an energy crisis and other design flaws

I had barely disentangled the spaghetti of power cords and plugged our cluster of depleted batteries (12V, triple A, cordless drill, netbook and laptop) into their assorted chargers when the generator died.

I had barely disentangled the spaghetti of power cords and plugged our cluster of depleted batteries (12V, triple A, cordless drill, netbook and laptop) into their assorted chargers when the generator died. Instead of filling the extension cord with its bi-weekly infusion of electricity and nurturing the batteries back to life, our generator was suddenly in need of care itself.

Sam, to whom I gladly delegate such mechanical matters, was out cutting firewood and blissfully unaware of the sudden energy crisis that had struck our homestead. I went out, casting a baleful glance at the solar panel, which is all but useless this time of year. No help from that end. The generator sat smugly in its cloud of exhaust fumes, wrapped in ominous silence. Finally, it could drive its importance home to me – for I do not like the stinky, noisy machine that appears to suffer from a Napoleon complex.

Every once in a while, it likes to remind us that while we constantly pay attention to the batteries, without the burst of electricity from its small rattling shell, we would be powerless. At least in the winter. And so it enjoys these little stunts, choking dramatically on a particle of dirt in the fuel, secretly leaking gas and fumes when stored inside the cabin, and (its favourite ploy) vomiting fuel into its oil and gurgling to a halt. It is usually content to resume doing its job after we’ve done enough swearing at it and fiddling with its parts.

The swearing was easy enough. That done, I settled into muttering abuse at the people who design machinery. I took off the generator’s back panel and opened up the tiny lid to peek into the oil reservoir. Why is everything made these days so you can’t get at anything anymore? Who designs such idiocy, especially when it comes to refilling oil? Tipping the generator towards me, I saw the telltale liquidity of the oil and noticed the sharp fuel smell. Up to its old tricks again. Glad it wasn’t some new ailment and stewing over the fact that I now had to do an oil change, I thought of other design flaws out there.

My headlamp – shrunk to pygmy size. The batteries always balk and buck at getting pushed into the wee plastic receptacle, the back of which is cracked because in order to close the damn thing against the protesting batteries, strong force or the patience of a saint is required. And staplers – such a simple contraption and so prone to jamming and shooting staples willy-nilly through the air.

I twiddled the ridiculously small rubber funnel loose from the bottom of the generator, obviously thought up by some engineering nerd who’d never had to change oil in his life because otherwise he would have insisted on making the thing at least three times as big, and forced it over the opening of the oil tank. As the oil drained out, I glared of the jerry can of gas sitting not far from me. Another thing – how hard can it be to manufacture them so they don’t dribble fuel down their front when you actually use them to refill something? And the way the chain oil reservoir is placed on most chainsaws – why on earth does it have to be placed so close to the handle that trying to pour bar oil in without spilling involves contortions that qualify as new yoga moves?

I pulled the slick rubber funnel off, spraying myself with droplets of oil and fuel as probably jokingly intended by the designer nerd, and attached the other minute plastic funnel for filling up new oil. This thing I hate with a passion because of its utterly useless doll’s house size and cutesy shape – that of a wee oil bottle. It’s one thing to have somebody locked away in an ivory tower and think up these things, no doubt giggling hysterically, but to actually manufacture and sell them? I dribbled new oil in, inevitably spilling, wondering how a guy with meatier hands than I’m endowed with would succeed in doing oil changes with these inch-sized, retarded gadgets. He’d probably chuck them out and get himself a decent-sized funnel. Smart man.

I was almost done. All that remained was to squish the slippery rubber funnel back into the cunningly designed hole in the bottom panel of the generator, a task that takes only about twice as long as the oil change itself. I switched to shouting curses again as the thing kept popping back out, eventually succeeded, and was able to turn the generator back on and go and write my column. I suppose you can guess which one that was.

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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