When Stuff Doesn’t Work

Sometimes it’s just not your fault.


You ever have one of those days when nothing seems to be working?

You know, when you’re building something and you measure and cut a piece of wood and it doesn’t fit right? So you go and measure again… twice… and recut it and it still doesn’t fit?

Usually, I find it’s something stupid, like I added two dimensions wrong. or I forgot to account for the thickness of the saw blade. In other words, crash and burn due to pilot error.

This week, however, I ran into several instances where it actually was the tool that was screwing up and not me.

Mounting Block Project:

I was building a new and improved mounting block for my wife to get up on her tall horse. I had cut and assembled all the pieces except for the steps. All I needed was three stair treads with square corners. Over to my trusty table saw. Measure, mark and run through a piece of 3/4 inch plywood. I put it in place.

It wasn’t square.

Ok. Try again. I cut another.

It wasn’t square either.

I examined the saw. Somehow the sliding fence that I use to keep wood straight as it moves over the blade had gotten bent. So every cut I made with that saw was going to be off.

For once, it wasn’t my fault. The tool I was using was screwed up.

Not to be deterred, I Proceded to cut a stair tread with a skilsaw and a fence clamped to the plywood. The first cut went fine. I produced a lovely straight, square step. But the second cut, the saw blade veered off its line. It wasn’t off by a lot. Just enough for me to notice.


I backed the saw out and pushed it through again. Again it veered. A third try. Same result. Again, this was a tool that I’d been using for five years and it had never failed me. Yet despite my doing everything just right, for some reason, this day, the skilsaw simply would not make a precise, straight cut.

What do you do when machines don’t work right?

In this case I was close enough that I was able to square off the board using a hand held block plane. Though at this point I half expected the plane to fall apart in my hand.


Next case. Our 2013 Subaru Outback. Fifty thousand miles. In the morning when the car is cold, it goes clunk when you press on the gas pedal.

Not good.

Took it to the dealer, dealer says the transmission’s broken. Fifty thousand miles and the transmissions shot?

To Subaru’s credit they extended the warranty and fixed it for free. (They sort of had to, because it was happening to so many 2013’s that they were looking at lawsuits if they didn’t do something.)

The point is, once again it wasn’t our fault. The car just broke…. prematurely.


The worst example of stuff no longer working happened two nights ago. I was working at my desktop computer on a photoshop project. All of a sudden the screen flickered. Like the computer hiccuped. When the screen came back on all the icons were squished and blurry. I did everything I could think of to fix it. All to no avail. So I took it in to my local computer shop. After looking at it for a day he informed me that the problem was that the computer needed to upgrade to a new video card driver. (Drivers are the software commands that tell the hardware what to do.) The problem was that the company that manufactured the video card no longer produced updated software for that video card. Neither does Microsoft.

Thus, for all intensive purposes, my computer no longer works….. not because it is broken, but because the computing world deems it too old to bother writing the software to keep it going.

When a machine breaks down after years of faithful service -like the saw – it’s regrettable but understandable. If a machine breaks down ahead of its time, – like the car – it’s more than regrettable. It’s tragic. Bordering on negligence.

But when a machine becomes useless, not because it is broken, but because the people who made it, in their inimitable wisdom, feel it is too old To continue updating the software that could keep it running, to me, that’s Criminal.

Really, the most maddening thing about the computer was that this happened in the middle of a work session. I’ve gotten used to computers that “upgrade” their software after you shut them off. If I’d gone to sleep and woken up to find the computer was screwed up that would be bad enough. But I was sitting in front of the machine watching as the machine stopped working. One minute it was working fine. The next minute it was obsolete. It was as if someone out there in computer land pulled a switch that turned my computer into a large paperweight.

Now perhaps I can come to some sort of peace over these events….

… if I could just get someone to convince me it’s totally coincidental that the machines in question all broke down two days before “Black Friday.”

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