Dr Noirimetla, Private Failure Investigator And The Mystery Of Galileo’s Pillars

One dark and stormy morning, Dr. Richard Noirimetla, private failure investigator, was sitting at his desk nursing his morning cup of joe. It was an addiction, but life, and engineering was hard. Intense eyes sat in a round dark-skinned face. An engineering degree from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology hung from the wall in his sparse office. Lightning flashed outside of his window, as the rain began to beat even harder against his corner office windows.

His phone rang.

“Hello, Dr. Noirimetla, Private Failure Investigator here.” He said in deep, polite voice. “How may I help you?”

“Ah, I’m Chief of Manufacturing for Galileo Concrete Pillars Inc. We have a bit of a problem here. We used to see a failure rate above 33% for our concrete pillar operation. As part of our lean manufacturing efforts we tried to reduce that number through various improvements. However, we see a failure rate of almost 50% now. We expect foul play… from one of our suppliers. Can you come right away?” a worried man’s voice sounded over the phone.

“I see, that’s very troubling,” Noirimetla rumbled. “I’ll send over the contract detail. There will be an increased fee, but I’m on my way.”

“Sounds good, we’ll pay anything! Just get our operation up to standards!” The man bid a polite goodbye and hung up.

Noirimetla looked out the window at the rain beating against his window, and thought of Southern India where the humidity had the decency to be hot. He called his secretary and asked him to rearrange his schedule for the day.

He thought of the cold rain on his balding head and put a wool fedora on. He decanted his coffee into a thermos, and took another swig for the road. Shouldering his waxed canvas trench coat, a gift from his wife, he walked out the door into the cold Chicago morning. Headed for mystery at Galileo Concrete Pillars Inc.

Noirimetla sat in the conference room provided for him. His notes scattered in front of him, when she walked in. She was wearing conservative, professional dress. Noirimetla’s eyes devoured the label on the front of the manila folder she held close to her chest.

“Here is the list of improvements we made as part of our lean efforts,” She said in a husky voice. She handed him the folder, which he took greedily; almost entirely forgetting the helpful intern’s presence.

“Thank you for preparing that so quickly,” Dr. Noirimetla said gratefully.

“Let me know if you need anything else. I’ll be on the shop floor doing quality inspection.” She said as she turned around to get back to work.

Noirimetla read the papers carefully. He would occasionally let out an interested, “hmm,” as his eye spotted something interesting. Carefully, he noted each one. He listed the top three likeliest choices and took out his phone. He called the supplier of their aggregate and scheduled an appointment.

It was after lunch. The sky had cleared but a cold humidity fought with the winds off the lake for control of Chicago. The man walked into the office where Noirimetla’s notes were waging a successful war over table surface area. A ceramic coffee mug as well as a recently emptied foam cup from lunch sat beside Noirimetla’s right hand. The man had dark eyes set in a young, well-kept face. His clothes were fashionable, and Noirimetla’s intuition went off with alarm at once. This man was not an engineer, but perhaps a mid-level salesman. Would he have the information Noirimetla required?

After a round of civilities, Noirimetla got to the business at hand. “Tell me about your quality control and traceability for the aggregate you supply.”

The man didn’t even blink as he took out a prepared sales pamphlet. “We supply to structural companies often. As a company we fully understand the risk a precast concrete company takes by supplying rated structural components. As you can see our regular lab testing is best in class, and our aggregate’s uniformity is unmatched. Our company is proud to hold a few patents on rock crusher technology.”

Dr. Noirimetla didn’t even blink at the sales pitch. It wasn’t anything he hadn’t seen before. He flipped through the pamphlet and asked efficient questions at certain points. Operating under the new information he called up the helpful intern from earlier, and asked her to walk him through the company’s incoming aggregate testing.

Thirty minutes later they were standing in the factory’s testing lab. “As you can see we take their report, and do our own tests to match every incoming batch. All this is stored and logged in a computer. We can trace every pillar.”

She looked askew at the salesman and Noirmetla. Her voice lowered. “To tell you the truth…” She trailed off.

“Oh?” Noirimetla encouraged her, his soft Indian accent toning his Oxford English.

“Well, I’ve been doing the testing as part of my internship. With all the improvements we’ve been doing as part of our lean efforts. Well…” she paused. “Our pillars have never been better. They’re passing every test with flying colors. They couldn’t be more perfect. I just don’t understand how they’re breaking.”

Noirimetla paused for a moment. He took out his list and crossed number one and two off it. He looked at item three. “Take me to the laydown yard where you store the pillars.” He said authoritatively. “I have a hunch.”

The CEO, the salesman, chief of manufacturing, head engineer, and the intern all sat around the conference table. The papers had been put away, back into Noirimetla’s briefcase, but a fresh cup of coffee sat steaming at the end of the desk where he was standing in front of the white board.

“It’s not the suppliers.” Noirmetla said authoritatively, gauging his audience for effect. The three company men looked upset. The salesman, relieved.

“What then?” asked the CEO, already feeling out of depth in what would undoubtedly be another tedious technical conversation. “I thought I told everyone to fix this already? I’ve been going around the shop floor improving things all week! You know we’re going to be a lean 3% or better company!” His engineers started making eye contact with various inanimate objects around the room. Noirimetla suddenly understood a lot more.

“Right…” Noirimetla paused briefly to muster courage in the face of business administration. “It all started when the lean improvements began.”

“A list was compiled by the engineering team, and it was all set to go in stages. Each change was supposed to be enacted, and then measured for improvement.” Dr. Noirimetla got into his teaching cadences from his days as a college professor. “However, in a rush to solve the problems sooner, some changes were made without being added to the list or documented properly.” Noirimetla tried not to look at the CEO.

“It seems that at some point, the forklift operators were told to put a third concrete block under the pillars to support them on the laydown yard.”

“What’s wrong with that? Asked the CEO? More support less broken pillars, it makes sense to me!” He stated loudly. Understanding began to dawn on the head engineers face.

Noirimetla continued. “At first thought, it would seem so, but consider the scenario where the ground isn’t level.”

“What? How much are we paying this guy!” The CEO rudely inquired. “I’ve got to get on a plane in three hours.”

Noirimetla was used to being under fire by unprofessional conduct, and labored on anyway. “Here, let me draw a picture.”

“As you can see, the pillars are stored on their side. They are picked up sideways by forklifts and transported sideways on trucks. It makes sense even though their final operation is vertical.” Noirimetla began to draw. “Here is the regular support. Note the two blocks dividing the concrete neatly into thirds?”

Figure 1: Unsupported Pillar
Figure 1: Unsupported Pillar

Drawing the arrows denoting force he said, “as you can see the force is evenly distributed across the pillar and the moments almost balance.”

“Now look at the pillar with three supports” He drew a second pillar with three supports.

“It looks fine to me.” said the CEO.

“Ah, but what if the ground isn’t level?” Dr. Noirimetla proposed.

Norimetla erased the supports and drew in a slanted ground. In this picture only two of the three supports held the pillar. “Now tell me, how do your pillars look after they break?” He said to the intern.

Figure 4: Unlevel Ground
Figure 4: Unlevel Ground

“They break in the middle or the break slightly off-center” She replied quickly. She had spent hours documenting and photographing the breaks.

This is because there are two failure modes! “Previously, the support was equidistant. Now the support either cantilevers the beam, or holds it at its very end causing a large bending moment in the middle” He said while drawing the two failure modes.


“All you have to do to solve you breaking pillars is go back to the way you were doing it before!” Noirimetla confidently stated.

“That’s stupid!” The CEO raised his voice. “How can not improving something help?”

“If you don’t believe me, do a test.” Noirimetla said.

The head engineer and chief of manufacturing spoke up. The conversation finally turned into the territory of action. Yelling in meetings was not their strength, but proving things was.

“It makes sense.” They talked the CEO down and got approval for the test. “We’re on it.” The CEO looked sullen, his prediction had self-fulfilled again.

After some residual arguing, Noirimetla shook hands. “Give me a call when the test is complete, I’ll have a written report on my findings in a week.”

He walked out of the building, and stood under the awning with the Galileo Pillar Company logo emblazoned on it. He put his fedora back on and flipped his collar up against the rain which had started again. From under his coat where he had been holding it with his arm he took his thermos out and took a swig of coffee. A smile played across his lips as he walked across the parking lot to his sensible family minivan. Solving a problem always felt good.

That was a little different. Let us know if you like this sort of thing. Dr. Noirimetla is looking for more classic failure examples to solve, and more dangerous bureaucratic situations to cleverly and professionally evade. If you have one you’d like to suggest please do so in the comments. This example was based on a chapter from Design Paradigms, Case Histories of Error and Judgment Engineering by Henry Petroski.

115 thoughts on “Dr Noirimetla, Private Failure Investigator And The Mystery Of Galileo’s Pillars

  1. An excellent example of stories of this type from the software side can be found in “If I Only Changed the Software, Why is the Phone on Fire?: Embedded Debugging Methods Revealed: Technical Mysteries for Engineers”, by Lisa K. Simone

  2. (··3) / I can just talk about myself, and I liked this very much.

    Sometimes the traditional way does it better. Alright, sometimes it’s just been done like that forever, and nobody remembers how they got there in the first place. But through trial and error makes for a harsh but results driven mistress.

    Or as the english acronym says:
    Keep It Simple (Stupid)

    1. I deal with this daily…

      Especially when someone new shows up, its months of explaining to them why we do something a specific way vs another, what problems our method solves and what problems said method doesn’t create. Then that scrambling/panic feeling when they say let’s change this, while you go about trying to convince them of all the ways that will break more than it fixes.

      Chief problem being, i inherited a very well oiled business machine,, didnt design it myself. so i dont always have the why available off the top of my head.

      1. On the other hand, at several of the places I’ve worked, they did things “like we’ve always done them” for no reason anyone could explain. The real reason was that a skilled worker taught someone how to do it, and hereditary “just because” education handed it down for four or more generations of employees with the original instructor long gone. No one knew anything about the process any more, it was just ritual. Once I got a handle on HOW it worked, then we were able to make it work better – in some cases discovering solutions to problems that had crept in during the handing-down of teaching.

  3. Forensic engineering – We had a guy (Harms Engineering Inc.) give a colloquium about that field in University. Neat stuff. He talked about trying to get a coffee pot to set itself on fire. Turns out a failed temperature switch eventually caused the plastic lid to melt from radiated heat and fall into the pot at which point it started on fire.

  4. Reminds me of a tale about a certain chip manufacturer.
    They found that suddenly their yields were going down and it was due to the wafers being contaminated. They were quite puzzled by this and checked and double checked all the procedures in the clean rooms but it was fine. They raised it with the supplier but it was fine there too.

    Eventually they tracked down the problem. Basically someone was popping open the shipments in a loading bay to check the number of wafers in a crate matched the delivery manifest that they were signing.

    1. I heard a similar story once about chip yields going in the toilet at certain times of the day.. After much research they found that the night maintenance crew had been using the ovens to cook pizzas.

    2. Funny you should mention that. My pop’s was a procurement officer at a company manufacturing. Turns out said chip manufacturers were sending mostly partial reels of components (1 chip on from the reel was ~$25 a pop) to the company. Damn straight open those fricken crates up.

        1. In the case of the (small-ish) Electronics Manufacturing company I ran Incoming QC for…a “Clean Room” can be (and was) a sand blasting cabinet w/ a small source of filtered air for positive pressure.

        2. Most dockworkers don’t know that, though. Unless there is specific signage warning against opening a crate to check for damages/missing pieces, they’ll open it…even if they know there’s a possibility of hazardous or easily damaged materials.

  5. Just give me the facts. This article could have been compressed to one paragraph and a diagram.

    More supports not always better. A business making rigid but brittle items added an extra support and experienced greater breakage. The reason for the counterintuitive result was evident when force is applied to two of the supports. Then include the diagram showing 3-support failure modes.

    1. While the idea of the story was nice, I like James have a personal preference for less fluff and just stick to the details.

      My teachers in high school would often complain that I didn’t read enough books – oh I read alright – just technical manuals and engineering journals. :o

    2. I concur: in fact the CEO helped the company rediscover and properly document why the 2 supports were better than 3. In fact CEOs should do this on a regular basis, randomly changing things and then recording all in-companty engineers faces as some failure investigator explains the problem, so the recordings can be analyzed by psychologists to detect which half of engineers has the Aha!-moment before the other half which need replacing…

    3. There are speed reading techniques where you skim a paragraph starting at the first words of the first sentence and the first words of the last sentence, and only looking for verbs and proper nouns. If a paragrah seems to be heavy in adjectives you simply skip it until you get to a paragraph with more verbs.

      Applying the same techniques to your own texts also reveals when you’re writing boring drivel that nobody needs to read, because if you can skim it through in three seconds without missing anything vital, it probably could be a lot more terse.

      1. I took a speed reading course in college…
        I didn’t like it, not only was it harder to read/comprehend faster, I would occasionally miss a small (insignificant?)
        word like “not”.

        1. Of course it’s harder when you’re reading dense information filled text. You can only understand it as fast as you can understand it.

          The point is that many texts are just so much irrelevant prose that can be safely skipped.

  6. Intriguing format!
    I would have found it even more entertaining if it were structured like these old-school puzzle-mystery short stories, where you are tasked to crack the case yourself.
    First present the facts, in this case the process-changes which were implemented and the observed failures, and then ask the reader to find out what went wrong.
    Of course still offer the solution, with additional explanation, but maybe behind “spoiler tags”.

    1. It had the classic elements of those stories, only the engineers didn’t throw hissy fits that an outsider solved their problem. It did have the CEO with no engineering prowess doing engineering and dockloader work, thereby throwing a wrench in the works, though!

  7. Welcome to my life (and probably a lot of your other readers’ as well). Lots and lots and lots of this stuff in manufacturing.

    We had a problem where the computer systems in our plant would all go down at 3AM…sometimes. Nobody in the building, nothing untoward, nobody playing WarGames. Took us some time to figure out that it was a low voltage problem. Low voltage? WTF? We were in a modern industrial park with all kinds of grid connection. So was the local newspaper printing plant. Guess when they started their entire operation up for the morning press run?

    Here’s one from a colleague:

    A packaging line problem: “we have a random problem with the capper. Everything seems fine, but we get frequent problems with misaligned caps. It happens randomly and we are at wit’s end.” After an hour of observation, a pattern began to emerge.

    The problem was periodic, not random. A stopwatch and counter revealed that there was usually a multiple of 168 between cocked caps.

    It was an older rotary filler/capper with 24 valves and seven capping heads. Could it be a coincidence that 7×24 gives 168? Probably not. Delving deeper showed that most problems came when valve No. 13 aligned with chuck No. 5.

    Plenty more arcana – I’m sure many others could chip in (you started it).

    1. I’ve had similar problems with carton sealing. Random cartons would have misaligned glue stripes. Of course, it *had* to be our equipment. They wanted us to cover it under warranty even though it was 4 years out of warranty–apparently, they’d had the problem since installation, but the guy who set it up had a heart attack and retired right after that. He wanted $4,000 a day to troubleshoot the issue. A $2,000 service call later (including overnight and drive time), and we found out that when he set the equipment up he had put the photoeye in the wrong spot and loose so it was vibrating with the harmonics of the line.

      Of course, there are also the bean counters who think that a $1 pack of wire ties is great for suspending heavy loads (anything over a pound), not taking into account that there’s a reason they’re only a dollar.

      I have loads of other stories, most of them being a $2 fix that blossomed into $5k worth of service (plus medical liability for others injured). All because someone had to prove their 5 months of experience was better than my 20 years…

      1. >but the guy who set it up had a heart attack and retired right after that. He wanted $4,000 a day to troubleshoot the issue. A $2,000 service call later (including overnight and drive time), and we found out that when he set the equipment up he had put the photoeye in the wrong spot and loose so it was vibrating with the harmonics of the line.

        good for him, he should have documented even less…

        while we are at it we need to feed more bean counters into the operating guts of machinery.

  8. Nice. I would improve it by
    1) Making it shorter – this was a bit wordy
    2) Leave it as a puzzle for the reader to solve (of course, with the answer published somewhere easy to find). As presented, the final pieces of the puzzle and the solution were presented too closely, leaving it more as a story than as a challenge.

    1. Nooooooooooooo don’t “leave it as a puzzle for the reader to solve” just tell us the damn answer, I want to learn stuff not get strung along like I’ve just watched a bad episode of Lost.

  9. So, one thing I really like about Chandler’s detective books, and the whole library of books that were inspired by them, is the dark humor, intelligent quips, sarcasm and colorful comparisons. This piece, while obviously trying to fit into that genre, misses those qualities and so is not nearly as enjoyable. However, I await the next adventure and hope for improvement.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. I’ve been reading all the comments, and it’s been very helpful in shaping how another one of these may go:) I tried to mimic the tropes and style of a detective novel without ever having the character slip on his professionalism or have the situation exceed normalcy. Maybe it should get a little more far-fetched, if only to assist the flow.

      1. Humbly, may I suggest an early “fiction” tag?

        The writing voice is similar enough to other articles that it may take the reader several paragraphs to realise it’s not a third-person observation piece, but a creative illustration. Eg

        The private failure detective is a creative piece inspired by real-world engineering challenges

        Also, the one where they’re investigating packing failure (empty boxes) only to find that after a week the complicated and expensive QA system designed to detect the fault stops going off, because a line worker puts a fan on the line just before the weight sensor to blow empty boxes off before the QA sensor sounds the alarm / shuts the line down

        Plus, more coffee/chai, and a female protagonist

        1. *While eating your vegan tofu gluten-free kale and sprouts and “pizza” and sipping your half caff soy chai latte from a white cup with a green logo… A Bald Eagle bursts through the ceiling, throws a raw salmon in your side bowl of olive oil, knocking your latte on to your pizza and deftly snatches back up the now olive oil coated raw salmon.*
          *As we begin clapping wildly, hamburgers, cowboy hats and guns are gently raining from the sky onto our plates, A hard rock band beginning singing ‘MURICA F YEAH!’.*
          *A woman wearing jeans and workboots smelling of machine shop & hard work stops by to study you & the mess you’re now covered in. She sighs in disappointment and tosses in your direction a clean but dirty looking shop rag then walks away in disgust.*

        2. “and a female protagonist”

          Figures… and here I was thinking the male secretary was a nice subtle touch.

          I swear to god. Some people aren’t happy unless things are shoved down throats with a ramrod. It’s like the radical proliferation of interracial relationships in the media as of late… I dont have a problem with it- I do have a problem with being force-fed someone elses opinion.

          Maybe I’m just over-sensitive to this given a good friend of mine who is a caucasian female having just had her dark-skinned boyfriend run off on her after getting her pregnant 5 months ago… but still- Walking Dead, Jessica Jones… Arrow (if things go the way I’m expecting (I’m only current on late in the first season)).

      2. I understand that sarcastic comments would probably make the protagonist sound unprofessional, but I think that is only if he spoke them out loud. Internal monologues are always great fun when reading Chandler.

        On the other hand, if you wanted him to be inhumanly professional, perhaps Poirot or even Holmes would be better models… I really don’t know. I have recently re-read a lot of books by James White about his space hospital, which also read like criminal/investigation stories, but have much more interpersonal interactions and characters with a lot of, well, character, in them.

        One thing for sure, the mystery does work as a plot hook, and a non-trivial solution gives a sense of closure.

    2. Agreed. Read The Big Sleep, or The Thin Man. But this might be a worthy entry in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (or was that the idea?). The two failure modes is cool.

      You need some skilz to avoid “He would occasionally let out an interested, “hmm,” as his eye spotted something interesting.” and the many similar. Plus there is an odd change of voice in that line. Well, the whole thing has odd reversals, but I like the idea. His eyes devoured the label — I was sure it was going to be on her clothes. And eyes that can devour have teeth don’t they :-)

      1. I thought about that for a bit, and I’ve decided writing anything that can win a competition is good. Especially if there’s a shiny plaque or a ribbon. I like those.

        Not sure if I follow on the, “he would”, bit. My English teacher in school told me no one would ever pay me to be a writer, but I think the requirements ended up a bit more vague than just having pure technical skill at the craft. I still don’t know what a presupposition or a dangling particular is, but. I’m an engineer by trade anyway, so I have a cultural obligation to be obligatorily bad at words.

        I’m really pleased that people enjoyed the little jokes on the genre. Like the male secretary, or the aforementioned folder label:)

        1. “he would” throws in an extra layer of passive voice and past tense. It is like saying “In the past he would read more when he was younger.” Just leave it out. And leave out “interested”, it brings the line terrifyingly close to a Tom Swiftism. You folks need an editor? I edited “develop” at Apple, the developers journal.

          1. Well, aren’t you just special, if you like to correct other peoples work, why don’t you become a teacher so you can do that all day long?? This is a work of fiction in another place, maybe, so their rules about writing might be different.
            If you don’t like the piece just pass it by and read something else!!

          2. Oh, I see. Yes. that makes sense. So it’s pretty harmless to do, but a bit smoother if I don’t? Though, I disagree about the interested. (What’s Tom Swiftism?) An interested, “hmm,” has a rising intonation, and a disappointed, “hmm,” has a falling one. A bored, “hmm” has a flat one. etc.

          3. In the hard-boiled styles of Chandler or Hemingway, there is setting and action. What you learn about characters is deduced from what they say and do. No mind-reading or snooping on their feelings or thinking allowed. They would probably say that a sound like hmmm, can not have an attribute like showing interest or disappointment. A person can, but not a sound. They might use something like “He occasionally made a hmm sound like a doctor examining a patient’s throat.”

            A Tom Swiftism or Tom Swifty is from the style of Tom Swift books. “Bud! They are gaining on us” Tom said rapidly. “This knife won’t cut a thing!” Tom said sharply.

            You have not read Tom Swift and his Diving Seacopter”? Or his Spectromarine selector?

  10. Since concrete has very little strength in tension, it makes sense to store the columns vertically during their curing process because then they are in compression. 30% is still a very large failure rate, unsustainably high I would think.

    1. Nice link. Very few people realise or appreciate that nearly everything in modern society has been designed by an engineer – buildings, cars, boats, roads, toys… The list goes on.
      It is an unfortunate fact of life that not just mistakes and oversights happen, but at some stage, very little was known about loading and failure modes… I’ll bet the very first house ever built was either exceedingly conservative, or it fell down in a heap. And if we take houses as an example, it’s interesting to see how construction techniques have changed with not only access to sophisticated analysis software (built on mathematical models derived from tests and failures), but also the drive to make things cheaper. Engineers (generally) have to walk that difficult line between minimum cost and satisfactory performance. And sometimes they take it too far.

  11. “That was a little different. Let us know if you like this sort of thing.”

    Reads like a strenuous drawn-out version of The Daily WTF blog – except with less actual meat to the story.

    In terms of the story itself, it looks like you tried to optimize the use of supports two to one.

  12. Liked the new story format.
    Another mentioned it and I’ll second it-
    If you could present the clues and back story and then follow up the post the next day to allow the discussion to work towards the conclusion naturally. The follow up would be the real world results as the people involved with the problem dealt with the issues.

  13. I have a great one, from real life
    It spanned years, and costed tons of money trying o sort it out, and might be what made the company fold in the end.

    I could share the details if you need material for another story.

  14. Reminds me of a problem I once encountered in a government building, back in the days when thin wire 50 ohm co-axial cables were the networking medium of choice (pre CAT5 for all you youngsters).

    We kept getting calls to say the network had gone down. When we went to investigate, it invariably was working fine. We asked them to let us know immediately if the problem re-occurred, but every time it did, our engineer would arrive and find everything working again.

    One day I was on site looking at a different issue, when someone came through and told me the network had just gone on the bung again, but now was not a good time to investigate as there was a board meeting on and the big boss man (Sir Somebody-selfimportant-or-other, typical of UK government departments) and his cronies were not to be disturbed.

    I was not allowed to investigate until the board meeting was over. Bizarrely the moment the self important big wigs left the bard room, everything started working again.

    Now this was actually a big clue…. but I wont spoil the story |:~) … instead I’ll let you all guess what the cause was.

        1. Close. The thin wire coax had been passed through a small gap within the board room door frame, to avoid drilling holes in the fabric of a listed building, and was crushed every time the door was closed, only to start functioning again once the door was opened.

  15. I suppose someone else remembers that magazins like Poular Science used to publish stories in this format in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was a nifty way to combine entertainment with technical education. Might seem a bit quaint in this day of IMAX 3D CGI movies, but I thought it was fun.

    1. I once read a few issues of an industrial trade magazine, it was about pumps, boilers, pipes, tanks and other things.
      It had a regular feature about some problem and its solution (not pun intended) probably based on an actual event.
      But the “hero” of the stories was some old loudmouth cigar smoker who in his final explanation would berate the young, fresh-out-of-college engineers on-site that didn’t have the experience to solve the problems the way he did with his years of experience.

  16. I worked in a plastics plant and one of the parts they produced was an insulating panel for an electrical control box. The customer specified a flatness tolerance of +\- +\-3% and roughly 50% of the parts were failing QA even after spending in excess of $3,000 on a cooling fixture.

    After implementing the new fixture the QA results remained constant and none of the ‘senior’ engineers could figure out why- after weeks of dealing with CEOs and engineers clustered around my workspace getting in my way and frustrating I finally piped up…

    The new fixture elevated and clamped parts against support parts and the tension of the clamps was essentially turning the tolerance into +6/0. All the cooling fans were mounted above the parts blowing down with no cooling coming from below, injection molded parts had a tendency to warp in one direction due to the 2 halves of the mold- the side the plastic entered the cavity was at a lower temp due to the plastic absorbing the heat while the other side was more constant because it only had to maintain the heat of the metal block.

    Anyway- I got frustrated and put a nick in the face of one half of the mold and made sure the side with the nick went face up on the old cooling fixture. Suddenly that batch had perfect +\-0% deflection.

    I got fired for intentionally damaging company property (the mold I put the nicks in) and a now-ex coworker told me they scrapped the new fixture, didn’t replace the damaged mold and had no more tolerance issues with that part.

    I still maintain that I lost my job not for damaging company property, but for reducing the framed diplomas and certificates hanging on office walls to really fancy toilet paper.

    1. at some point people will automate the theory exams in an open source way, and we can prove to one another that we understand claimed knowledge, so we don’t need to shell out $$$ to get the diplomas

      1. I totally agree and already fired off a message to the tips line offering some help with that.

        I have some experience with phpbb and I would gladly set up a dev sandbox and work on building out a refreshed forum if HaD shares my interest in reintroducing forum functionality.

        Just need to hear back…

        1. Personally I think it makes more sense to build .io functionality on top of a forum base that it is to reinvent the wheel with pure-.io custom builds.

          Most forum software already comes with full-featured user profiles, categories could be used for projects and discussions. Build out ‘teams’ for collaborations. Automating permission granting for individual projects could cause some hiccups, but leveraging existing software as a base has to be easier that custom-building everything from the ground up.

          Or not… whichever…

  17. Not for me I’m afraid, sets off the pretentiousness alarm and takes 3x longer to read.

    More failure stories would be good though, so much great engineering has come out of analysing failures.

  18. I like the idea, but
    1) it’s quite wordy
    2) the faux-noir style is a little bit purple
    Point 2) could be deliberate and in that case it’s just personal preference, but I do think it could be a little more brief and still work.

  19. …“All you have to do to solve you breaking pillars is go back to the way you were doing it before!” Noirimetla confidently stated.
    “That’s stupid!” The CEO raised his voice. “How can not improving something help?”

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  20. My first “real” job out of college was doing third-tier technical support for laser printers for a major office-equipment vendor. Our team was the last stop before the engineers that designed the printers, so we mostly got strange issues.

    The company, which I won’t name but would be instantly recognizable if I did, had decided to try and get into the home market. They introduced a new laser-printer model, relatively compact and with a modest but then-respectable 8 page-per-minute speed, and built around a very high quality engine from the company’s Japanese subsidiary/partnership.

    Before long, we started getting really odd calls. “When I go to print something, it blows the fuse.” “Whenever I print, the lights dim and flicker.”

    We were baffled. This was a small printer. It was Energy Star certified! Our big office-sized printers only consumed 450W (3.75A) or less. This little printer’s specs stated “Power Consumption, Printing: 150 Watts (average).” That shouldn’t be enough to cause circuit capacity issues!

    And then, I noticed this little gem in the specs: “Maximum Input Current: 7 Amps (100V).”

    Most older houses would have one 15A circuit shared between multiple bedrooms and bathrooms. This little printer wanted to use almost half of that capacity. That blown fuse? The wife had her curling iron plugged in on the same circuit, in the bathroom. The flickering lights? There were enough lights on the circuit to push the circuit breaker close to an overload.


    Because the printer was Energy Star certified.

    Laser printers bind plastic particles to paper using pressure and heat. The fuser—the component that fuses the plastic toner to the paper—needs to be around 390°F to work. Older printers would keep the fuser at temperature the whole time they were turned on, burning a lot of power. To get the Energy Star certification, the printer would need an automatic sleep mode that turned off the fuser until it was needed again. And the company had decided that Energy Star was a must-have feature for marketing purposes.

    But one of the main selling points of a laser printer was the time it takes from when you click “print” to the first page coming out. Our office printers could take up to 60 seconds to warm up, but marketing had decided that a competitive HOME printer needed a first-page warm up time of 20 seconds.

    And so this little printer, that required under 10 watts of power in power-saver mode and 150 watts of power to keep the fuser at temperature while printing… was engineered to use 840 watts for 20 seconds to bring the fuser up to temp from room temperature.

    No one had ever considered where most people were likely to have their home office: a spare bedroom on a shared circuit.

    The company had a very liberal satisfaction guarantee; as I recall, it took back more than a few printers from customers who didn’t think a home printer should need a dedicated circuit for safe operation.

  21. I am a youth from China , I know nothing about network hackers knowledge . But there is a hateful person always bothered me , so I was very sad, this is an evil man , he tried to use psychology plus internet kill me , very evil very evil . He was not to get the money for the purpose , but the endless torment my body and mind . please help me. I trust that you have . My phone number is +8618341328383 , all the information about this phone all accounts are not in the normal state . Especially social media.
    My mail is futureleaders@outlook.com, can not be used . I suspect that the three men , first , curiosity daily newspaper, second 18,620,038,080 third 18,818,814,188 , which is extreme behavior , I need your help

    I feel free to contact me is impossible , this person blocked all my accounts , so please help me to eliminate him , I will be grateful and give rewards

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