Friday, October 19, 2007

Not So Fast

And they're off!

Someone has helpfully pointed out that the Power Supply of iBrik Resurrection isn't the right one for the machine1. They've gone to a great deal of trouble to point me towards articles on Apple's website (which I found almost unnavigable but that's just me), pictures and so forth that explain that the unit I have will simply not do the job because the so-called "trickle voltage" is only 25 volts and the machine needs 28 volts.

What is this "trickle voltage"? It is:

A) A misnomer: volts don't trickle, amps do. Volts, as anyone who has to deal with them will tell you, lurk.

2) The voltage that is needed for the low-level functions on the motherboard to begin the tedious process of bringing the computer to full readiness. Put bluntly, without this "trickle voltage" the machine will not boot. Reams of electronic virtual paper have been defaced on the subject. I'll spare you them.

The fact that the machine in question does boot is apparently of no import. I dun it rong and must be told so.

This experience confirms for me something I've long known about human nature in today's world: that although no-one will pitch in to help someone before a task has been undertaken, once something has been done people come out of the woodwork to tell you how you should have done it. Well pbleepss on them. I say now that such advice is worthless, offered as it is for the sole purpose of demonstrating the superiority of the "advisor" over the "doer", and I don't value it a jot. You want to help me with your knowledge before I do something, I am forever in your debt. You go a-googling after the fact, armed with my detailed description so you can retroactively criticise and patronise me, I'll forever view you as something I would scrape off my shoe.

I used to do a lot2 of miniature painting for a wargame I once played. My earliest efforts pretty much defined "naff", forming as they did the search for quick and effective ways to paint dozens of similar figures in as short a time as possible3. The problem would often arise that I wanted to remove paint finishes applied years before so I could repurpose figures that were out of production, too expensive or for other reasons not practical to replace with new ones.

The problem is that although some of the figures in question were made of "pewter" or "lead" (actually, both recipes for different types of Whitemetal aka solder), many of them had plastic parts. Some were completely made of plastic. This precludes dropping the figures in a solvent such as acetone or into industrial strength paint stripper for a few days: The plastic would dissolve. What I needed was a solution that was manually non-intensive (I had little free time), absolutely 100% safe for the plastic figures and absolutely guaranteed to get the paint off no matter what type it was.

I searched the 'net and saw all sorts of remedies, from soaking in water to a perennial favourite on the forums, soaking in Pine Sol4.

I also am interested in model railways, and had long known that Pine Sol was one of the methods it was claimed you could use to strip paint from (plastic) locomotive bodies in order to repaint them in a finish not offered by the manufacturer. However there was another idea from that hobby that made a great deal of sense to me: brake fluid.

I know that brake fluid can take the cellulose-based paint off a car in a matter of an hour or less. That's a paint specially formulated to stay put and stay the same colour under the most challenging circumstances known to the paint industry5. If brake fluid could shift that stuff, it could strip anything. The people who used it said it was safe on plastics too. I had a think and discussed it on a Yahoo forum dedicated to the collecting and painting of Wonkhammer 401k figures, but there was no consensus and suspiciously little advice from the back-benchers.

I decided to run a trial. I had some figures, plastic ones, that I had painted with solvent-based Polly-S spray enamel paint. It was very very hardwearing and I had never seen it flake or chip. I prepared jars of a commercial modellers paint stripper marketed by Polly-S, Pine Sol and el cheapo Castrol brake fluid (by far the cheapest option at 99 cents a pint too). Each day I would carefully take each figure and give it a gentle scrub with an old toothbrush, holding it under the solvent with a hemostat which was perfect for the job. After that, the figures would sit in their jars until I came home from work or got up the next morning. The results were interesting.

The Polly-S paint stripper made no impression whatsoever. I didn't really expect it to. It was alleged to be able to fetch off old brushed acrylic paint, but I reckoned at the time that anything this stripper could work on would probably let go with warm water too.

The Pine Sol softened the plastic after only 8 hours or so. I removed the figure and rinsed it off, but the plastic took several weeks to "outgass" the solvent and harden up again. One of my correspondents repeated my experiment and reported that the figure turned to chewing gum after two days in Pine Sol. To be fair, the paint did start coming off.

The brake fluid performed like a miracle. The paint floated off, all but for a small amount in tiny crevices on the figure. More to the point, the plastic showed no damage whatsoever. I extended the experiment to two weeks. Fourteen days in brake fluid did not hurt the plastic one bit6.

What do you think publication of these results did in the community? Nothing, that's what. A few days after I published my results someone posted on the forum asking how to shift paint off a plastic figure and someone suggested Pine Sol! I politely injected myself into the conversation and pointed out my findings, housed in a file on the server. The "advisor" argued with me. I asked him if he'd ever actually tried what he was suggesting himself7 and he finally admitted he was working from hearsay. I asked him why he felt the hearsay he was using was more reliable than my version, especially as I had included all the details of my experiment and anyone could try it for themselves. He became abusive. Over the next six months I was directly contradicted on my advice several times by people who blithely admitted they hadn't actually tried the method they knew would work better than mine. It was baffling. I urged everyone to get two pickle jars and a couple of plastic bits from their spares box and prove to themselves the reality of the matter. We even had people try Pine Sol on the advice of others there and come back saying how it worked "quite well" but had caused some minor but acceptable damage to the figures.

To this day I don't understand why people wanted to try the smelly, difficult and dangerous "almost works" method rather than the easy, odourless and dangerous8 brake fluid method. But I learned a lesson from the experience: While there's damn few people who will volunteer help or knowledge on the net, there's never a shortage of people who can and will tell you you are doing it wrong after the fact (no matter what the facts actually are).

Well, pbleepss on them all.

  1. Actually, if you check, that was me in the posting describing the installation
  2. And I do mean a lot
  3. Yes, I played Wonkhammer 401K
  4. A proprietary pine cleanser intended to disinfect floors and other such surfaces
  5. You thought paint was paint? Spray paint some lawn furniture and leave it out for one summer, then let me know how you feel
  6. I'm told that if you pick more expensive brake fluid, that is not the case though
  7. I knew he couldn't have, of course
  8. the brake fluid can kill you if you drink it. It tells you not to on the can and in my experimental report too, for that matter

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