The Case of the Useless Valve Adaptor

Warning: the following article is even more boring than this picture

I’ve been rewatching Babylon 5 after 25+ years with my kids. I’m chuffed that they’re enjoying it, that they love G’Kar and also find Marcus intensely irritating. We’re in mid-season 3 where things are getting really interesting… But then arrives an episode like “A Late Delivery From Avalon“, which is needless filler and annoys us for ruining the flow. This post will be a bit like that, so feel free to skip ahead to Back to Apping, Part III, if you can. If you can’t, unfortunately it would appear that you live too much in the present, sorry!

You might recall that, in my previous post, I talked about things that needlessly suck away my time. A good example arrived promptly after I’d written that, and I thought I’d share.

I had to collect my son from school, so I wheeled out my bike and its trailer and, because I was a few minutes early, I foolishly decided to pump up one of the trailer’s tyres before I left. It didn’t really need doing.

(Now, my daughter had “borrowed” my bike pump in the summer, in an attempt to inflate a paddling pool that was never used, because the instant the pool was inflated, it rained for a week and then stayed relatively cold. Somehow she had managed to break one part of the pump, the connector for the very tyre valve that I now needed.)

Instead of adding a bit more pressure to the tyre, all I succeeded in doing was to expel the remaining air from the inner-tube. That’s why my son had to walk home with me.

The pump has two connectors for it, you see, the normal “Presta” one, which every other bike pump in the world has, and one for a “Schrader” valve. It’s the Schrader part I needed, and (of course) that was the one which was broken. I found three other old bike pumps in the shed, and none of them had this connector.

So I spent a while trying (and failing) to fix the broken connector. It wouldn’t lock. I suspect a vital piece was missing, a treat for future archaeologists to gush over when they dig up my lawn in they year 5000.

A normal person wouldn’t have bothered any more with this. They’d buy a new pump. If they were really flash they’d buy a new wheel. And, if they were filthy rich, I don’t think they’d have a bike trailer in the first place; they’d have a solar-powered helicopter or a Hyperloop direct to the school.

But, as others will gladly and maliciously attest, I’m not normal. When faced with a problem, I can’t rest until I’ve solved it – as cheaply as I possibly can. It occurred to me that I could buy an adaptor to turn the Schrader connection to a normal connection, and then use the working connector of my pump with it.

So, off I cycled to my local Hagebaumarkt (which is German for B&Q), and bought an overpriced small bag labelled “bike pump adaptor”, containing three different adaptors, one of which I knew should do the trick. And I cycled back, quietly confident it would work.

It didn’t.

Inflating a Schrader valve is as simple as it can be. Thereโ€™s no chance to do anything wrong here.

The adaptor screwed on perfectly, the seal was good to my pump. But I couldn’t pump air into the inner-tube. Because, to do this with a Schrader valve, the inner-valve pin thingummy needs to be pushed down in order to let the air in, and the adaptor did nothing to push the inner pin. It merely entombed it.

No, the inner valve would not screw outwards. The adaptor was useless. Like a travel power adaptor with the right holes for your appliances’ plugs but none of the internal copper to conduct electricity from one end to the other.

But I wasn’t finished just yet. If the adaptor wouldn’t push down the inner valve pin, I’d need something else to do it for me. So I rummaged around in the dirt of a nearby flowerbed and found a tiny pebble, and I placed that in the adaptor and screwed it in. The pebble wasn’t so perfectly formed that it would block the air, but it did push down the pin like a charm, and I was finally able to pump up the tyre.

Life’s like that, sometimes. You try to fix something that’s not really broken, and you break it. And then you waste time getting back to Square One. Like your day, for example. I bet it was going just great until you wasted your time here. You didn’t need to read this twaddle. But now you did and you’re going to have to work hard to find a more interesting article to erase this experience from your head… Good luck! ๐Ÿ˜€

Back to Apping, Part II

When people find out (I try not to mention) that I’m a programmer, invariably they chirp in with, “Oh! I’ve got a great idea for an app! It’s a doozy!” And (unprompted) they go on to tell me how, for example,

  • it calculates sums of numbers (App already included with every phone), or
  • it makes amusing noises (Apps done to death), or
  • it uses the FBI facial-recognition database to spot disguised celebrities and/or escaped convicts in your local Lidl (App requires discreetly accessing the FBI facial-recognition database), or
  • it’s like Minecraft/Fortnite/GTA X but with way better graphics/gameplay.

And then they suggest I code that for them. “We can be partners!”

Well, “app ideas” was never the problem. I already have a list as long as my arm for app ideas. The problem is always Time. And lack thereof. Yesterday, I read through Apple’s app review guidelines, which is enough to make anyone’s eyes bleed. And that’s just reading it.

I need to introduce you to one of my laws. I call it “Philip’s First Law of Coding” because I’m Mr Vain. Here it is:

Coding will always take at least three times as long to do as you say it will, even (or especially) when you try to take into account Philip’s First Law of Coding.

Philip’s First Law of Coding, (c) PBG circa 2015

Star Trek’s Scotty knew just how long it would take to repair something, multiplied that time by a factor of four in his estimations and then everyone was mightily impressed when he managed it in a quarter of the time he said it would. Scotty’s a git! If I think something will take a month, I might decide to say that it’ll take three, and then it’ll actually take nine. Yes, it can be extraordinarily tricky to guesstimate how long even a simple project can take, especially when I am confined to two-to-three hours a day to work. There are all sorts of things which crop up:

  • unexpected and mysterious memory bugs that the debugger can’t handle;
  • new OSX/iOS/XCode (old code suddenly stops working, or works differently);
  • new code A requires recoding old code B, and then B affects C, D & E, which need adapting and testing, and then D dominoes into the rest of the Roman alphabet and threatens the Cyrillic;
  • hardware problems (failing hard disks is #1);
  • problems due to stupid initial decisions (mostly from severely underestimating complexities);
  • real-life emergencies, illnesses of all flavours, mood-swings and depressions, weather too hot or too cold, rain-patter too loud against the ceiling window, and so on.

This isn’t just a problem for coders. Please do take a moment to read up on the history of the upcoming Game of Thrones book, The Winds of Winter. In case you didn‘t just do that, here’s that link again. I did say please! I am pretty sure that Mr Martin is not a slacker and that he was being entirely honest with all of his completion estimations. Finishing even a simple project is tricky and takes times to do right. I know, because I’ve been spending many, many years writing my own software library, in order to code an app that will change the world.

More about that in Part III. ๐Ÿ™‚