Saturday, October 27, 2012

Applied Problem Solving Through Refrigerator Malfunction

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I've transferred universities yet again. More on that later. I'm currently in an introduction to Computer Science course and in our first week I read all about the history of CS, what an algorithm is, and various forms of binary. For my first assignment, I had to write an essay defining what a problem is, discuss how I solved a problem in my own life, and provide a general process of how to solve a problem. I did. And it turned out kind of funny, so I'm going to go ahead and post it here. Enjoy!

Applied Problem Solving Through Refrigerator Malfunction

Mike Harrell

Regis University


This paper defines what a problem is and provides a generalized approach to solving any problem of any kind. The process is illustrated through a personal experience of the author on the day of writing this paper. On the day in question the author’s refrigerator stopped working, causing the author to systematically implement the provided generalized approach to problem solving in order to prevent of his family’s food from going bad. All parts of the solution are demonstrated and elaborated upon.
            Keywords: problem solving, general solution, potatoes

Everyone seems to have problems of some kind or another. However, people approach their problems in very different ways. When reconciliation time approaches, there is one general pattern that is followed. To solve any kind of problem one must first define the problem, identify the source of the problem, brainstorm solutions, and finally alter or fix the source of the problem so that it no longer causes issues.
            A problem can be described as an object or circumstance that prevents or inhibits optimal progress toward a desired goal. I had such a circumstance this afternoon. My wonderful wife, Aubrey, was microwaving two potatoes for dinner when the microwave went on the fritz and most of our major kitchen appliances suddenly lost power. This included the refrigerator, the microwave, and the dishwasher.
            In order to solve the problem, we first had to define it. In this case the problem was that some of our appliances had stopped working, most importantly the refrigerator. We can do without a microwave. We can wash our dishes by hand. But, in order to lead a happy and productive life, I require that my perishable food items remain in a state where they retain as much freshness as possible before I consume them. If the fridge isn’t working, all of our food will go bad in a day or two, and we can’t really afford to replace them on such short notice. This was our problem.
To begin reparations we needed to identify the source of the problem. It seemed unlikely that a microwave could have directly influenced the refrigerator on a functional level. We needed to determine was had happened with the electricity in the room that caused the fridge to cease its regular function. We tried unplugging the fridge and plugging it back into the wall. This yielded no change. We then tried plugging in a phone charger into the same socket and found that it received no charge from the wall either. Thirdly, we plugged the same phone charger into another wall socket in the kitchen and found that it did work. The refrigerator had stopped working because there was no power coming from its regular wall socket.
We then had to brainstorm potential solutions. In this case, we needed to determine what could have stopped electricity from flowing to those specific sockets without affecting the rest of the apartment. We decided to try the circuit breaker in our apartment and found that one of the little switches was indeed flipped to the “off” position. This was the source of the problem. The microwave had blown the fuse, making the breaker disable all of the wall sockets on that side of the kitchen. In order to restore functionality to our refrigerator, I would need to move the switch back to the “on” position. I proceeded to do so, when the little switch broke in half and fell into my hand. It was now stuck in the “off” position.
At this point I could no longer manipulate in the switch in any way in order to directly fix the fuse. Not without potentially electrocuting myself anyway, and that was off the table. Having identified the solution to the problem but finding myself without the resources to address it specifically, I had to construct some sort of workaround. This is often referred to as “treating the symptoms.” I could not restore power to the wall sockets at the present time but I still needed a way to keep my perishable food items in an optimally cool and dark state until such time that I chose to eat them. The key to this workaround would be to find an alternate source of power until we could call the landlord to come fix it. We couldn’t do that immediately because he’s a very cute, old, man that lives on the other side of town and he doesn’t really do anything on short notice. Also, it was pretty messy in the apartment and we didn’t need to hand him any more ammunition. Aubrey found this alternate source by plugging our refrigerator into an extension cord and running it into one of the working sockets on the other side of the room. This restored power to the refrigerator and provided our food with a choice environment yet again.
However, this will prove to be a temporary solution. Tomorrow morning, after we’ve cleaned up a bit, we will call our landlord who will take the breaker box off the wall, disconnect the wire to that switch, replace the switch, reattach the wire, and replace the box to the wall, which will return both the switch and the wall sockets that our refrigerator, dishwasher, and microwave normally inhabit to their normal working order. This will restore our appliances to their typical functionality as well (except maybe the microwave, which may be a whole other can of worms). We will also no longer have 15 yards of orange extension cord going across the kitchen floor.
By defining the problem specifically, identifying the source of the problem, brainstorming solutions, and fixing the source of the problem so that it no longer inhibits progress, we were able to solve our refrigerator problem. Or rather, we will tomorrow. In the meantime we have been able to employ a short term solution so that our food doesn’t go bad. This same process can be used for any type of problem no matter how big or small. Simply adapt it to your circumstance. 

Also, people are allowed to comment on posts. Feel free to do that. You know, tell me how awesome I am. Or that I'm full of crap. Whatever you like.

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