Sunday, July 20, 2008

Old Wood Stove

This photograph was taken in 1938, and shows a woman cooking over an old wood burning stove. At one time, I had a hunting cabin that had an old wood stove like this in it. I have to say that I really enjoyed the simple elegance of cooking over a wood stove. I always felt a sense of accomplishment getting a good meal out of the old stove. Now I will admit, I was always using it in wintertime. The stove put a lot of heat out into the room, which was nice in winter time, but I imagine the stove would lose some of its charm if you were using it in the middle of summer.
I always liked simple things like this stove. Today, I think too much technology is being pushed into too many products, where it is not needed, and is not helpful. Products become too expensive, too complicated, and unreliable due to overuse of technology, where it is not needed.

Recently, my wife and I bought a new stove. You see, she really likes to cook, and I really like to eat, so it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. We did a lot of research on the Internet, and did a lot of shopping around town. We read all the consumer reports, and studied all the customer reviews on Amazon. After researching it for a couple of months, we decided to really splurge and buy a State-of-the-Art Dual Fuel Range. This stove pretty much does it all. The key feature is the "Dual Fuel" capability. This means that the stovetop has Natural Gas burners, and the oven is electric. This is the perfect combination. The oven has a normal bake or broil mode, and has a convection mode.

Well, we get the stove put in, and my wife commences to cook with it. She LOVED the stove, and I LOVED the food she was cooking. I don't know if the stove made better food, or if my wife was just so happy with the stove that she was cooking more special meals. In either case, I was getting some first class food, and lots of it.

Yes, life was good . . . for about two weeks. Then I go downstairs one day to fix myself a piece of toast, as is my custom in the morning. I walk up to the stove, and have my piece of white bread with four little pats of butter, all perfectly arranged, and I looked down, and instead of the happy little lights on the front panel of the stove, I see a message in bright blue lights saying "Communication Failure". Now, If I were perfectly honest with you, I would have to let you know that on occasion I have had my wife tell me that I was failing to communicate with her. If you really pressed me, I would have to tell you that my boss has had talks with me in the past about the need to communicate better. I should also probably tell you that on many occasions I have had employees tell me that I need to communicate better. I can very honestly say, though, that this was the first time in my life that I had a Major Kitchen Appliance tell me that I was not communicating effectively.

To be frank, I was a little offended that a stove would put such a message up to me. I decided to ignore how the stove felt, and cook my toast anyway. I popped the door open, put the piece of bread in, and pressed the "Broil" button. When I pressed broil, I got three short beeps, and a blinking message "Communication Failure", and the stove would not turn on. Now, I have noticed in the past when my wife and I were not communicating properly, she would stop cooking. Apparently, the stove was going to take the same strategy, as no matter what button I pressed, I would not get the stove to turn on or heat up.

Well, at this point I realized I had a serious problem, and started looking for the manual. Of course, I could not find it anywhere. I then got on the Internet and after googling around a bit, I found a 1-800 number for the stove. I call the number and told the person that answered that my stove felt that we were not communicating properly and refused to cook. She then asked me for the model number, serial number, skew number, and 47 other numbers off the stove. I told here that I did not have those numbers, and she described to me a maneuver that probably could only be done by an Olympic class gymnast. Basically you sort of crawl upside down into the oven and look over at the side, and in 6 point type you could find all the numbers. Well, I finally get situated bent over backwards with my head in the oven, and with a flashlight am able to read off all the numbers to the stove lady on the phone. I will have to say at this point that I have opened Swiss Bank Accounts over the phone without having to give as many numbers and answer as many questions as this stove lady had. (OK, I have never really opened a Swiss Bank Account, but I am pretty sure that if I did it would have been simpler than getting this lady to talk to me).
Well, finally I give her all the numbers to her satisfaction, and she is ready to help me. I told her what the stove was saying on the front panel, and she tells me that I need to "Reboot" the stove. Reboot? I said a quick prayer, earnestly pleading with God that this stove was not running on Windows Vista. The lady assured me that the stove was not on the Vista operating system, but nonetheless I would have to reboot the stove. I looked across the front panel of the stove, but could not find the Control-Alt-Delete keys, and could not find a tiny hole to poke a paperclip into. These are the two techniques I know to reboot anything. Well, she tells me that you can not reboot the stove with either of these . . . she tells me I will have to unplug the stove.
Now, understand that the stove weighs about 400 pounds, and is sort of built into the cabinetry and granite counter top. I relay to her that I have neither the tools nor the strength nor the technology to remove the stove to gain access to the plug. She tells me that I need to go outside, and throw the "Main Switch" to cut power off to the house. Yep, the stove lady is going to take me "Off the Grid".
Well, it just so happens that I have a Master of Science degree from Stanford University in Electrical Engineering. I always knew that one day that degree would be good for something, and this was that day. You see, if I learned anything studying electrical engineering for six years, it is that the quickest way to blow out every expensive piece of electronic equipment in your house at the same time is to walk out and throw the "Main Switch" to your house. So, before throwing the switch, I walk through the house, and I unplug everything in the house. Well, everything BUT the stove, since that was the problem in the first place. After confirming everything else has been unplugged, I walk out and I throw the main switch. I watch the little wheel on the electric meter completely stop spinning. Yep, I am off the grid. I pause to enjoy the moment, and then I throw the main switch, bringing power back into the house. Now, I go back into the kitchen, and look at the front panel on the stove, and see all the happy little lights I would expect. Success! It looks like I will have toast today after all. Now, before proceeding with making toast, I go back through the house, and plug everything back in. I reset all the clocks, making sure to keep the AM/PM thing straight so that the alarms will work, and no one will be late for school or work. I reprogram the 14 VCR's, DVD's, DVR's and other items that were unplugged. I get everything hooked back up and working, and then I go downstairs to the kitchen. I put my piece of bread in the oven, and hit the broil button. Once again, you guessed it . . . . "Communication Failure".
Well, now I am getting a little miffed. I call the 1-800 number again, naively thinking that I could just pick up where I left off on the last call. No such luck, they want all the numbers again from inside the stove. So, I go through that whole routine again, and finally get to the point the lady will speak to me. She says that I need to reboot the stove. I told her I had just done that. She asked if I had left it off for 5 minutes when I had unplugged it.
Of course I had not, so I had to go through the whole nine yards again. Unplug everything in the house, cut power to the house, turn power back on, reset the clocks and reprogram everything else. Then I go in and look at the stove . . . same thing . . . communication failure.
Now, I call the lady back give her all the stove numbers, tell her the whole long story, and then she tells me that my stove is malfunctioning. Duuuuuuh.
Well, I guess the good news is that we finally came to a common understanding of the situation. My stove was not working. So, she says she will send a service man out. A couple of days later the service guy shows up. He is actually a really nice guy. He looks at the stove, takes some readings, plugs some fancy equipment into it, presses various buttons, and after about a half hour he comes in and tells me that my stove is malfunctioning. Now I feel like we are really getting somewhere, everyone agrees that my stove is not working. He says he will have to order parts and come back.
About a week later he comes back, installs some parts, and like magic, the front panel of the stove is showing all happy lights as you would expect. The service man leaves, and my wife goes and makes biscuits in the stove, and they come out burned and hard as a rock. Now, understand that before the original "Communication Failure" error, the stove made perfect biscuits. She tries baking several other things, and while there were no error messages on the stove, and the stove heated up and appeared to be working, everything she tried to cook was ruined.
So, I call the factory back, and they send the repairman back out. This time he comes out in an even bigger truck, and brings in even more test gear. He fools around with the stove, does some tests, he calls the factory, talks to them for half an hour, does some more tests, talks to the factory some more, and then he finally calls me back into the kitchen.
He appears a little sheepish, and he tells me that there is nothing wrong with the stove. I point over to the bag of rock hard burned biscuits on the counter. He tells me that the factory wants him to speak to my wife, so he can show her how to use the timer on the stove and to give her some tips on baking. Basically, they are saying that there is nothing wrong with their stove, but that my wife is an idiot and does not know how to cook.
Well, I don't know about where you live, but where I live you don't come into a man's home and tell him that his wife does not know how to use a kitchen timer and does not know how to make buttermilk biscuits. The repairman had enough sense to know that he was on real shaky ground. He also noticed my hand on the door to the screened in porch, and he saw Bruno, my Pit Bull out on the porch giving him the evil eye. The man realized that he was dangerously close to me opening that door, and sicking Bruno on him. (OK, I don't really have a pit bull named Bruno. I have a six pound Shitz Su named Little Elmo. Nonetheless, I am pretty sure the repairman was frightened I was going to unleash that little land shark on him).
Anyway, I could tell the repairman was pretty frustrated. I think he probably felt that there was something wrong with the stove, but he worked for the company and he had to say what they told him to say. I went back and forth with him a few times, explaining how my wife could make buttermilk biscuits over a campfire, on a hot plate, in an oven, or anywhere else . . . that it was not my wife, it was the stove. The guy just starts explaining to me that we can not do anything else until he talks to my wife to make sure she knows how to use the stove. So, I felt like we were reaching an impasse, when all the sudden we both hear three beeps and look down at the stove, and it is saying, once again, "Communication Failure". We both sort of breathed a sigh of relief, as now he had something to go on, and that it was clear that the stove in fact was malfunctioning. So, he gets on the phone again with the factory, and starts working through the details with them. He comes in and tells me that he has to order more parts, and will have to come back again.
Anyway, to make a long story short, this whole ordeal has been going on for six weeks. Yep, I have a State-of-the-Art Dual Fuel range, and it has been 42 days since I have had a slice of toast. I will periodically keep you posted on this saga as things progress.
Summary on 7/20/2008:

Calls to the Factory: 6

Visits from the Repairman: 3

Days Since I have had a Piece of Toast: 42


  1. You have a degree in EE and didn't think to merely throw the breaker going to just the stove itself? Most stoves are on their own breaker, don't need to shut off the entire house.

  2. Anon,
    I said I had an EE degree from Stanford, I did not say I learned anything useful.

  3. If it is any consolation (and it probably isn't) we installed the identical stove in our home, used it for 13 years, liked it so much we took it with us when we moved and used it for five more years without a single problem! If I had encountered a problem. though. I would have used the breaker to turn it off. But then I went to USC :-)

  4. You are such a great storyteller!!

  5. I would say your in it for the long haul and go out and buy a toaster. Or you could build a campfire in your backyard.

  6. Well, I got out of Texas A&M with only a BS and MS in Civil Engineering and one of our courses addressed the rationality of people under great stress. Turns out when you get upset, you do not always act or think in a rational manner. I suspect that PJM got so p.o.'ed that his ability to recall all those valuable lessons learned at Stanford got supressed so he could not see the forrest for all the trees.

    I liken this experience to one I had a number of years ago trying to get a particularly annoying rattle out of my new car. The dealer's tech could not "hear" it nor could the regional representative. I finally got dealer receptionest into the car for a drive and her first comment was how annoying that rattle was. Surprisingly, the tech could now hear it just fine.

    The upshot is that the rattle came from an unused multiwire plug under the dash that had come loose from its retainer bracket and was vibrating against the center brace for the dash board. The diagnosis took about 12 hours over three days and the repair took about three minutes.

    Have faith Paul, if the proportions are the same, you only have about eleven more weeks to go to get the range back on line.

  7. It's the dreaded F6E0 Error. You are screwed.

  8. Ok, now I don't feel so bad that I have to wait 5 days for the cable company to come out to investigate my non-functioning DTV remote control.

  9. I was telling my wife about your story and my response (above) when she reminded me that everything - clock, dials, controls - on our stove was analog. She graduated UCLA. Oh well.

  10. Don,
    Tell your wife to stick with the good old analog stove. I really don't see any advantage to a digital stove. No advantages, costs more, less reliable. Plus, I have a feeling that the world's best and brightest engineers go to work for places like Cisco, Intel, and JPL . . . not the stove companies. So, the electronics in stoves are probably not designed by the "A Team".

  11. aww....I hate it that your stove is turning out to be (it sounds like) a lemon. Nowadays everything is so fancy it takes a computer genius fix it! Maybe call the 'Geek Squad'? I liked the good old days, simple things. Remember how it used to be so easy to change spark plugs on a 1970 Nova? Now you have to have all that special computerized equipment just to change the oil. I moved in to a house a few years ago and had to get a stove/oven. Being a single mom at that time and on a tight budget, I got a nice clean second hand electric stove for $150. It was the best I've ever cooked on. I recently moved and didn't need it any more so I gave it to a brother in law to 'keep it in the family'. I told him to take good care of it! :)
    Hang in there and keep us posted on your saga. Once again, LOVE YOUR STORIES! (p.s. get a toaster for your toast) :)

  12. It's the blue text of death!

  13. You are SO funny...I know it's not funny for you and your wife, but's funny. I SO relate having been there myself...

  14. I love all the old photos you post on this site but more particularly I like you comments on each. Your experience with this recalcitrant stove just brings out the truth of the human condition. The best way perhaps is to live as simply as possible. What I have done is to make a large supply of charcoal by burning and dousing all the old tree branches that I trim, so that now there is always fuel handy to do some cooking when either the gas supply or the electricity fails.Anyway, hope your problems are resolved soon.
    P.S. I am writing to you from India

  15. Plus, I have a feeling that the world's best and brightest engineers go to work for places like Cisco, Intel, and JPL . . . not the stove companies. So, the electronics in stoves are probably not designed by the "A Team".

    I recently applied for a job doing the electronics for faucets for a major plumbing manufacturer. They strung me along for 4 months, with tech interviews, personality tests, background investigations, work examples, etc. I have 25+ years with HP/Agilent doing instrument design, and they were nervous if I could do a faucet! I finally gave up and moved on when an offer came through to design power distribution systems for a commercial airliner. THAT I was qualified for.

  16. Anon,
    Darn . . . I am sure you had your heart set on that faucet job, but maybe you can adjust the the more mundane aircraft design job. :)

    Thanks for the post, and congratulations on the job.

  17. But, hey, they have to have their standards. My masters is only from Wisconsin :)

  18. My hopes are that when you get this problem resloved you will address it in another blog so we know the outcome. We might all learn something. Where did it all go wrong, the fine old name brand products are not worth a darn.

  19. Love the pics.

    That said, surely there is some good reason that you have not so far bought an electric hot plate, small barbecue grill, propane camp grill, backpacker's little stove or merely cleared an area of the backyard for a campfire.

    This saga intrigues me.