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Posts Tagged ‘fix

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Days 26 & 27

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The past few days I’ve felt like I was beating my head against a wall trying to solve this research problem. Some of my data wasn’t coming out right and for the life of me I could not figure out why. I checked all my spreadsheets, recalculated formulas, traced the units so that they all made sense and I was getting nowhere. I wound up getting distracted with other unimportant tasks because I was struggling so much with this problem.

Finally I’d had enough and decided to go for a walk to clear my head for a bit. I just had to get out of there and let my mind wander for a minute. As I was walking, my mind wandered back to the problem and what I could possibly be doing wrong. All of a sudden, I made the realization that something I had assumed to be correct, was in fact wrong! I had this Aha! moment without even trying. I finished my walk and got back to the problem, and sure enough, I solved it in no time flat.

In a separate, but similar situation, I was working with one of our the instruments in my lab. This machine measures glucose and lactate from any sample presented to it. It’s been working pretty well, but it spontaneously decided that it didn’t want to function normally. It’s not that complicated of an instrument, but aside from a few basic maintenance tasks I knew about, there’s not much that can be done to it when it’s broken. But for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working. I went through the troubleshooting manual a couple of times and did various things to see if I could get it to work, but, again, it was all for naught. Eventually I decided to call the company’s support and see if they had any suggestions. Turns out, they weren’t that helpful.

Oh wait, they were actually extremely helpful. Within a few minutes, they were able to offer some suggestions as to why the machine wasn’t working, and they sent me some more supplies to replace what was potentially busted. As I found out, the company support line knows what they’re doing, and they certainly knew more about the machine than me. Implementing their suggestions got the machine up and running and helped to get the backlog of samples going. I fixed the machine, learned a few things in the process, and hopefully next time I can figure out any problems myself.

I share these two stories to really drive home my tips of the day(s). The first is to take a real break when you’re struggling with something. This means go do something that’s not a normal part of your routine. For most people, going on a walk is pretty out of the ordinary and so I highly recommend taking the time to do this, even if it’s just outside around your building. You may be surprised at how you feel when you come back.

The second point is that you shouldn’t wait to ask for help. In my situation, help came in the form of the company’s support line, but help can come in other forms. Take some time to see if you can figure something out yourself, but don’t wait forever to ask for help. Other people will either know more than you about something, or they can offer a contrasting point of view that what you have.

Break out of your normal habits and you will be surprised at the good things that will happen!

Please tell me what you think in the comments. Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

April 8, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Check for Leaks

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The bane of my existence...I recently had to replace a high pressure gage on the regulator for our helium tanks. The helium tanks are the carrier gas for our GC/MS system. (For a crash course in Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry, check out Wikipedia here and here). The whole system had been giving us fits for several months now. We would install a new tank of helium (99.999% pure to be precise) and in about 2 weeks, the tank would be almost completely empty. We weren’t running a heavy load on the instrument so there had to be a leak somewhere. I finally solved the mystery recently and it gave me some new realizations about the process of solving problems.

When I first started working with GC/MS, I honestly thought that this was a normal pace to go through gas. Having no previous experience with this instrument, and having to teach myself the majority of this stuff at the beginning, I thought it might be reasonable. To make matters worse, I didn’t have to go through my advisor to order new tanks, I could just call the people up and they’d send us new tanks. I finally made mention of how rapidly it seemed we were going through gas, and my advisor piped up and said, “Yeah, that’s not normal.” So off I went to try and figure out why we were going through so much helium. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Taylor M.

February 19, 2011 at 7:27 pm