Do it yourself: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

About 15 years ago I bought this Braun shaver, and it served me well for at least 15 years. The rechargeable batteries finally wore out, and I wondered if it would be worth trying to replace them myself rather than pay an appliance repairman ten prices for the privilege.

How to open it? I found a totally useless article on eHow (typical of all these crowdsourced answer sites like WikiHow, FixYa, Yahoo! Answers, and so many others – the blind leading the rutting blind) and then figured out how to get the thing open myself. Once you do, getting to the guts is pretty easy – and the little electronic board with the batteries pops right out. Nice German engineering.

I bought a couple of new NiMH rechargeables, and set about replacing them. The beggar was that those batteries were not soldered to the board, the were spot-welded at the contact points… but with some careful work I was able to get them out.

Popped the new batteries in, and the whole board started to smoke and melt.

Crap. I must have put the new batteries in backwards or something. I thought I was doing it right.


RIP Braun – It’s the component in the front that really lit up – what looks like burning under the left battery is just residue from the original adhesive.

So this particular attempt at DIY didn’t work out so well… but that’s how I learn. Over the last half-century, I’ve assembled enough handyman skills to install a bathroom into a totally unfinished space, and all of that experience came from just jumping in and doing it. I made mistakes along the way, but these days most things go pretty smoothly.

So I had to run out and get a new Braun (I feel very loyal to that brand, I’ve been using good Braun shavers since 1974, the first one bought in Austria) and hopefully this one will last me at least 15 years, by which time I’ll get my grandkids to buy me a new one for Christmas, so I won’t have to try this particular experiment again.

I’m sure there will be others.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

PS: Ah, the luscious smell of burning silicon…

The Chalk Mark

You’ve probably heard the story in various incarnations. An old Navy chief, an engineer, an auto mechanic – you name it – he’s called in to diagnose a problem with some sort of engine or device. He puts a chalk mark on the machine showing where to make the repair, and sends a bill for $10,000, most of which was for knowing where to put the mark.

I always thought this was an urban legend, it appears that there may be some truth in it, if an article at the Smithsonian is to be believed; obviously no source is above scrutiny, but I know that the Smithsonian does its best to be accurate, factual, and scientific in its reporting, hence I thought it was worth sharing.


Charles Proteus Steinmetz circa 1915 – Wikipedia

From the Smithsonian Article:

Before long, the greatest scientific minds of the time were traveling to Schenectady to meet with the prolific “little giant”; anecdotal tales of these meetings are still told in engineering classes today. One appeared on the letters page of Life magazine in 1965, after the magazine had printed a story on Steinmetz. Jack B. Scott wrote in to tell of his father’s encounter with the Wizard of Schenectady at Henry Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan.

Ford, whose electrical engineers couldn’t solve some problems they were having with a gigantic generator, called Steinmetz in to the plant. Upon arriving, Steinmetz rejected all assistance and asked only for a notebook, pencil and cot. According to Scott, Steinmetz listened to the generator and scribbled computations on the notepad for two straight days and nights. On the second night, he asked for a ladder, climbed up the generator and made a chalk mark on its side. Then he told Ford’s skeptical engineers to remove a plate at the mark and replace sixteen windings from the field coil. They did, and the generator performed to perfection.

Henry Ford was thrilled until he got an invoice from General Electric in the amount of $10,000. Ford acknowledged Steinmetz’s success but balked at the figure. He asked for an itemized bill.

Steinmetz, Scott wrote, responded personally to Ford’s request with the following:

Making chalk mark on generator    $1.

Knowing where to make mark         $9,999.

Ford paid the bill.

The story fits well with what is known about Steinmetz, a mercurial genius of engineering. Unless we can get the plans for Professor Waxman’s time machine, there’s no way of verifying the story, but this iteration of it has a ring of truth.

The Old Wolf has spoken.