Think Like a Multifunction Tool

Think Like a Multifunction Tool

A mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer and a software engineer were driving down the road in an older car. The car was moving down the road just fine, when all of a sudden, it bucked and stalled. The mechanical engineer said, “I know what’s wrong. It’s obviously the carburetor.” The electrical engineer said, “No. It has something to do with the ignition system.” Then the software engineer said, “Hey, lets just try getting out of the car and then try getting in again.”

multifunction toolMy neighbor and local physics/vintage motorcycle/cat guru, Richard Barsotti, sent me that joke. He had gotten it from a vintage motorcycle friend. I really enjoyed this one because I was able to find humor on multiple levels.

The obvious part is making fun of the software engineer and his simple solution of “restarting” the car a la computer. But this joke works on another level as well, a way that might be a more directly related to real life. We all can’t help but frame problems (and their solutions) in the context with which we are most familiar.

I have dealt with the distributor, rotor, points, condenser and wires on my 8N more times than I care to admit. I know those parts and how they work. I could take the cap off and touch up the points with my eyes closed. (Well, maybe not with my eyes CLOSED, but you get the idea.)

When the 8N won’t start, I almost always go to check the ignition system first. (I will also say, the way the tractor stops running or the way it won’t start also informs my thinking as well.)

But I had a problem with it a few years ago and I couldn’t track it down until my uncle Gerard (founder of this magazine) asked me if I had checked the key switch. He told a story about having a problem back in the late 1970s similar to what I was experiencing and how an old timer (back then) at a Ford dealer told him to replace the key switch. Well, that was the problem this time as well. The key switch had failed. The engine was cranking, but there was no power going to the ignition circuit, so it seemed like the tractor should start, but there was no spark.

Obviously, you could check for a spark and if there isn’t one, you start with the part most directly involved and work backwards from there. Without the tip from my uncle, it would have taken me a lot longer to get to the key switch.

When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I guess the trick is to look at the world (and your tractor) through the eyes of a multifunction tool.