Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Learning on the Go

Much to my surprise, I am discovering that the Internet can be useful. Sure, playing poker and writing a blog are fun but you can't really call them useful. I am sure that there are some who consider porn and chain letters lying about Obama as pretty useful in their own way, too. But they're really not.

No, what I am finding useful this week is the treasure trove of old user manuals and product guides you can find on the Internet. There's lot of things in this house that we have never dealt with before, and we really had no idea how to use them properly.

Take, for example, the electric panel heaters, which we have throughout the house. They look simple enough to run - turn on the power and set the thermostat - but I thought I had better read up on them just to make sure. Also, with everything we've heard about the high cost of electric heat, I didn't want to mistakenly run up a $20,000 electricity bill this month.

It turns out our particular brand are Norwegian in origin, and they're among the most efficient and least expensive to run. But of course you'd expect the brochure to say stuff like that. What I did find instructive, however, was their user guide.

The title was in English and Russian, which probably says something about the markets for Norwegian manufacturers. The rest of the brochure was pictures. Apparently there were 11 things users needed to know. Unfortunately, only the final four made it to the download on their site. And now that I write that, I realize I have assumed I saw the final four. For all I know, there may have been 250 things you needed to know and they just happened to scan one page.

Regardless, that one page proved to be a little less instructive than, say, real words telling you what to do.

OK, I can understand #9 where they suggest you keep your furniture a couple of inches away from the heater. I may have even figured that out without a picture.

But #10 really puzzles me. Do they mean you shouldn't put the panel heater in a car? Given that cars come with their own heaters, I don't know why anyone would even think of doing that. Or perhaps they were suggesting that the panel won't fit into that space between the car and the garage door. Surely, if they were trying to tell you not to put a device with a heating element in a closed room with gas (petrol) fumes, they would have come up with a much clearer picture. I would think. But then again, the few Norwegians I have known did have odd senses of humor.

One thing I do know, though, is how to test the level of gas in our LPG tanks. This was one I couldn't find on the Internet. And to be honest, I don't think I am willing to trust an Internet source to tell me anything about testing gas.

So I went the old-tech route and called up the help people at the energy company. The guy was helpful and told me about the Boiling Water Method. What I have to do is boil a kettle of water and take it out to the gas cylinders. I then have to pour the boiling water over the cylinders from the top down. Then I have to touch the base and slowly bring my hand to the top while rubbing the cylinder.

At this point, all I am hearing in my mind is Ricky Gervais asking, "Are you having a go? Are you having a go?" I can even imagine one of those candid camera clone shows hiding next door to film this idiot giving the gas cylinders a hot bath and a slow massage from the bottom up.

But he assured me that this was a tried and true method to figure out how much gas is left in the cylinder. Apparently, when the cylinder is cold to the touch, that's where the gas is. When it's warm, that's where it's empty. Or maybe it's the other way around, but either way you find out how much of the cylinder still has gas in it.

Given that the option appears to be having hot water stop suddenly in the middle of a shower, I guess I will give it a try tomorrow. But I can tell you now, I'm going to be looking around to see if there are any hidden cameras in the bushes.

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