Rules of thumb are kind of like all rules, meant to be broken. However, they provide a useful structure to proceed towards something that doesn’t provide it’s own obvious structure. This happens a lot with troubleshooting. You know that something is broken, but you don’t know why, or how to fix it. You know. Like the Government.
I’ve collected a few troubleshooting rules that I follow when I don’t have an obvious path to success, and I find that they’re very broad in their application. Let’s review rule #1:
Check the Power Supply
This starts from the brain dead action of making sure something is plugged in, through the sometimes complex understanding of how the power supply for anything is very integral to it’s functioning and affects all of the subsystems.
Electronics are powered by electricity. Software is powered by the operating system, and Government is powered by money. If you don’t understand where the power is coming from, how it’s distributed in the system, and how it affects the subsystems when it’s funky, you’re hobbled in your ability to get a good answer on things.
Not everything is the power supply. But even when things are broken that have nothing to do with the power supply, they often affect the power supply, which then affects everything else, which can cause symptoms that are incredibly misleading.
Our current focus in government these days, the financial system, is a lot like a guitar amplifier with a bad power supply. It might seem to work, but when you try and really crank it up, it might sound great for a while, with a deep interesting distortion. Something that’s really fun, and then the fuse blows.
One day I talked to a guy who was upset about his amplifier. He liked it a lot, how it sounded, how loud it was, but was disappointed because he had to carry a box of fuses around to replace them constantly. He had discovered that if he used a larger fuse, the amplifier would run longer before blowing it.
He had no concept that when a fuse blows, it’s not a problem with the fuse. In fact, that’s exactly what it should be doing. A blow fuse is a symptom of a deeper problem. The power supply is drawing too much current. If he fixed his amplifier his fuses would stop blowing, and if he used a bigger fuse, chances are that he’d do some worse damage along the way somewhere.
So he fixed it. It cost him a bit more since his ‘bigger fuse’ idea had wrecked the power transformer, but it was still repairable.
Sad part was that after he fixed it, it didn’t sound the same. He also didn’t understand that the interesting distortion that really set this amplifier apart was the sound of the power supply mis-powering the power amps. The distortion was a symptom as well.
Two things, a situation where the person involved didn’t pick up on the obvious symptoms of imminent failure and in converse, actually idealized one of the symptoms thinking it was such a good thing it set the system apart and was important to support.
Sound familiar? Yeah. Me too.