DRMacIver's Notebook

Pragmatic Problem Solving (aka Kludges)

Pragmatic Problem Solving (aka Kludges)

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Guiding principle: If you can't solve a problem it's probably because you've not tried an ugly enough kludge yet.

Our shower broke this morning. It's been running in a degraded state for a while, but the knob for controlling water flow finally stopped working entirely. We could get our landlord to fix it, he's pretty good about fixing things, but unfortunately we're under quarantine for another week so that's not a viable option.

So I fixed it, of sorts.

From flatmate WhatsApp this morning:

The shower is, in a sense, fixed now. It is probably a temporary fix and will likely break again.

The fix consists of two ingenious solutions:

Firstly, I returned the missing plastic gizmo to the inside of the shower knob (it came out a while ago and the shower was difficult to make work with it in, so I didn't return it).

Secondly, in the event that you find you do not have enough grip strength to operate the shower in its current configuration (and you will find this), there is a tea towel hanging on the shower door and you should use that to grip the flow control knob and will find it much more manageable.

Behold, science.

(This is, in fact, not science, but engineering. More on that in a later post).

I live with other very smart people, and I am not the most practically minded of souls, so why was it me who fixed the shower?

Probably the answer is timing and coincidence as much as anything else. I'm sure someone else would have come up with something eventually. However I think I had a couple of straightforward advantages that lead to this being a thing I just shrugged and solved almost immediately.

These were:

  1. I had some ideas of things to try and was prepared to just hit things with them until something worked. I was originally going to try these two independently (either put the gizmo back, or take the knob off entirely and use the tea towel on the control shaft directly). Neither quite worked, but together they work fine.
  2. I didn't care about fixing the shower, I just cared about being able to have one.

(Another flatmate adopted a bucket shower solution. I considered this unacceptable as long as the possibility of an actual shower existed)

It's often worth having bad solutions to demonstrate that a solution is possible but there's another case in which it's worth having bad solutions: Often you don't care whether the solution is bad, you just care that the problem is solved. If you can't solve the problem, you might just be being limited by good taste.

"Use a tea towel to operate the shower" is not a good taste solution. It's ugly, it's kludgy, and for now it's more than good enough, and I can assure you that the way my flatmates and I would smell after a few days without access to a shower is also not in good taste.