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It's typically easier to fix than to find problems.

Finding what the root cause of a problem is takes time and a careful routine. For example, yesterday I described the strange circumstance of interference from my theater lighting system with the garage door opener. Today I want to start explaining how I arrived at this conclusion.

When we encounter a problem our nature is to try an easy fix first: car sputters we look at the gas gauge. If we smell something burning in the kitchen we turn down the stove. If we add a new piece of audio gear and the system performs differently than our expectations, we remove it. If our garage door remote control fails to work we replace the battery. Simple, easy, low hanging fruit fixes. But often these fixes address some of the symptoms of a problem, while not addressing its causes.

After trying all the obvious fixes for my garage opener troubles I had to go into major troubleshooting mode: roll the sleeves up, eliminate all the preconceptions, take all the guesses and throw them out. And that last statement is a key to how you should attack a problem as well. More often than not we refuse to start with a clean slate and our 'best guess' as to what the problem is gets in our way. I'll give you an example of this, one that is closer to home.

Every few days a customer contacts me with a hum problem. They may not have our equipment but they know I am always available to lend a helping hand to a fellow Audiophile. 99% of the time the conversation starts out like this. "I have tried everything possible and there's still hum." Or, "I have tried every combination and the hum just won't go away." That's my first clue the person hasn't followed basic protocol for hi fi first aid. How do I know that? Because their statement they 'have tried everything' is obviously false. They haven't tried 'everything' since 99% of the time I can help them rid their system of hum.

Basic protocol for troubleshooting requires a pattern of starting with one set of circumstances that represent 'square one' and meticulously moving through the issue one step at a time, getting to the same 'square one' for each element within a system. Any deviation from the pattern and you risk failure of solving the root problem. Let's return to the garage door problem for a moment.

'Square one' for this problem was to determine if there were any circumstances where the door worked at all. After all, the opener itself could just have died. I quickly eliminated that possibility because the wired pushbutton operated the opener. This was square one: I could push the button and the door opened and closed. Use the remote control, nothing happened. Next step, get to square one for the wireless remote. Were there any circumstances where it did work? No. None I could find. The problem existed on both garage openers and both remote controls. All stopped working at the same time and in the same manner. The coincidence level was just too high to be a failure of the instruments themselves. If it wasn't the instruments, then it must be their environment. I had now gotten to square one with both devices: the opener and the remote. And this is where you want to be, in a position of having eliminated all possibilities you can, narrowing the field as much as you can.

My next step was becoming easy: change the environment to get it to square one. To do this I simply went to the home's breaker box and switched off every circuit breaker except the garage. Bingo! The remote controls worked. Next I selectively turned on one breaker at a time until the offending circuit was activated and stopped the opener from working.

Tomorrow we'll go through hum busting.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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