and splicing the broken wire one time, and it only lasted a couple of weeks since there is a fair amount of strain as the doors open and close.  I ended up just replacing the entire harness and I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was.  First time (passenger side, more use) took me a bit over an hour.  When the driver’s side failed I managed to replace it in about 45 minutes.  You can get the parts from Amazon (links for 2004-2007 model): Passenger Side [747-311], Driver’s Side [747-310].

Gateway CX2620 Battery is Now Charging

My trusty CX2620 has been serving the family well for almost 3 years now, but for about the last year the battery hasn’t held a charge that would last more than 5 minutes.  I had attributed this to a bad battery, and with replacements going for around $150, I wasn’t going to sink that much money into an obviously aging laptop. 

A combination of events recently lined up to get my laptop battery back in action.  Our original power adapter’s cord had broken through the insulation around the place where the DC cord enters the adapter brick, so we ordered an el-cheapo replacement from Ebay.  This new adapter had the same specs as the original, and we managed to continue along, still not able to hold a charge, but functional while plugged in.

This new adapter only lasted a couple of weeks before giving out entirely right before we were going on a trip.  We decided against getting another cheap adapter, and put in a order for the original OEM spec adapter, to be shipped to one of the destinations on our trip.  When it wasn’t there when we arrived I checked the order status to find that it was backordered for another 4 weeks.  Since we were suffering from laptop withdrawal, we ended up running out to Circuit City and picking up a Kensington Universal Notebook Power Adapter (K33404US).

Well, the new adapter is a 90 watt adapter, vs. the original 60 watt.  Low and behold, the battery will now hold a charge almost as good as when it was new!

When the world seems “broken” the incentives are wrong.

Pretty much every time I notice something in the world that seems "broken" the analysis eventually leads me to think that the incentives are structured in a way that causes the brokenness.  Take the recent mortgage crisis, and look at what was driving the behavior of the key stakeholders:

Real Estate Agents:  Both buyers and sellers agents are paid a percentage commission on the sale price.  This means that the "knowledgeable representatives" on both sides have a financial incentive to get houses to sell at the highest price possible.

Mortgage Brokers:  Again, usually paid either a flat commission, or a percentage commission.  Either way, they earn exactly zero dollars for the mortgage they say shouldn’t happen.

Mortgage Lenders: This group was a major part of the real problem.  Mortgage lenders, through bundling and selling of mortgage backed securities, had no incentive to turn away bad loans.  The mortgage backed securities were selling at a value that didn’t account for the risk using standard economic formulas, so the lenders had an incentive to accept risky loans and sell them, passing the risk along to people who had no ability to understand the risk they were accepting. Basically the more they could get a potential homebuyer to promise to pay, the more money they made.  No incentives to push down the price of homes.

Appraisers: This is the group that should have been the safety net, but it seems that they’ve turned into yes-men (and women) for the Real Estate Agents and the Mortgage Lenders.  They are well insulated from liability by the formulas they use, and are dependent on Agents and Lenders for referrals so that they can make a living, so they have no incentive to challenge the value of an overpriced home.

Home Buyers: This group seemed, as a whole, to believe that as long as they planned to sell their house every few years, they should buy as much house as they could afford in order to maximize the future profit.  As a whole it looks like we bought into all of the advertising that claimed that houses were a great investment, touting huge yearly percentage gains in value, even though the fine print read "past returns are not a guarantee of future performance."  Greed, and the blind hope for turning a profit led this group to accept the inflated values as a reason to buy.

Home Sellers: Finally we get to the one group that should have been putting upward pressure on home values.

So, we now have a correction of sorts underway.  Home buyers are wary of getting into the market for fear that the values will continue to drop.  Mortgage brokers and lenders know they can’t bundle and sell risky mortgages since there will be too much scrutiny, but they do seem to be trying to lock in anyone that has a good to excellent credit rating.  I haven’t seen any real changes in the real estate market, but I’d be amazed if there isn’t at least some fear of liability if an agent helps someone buy an overvalued home.

The current climate of fear and risk aversion has slowed the bad behavior, but nobody seems to be talking about fixing the system.  If we come out of this and the incentives haven’t changed, then the bubble will just grow, and pop, again.