Sunday, December 1, 2013


Obsolescence as risk

I don't usually consider obsolescence as a risk.

We usually know when things start to reach the end of their useful life. After all, when we make a Major Purchase (and "major" depends on the budget) we look for a Use By date or MTTF information. Warranties and extended warranties also give us a clue to a product's useful life.

Today, as I tried to enter the gated community in which I reside I - like Froggy the Gremlin - tried to plunk my magic twanger, a/k/a gate clicker, and it once again failed to raise the barrier.

The gate mechanism recently was replaced and the residents were told we would need to buy, at more than $50 each, new clickers. Turns out that the new mechanism could be programmed to receive signals from the old clickers. (Some of the residents suspect shenanigans on the part of the board, but that's another matter.)

In any event, today my clicker - an old model - failed to raise the barrier.

The guardette at the gate, a delightful young woman named Kim, waved me through the visitors' side, suggesting that maybe my clicker was past its prime. (She's a nice person, so I didn't take it personally.)

The Made in China clicker has an LED that lights when the device is activated, and it lit when I last tried - and failed - to raise the bar. But, Kim is a pretty smart lady and the device is pretty simple, so I thought "Let's see if the battery is OK."

I anticipated a special-order, long-life power source. When I opened the clicker I discovered a standard 9-volt battery.

I always have spare batteries, everything from AAA to 9 volt, and maybe a round camera battery for an old Canon F-1 that is no longer in use - pity, it was (is) an excellent 35 mm camera.

Did the battery fix the problem.

Before finding out I took the garage door opener apart. Like the clicker, very simple; no jumpers to adjust frequencies, just two round camera-type batteries. One button on the two-button device opens the garage door; the other button …anyone's guess. Like the gate opener, the device lacked any obvious jumper terminals.

With the new 9-volt installed, I went back to the gate and clicked.


As I stood there, clicker in hand, I noticed someone else with an old clicker and she, too, failed to raise the gate.

But then, the light came one.

Actually, the lights failed to come on and that gave me a clue as to what the problem really was: there was a power problem at the barrier motor.

It seems the property management put up holiday lights before Thanksgiving.

When the light wrapped around the barrier were lit, the old clicker worked.

When the lights were off, the clicker failed to raise the barrier.

I sent the over-paid/under-worked property manager an email suggesting that the problem probably was electrical and unless the new radio frequency receiver was made in China, it probably was under warranty and it might be a good idea to check out the power and the receiver.

I don't know what was done other than the gate now rises at my clicker's command.

There several "bottom lines" for this.

Bottom Line #1: Be prepared for obsolescence. The old gate mechanism failed and could not be repaired.

Bottom Line #2: Know something about the product you are buying. As it happens, I worked with commercial and military transceivers so I at least suspected that the replacement unit had two receivers that could be programmed to accommodate both the old and the new clickers.

Bottom Line #3: TROUBLESHOOT the failing product to see if there are any clues to the cause of the problem. In the case of the reluctant arm, the lights were the clue. Now, when I approach the barrier, if the lights are lit, I know I can come in through the residents' side; if not, I enter through the visitors' side.

If I wrote it, you may quote it

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