Possibility and Probability

A Python programmer with a personality thinking about space exploration

18 August 2007

My MacGyver Moments this summer

by nickadmin

I’ve blogged about functional fixedness before, and how important it is to overcome it both as a programmer and in regular real life. I try to “walk the walk and talk the talk” so here are some example of how I was able to solve some problems with a little unconventional thinking:

  1. Getting a lost screw out of a garbage disposal - While taking a wall plate down in order to repaint the kitchen, a screw got away from me and fell down the disposal. I’ve seen enough movies to know that even if you turn off the power there is a 100000% chance that a poltergeist will try to turn it on while your hand is down in there. So putting my grubby paws down the hole was out of the question. How did I get the screw out?  I took a magnet off of the refrigerator, taped it to a piece of string, and then lowered it down into the disposal. On the third try (total time of about a minute) I got the screw out! This caused my wife to begin humming the theme song to MacGyver. :)
  2. Hanging two pictures on the wall so that they are level with each other - After the painting was done in the kitchen it was time to hang the pictures back up. I hung the first one then tied a piece of string around the nail and then using a level stretched out the string to rough distance the 2nd picture would be placed from the first one. Once the wife approved of the location, I used the level to make sure the string (which was pulled tight) was level. Once it was level, that told me where to put the nail. I did mess this up on the first try (I should have moved the nail up a bit to compensate for the string thickness), but the second try worked great. Now I have two nice looking pictures side-by-side on my wall.
  3. Keeping a tow line out of the prop on a Pontoon boat - This summer we went to a friends lake house and went tubing from their pontoon boat. The boat sits pretty high off the water and the only good place to hook up the line was on the pontoon itself. When the boat was stopped, there was a real danger of the line getting wrapped in the propeller. Since the deck was so high up, I was about 3 feet short of being able to reach the line and pull it back in by hand. Looking around the boat I saw a wooden paddle with a T-handle. I grabbed that and a few seconds later I was able hook the line and pull it up out of the water and keep it from propeller (not to mention pull in the tube).

So the point of this post is to say that the next time you have a situation where you need to solve a problem, take a second and observe your surroundings. The tools you need might just be lying around…