Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Void Warranties: The Roomba Edition

Yes, I have a Roomba.  Yes, I am embarrassed to admit this.  And yes, I get that being forced to face one’s own incompetencies in order to restore a non-operational Roomba to working order is a First-World Problem.
But if you understood how much hair my pets generate, how almost my entire house has hard flooring, how very much Temecula resembles southern California’s answer to the Dust Bowl…In short, how much time the Roomba saves me and, therefore, how awesome the Roomba really is, you would then understand my dismay the day…
…the Roomba died.
(and I sang bye, bye miss American pie…sorry.  Catchiest. Song. Ever.)
It started with an Error 2: Please open Roomba’s brush cage and clean brushes.
Yes, it talks.  It’s not as annoying as you might think. 
So I performed the requested task and set it back to work, only to have it repeat the Error 2.  And so on, until finally I accepted the awful truth that despite the fact that the brushes were now nearly pristine, the Roomba thought it was still clogged.  Which meant there had to be a deeper problem.  Most likely one involving dog hair. 
I asked my husband (master of all that is mechanical) to take a look at it.  He did a half-hearted job, just pulling vaguely at a little tuft of embedded hair with tweezers, something I had already done myself.
I had been hoping, of course, he would do what he normally does when household items perform sub-optimally: strip it down to its very skeleton and re-build it better than it was before (cue the theme song for the Six Million Dollar Man).  But, deep down, he hates the Roomba, which he thought was a stupid purchase from the beginning.  He went back to watching Tosh.0 and pretending that he had fixed it.

I tried leaving it out in the middle of the floor, which is usually enough to get him to fix things just to get them out of his way.  But he only put it back on the docking station. 
When that failed, I played my ace—the technique that has never failed me.
I casually remarked, “Gee, the Roomba still isn’t working.  I guess I’ll have to take it apart and try to fix it.”
This little comment veils so many threats (me trying to fix something, thereby breaking it more; me insinuating that he failed to fix something, me touching his tools…) that it is as close as I come to having a Sure Thing.
But nope.  Nothing.  Daniel Tosh continued running around pantsless and the Roomba sat untouched.  Bluff, called.
So I present to you: The Roomba Full-Body-Off Restoration.

There's a reason I don't try to fix things.  I suck at it.
My father, my brother, one of my best friends of nearly twenty years, and my husband are all engineers (yes, my therapist is aware of this).  There's a reason we keep engineers around, and it isn't for the effusive emotional support or scintillating conversation at cocktail parties.  It's because they fix broken things and optimize things that already work fine. 
(Plus, they are really good at packing.  Stuff into boxes, boxes into attics, luggage into cars.  The world to an engineer is like an endless game of Tetris.  If you are moving, you want an engineer on your good side.)   
I'm not an engineer.  I'm a word person.  I'm a biology person.  I get how language works.  I get how plants and animals work.  Talking vacuum-robots, not so much.
But then I remember something a literature professor once told me.  We were studying poetry (Keats, Dickinson, Eliot, and cummings).  And he said that to understand a poet's work, you had to find the "key."  Each of the writers, he claimed, had a key, some aspect of their life or personal philosophy or approach to the language and once you found it, you could unlock the deeper meaning in their poetry.  I don’t remember any of the ‘keys,’ (and if Dr. Brumble is, by some weird coincidence, reading this, it will come as no surprise to him) but the lesson stuck with me in a metaphorical sort of way.
When I teach yoga classes, I can see how a person’s body works, where they’re restricted or injured or tight or imbalanced, because I know the key (or keys)—how the muscles insert to bones, how the joints work as fulcra, how daily activities can affect these physical elements over time.  It’s called biomechanics.
So I flipped the Roomba over on its back and tried to understand its mechanics.  Normally when I am confronted with a machine of any sort, I just sort of see this jumble of parts…fasteners, wires, springs…it’s like looking at bowl of dog barf, for me.  You see the kibble and bits of grass and that one sock you’ve been missing, but it doesn’t really fit together in any sort of order.
But this time I looked a little harder.  I knew, more or less, where the problem was—the Roomba was giving me a brush error, but the brushes were clean.  So I figured it meant there was some sort of tangle back behind the brushes, up in the hidden bits that make the brushes turn.  After a lot of staring, I found four screws that seemed to hold the brush assembly in place.
I took a deep breath and removed them.  The brush cage lifted out, but only part way.  It was held in place underneath.  I turned it over and found…
Holy crap.  Wires.  Mechanics are one thing, electricity is quite another, thank you very much (Just ask my college physics professor.  I never found that key, either.  Though I still remember the joke about the farmer who takes his sick chicken to a physicist.)  Understanding something mechanical is mostly about figuring out what pushes and what pulls…but with electricity you have all these little electrons coursing around willy-nilly like magic and you know what else is an electrical system? The human nervous system.  It powers things like, say, your heart.  I leave wires alone.
I stared some more.  I found six screws that looked promising.  I took them out and then lifted the cover to reveal…
My apologies to the viewing audience.  This feature has been rated G for Gross. 
Good lord.  These are the gears that are responsible for turning the brushes.  Every single one of them was coated with some disgusting combination of dog fur, oil, and dust.  The picture doesn’t even begin to do it justice.  I found what I thought were felt bushings around the axles of the gears but on closer examination it turned out they were just cakes of matted dog hair.
Any exhilaration I felt at having dismantled my Roomba gave way to disgust as I set about cleaning each of these gears with soapy water, a tooth brush, and a nut pick. 
Then any exhilaration I felt at getting them clean gave way to panic as I realized I had to re-assemble the tiny pieces into an actual, functional robotic vacuum.  (Failure, at this point, would have meant not just ruining a rather expensive appliance, but also conceding defeat to my husband.  Not an option.)
I took a moment and reminded myself about the key.  Each of these pieces had a job to do, and if I understood that job, I could figure out how they all fit.  One piece at a time, I put the Roomba back together again.  When the last screw had been frantically searched for amongst the dust bunnies, finally found in an entirely different room, cross-threaded, unscrewed, and then put into its proper place, I paused to admire my accomplishment.  I turned to my elder daughter.
“Are you going to be totally impressed when I fire this thing up and it works?” I asked her.
“Yeah!” she said.  “Shocked, actually.”
I put the Roomba on the floor and turned it on.  It chugged off into the living room, whisking up a week’s worth of dog hair and dust.  It didn’t say a word.

14 comments:

  1. Nice! :) My Fiasco is tetris-like in his packing of things, as well, though he's not an engineer, just addicted to video games.

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