Off Subject

From: John McMillan Jr. (
Date: Wed Jul 22 1998 - 14:44:22 EEST

: For the engineers among us who understand that the obvious is not
: always the solution, and that the facts, no matter how implausible,
: are still the facts ...
: A complaint was received by the Pontiac Division of General Motors:
: "This is the second time I have written you, and I don't blame you
: for not answering me, because I kind of sounded crazy, but it is a
: fact that we have a tradition in our family of ice cream for dessert
: after dinner each night. But the kind of ice cream varies so, every
: night, after we've eaten, the whole family votes on which kind of ice
: cream we should have and I drive down to the store to get it. It's
: also a fact that I recently purchased a new Pontiac and since then my
: trips to the store have created a problem. You see, every time I buy
: vanilla ice cream, when I start back from the store my car won't
: start. If I get any other kind of ice cream, the car starts just
: fine. I want you to know I'm serious about this question, no matter
: how silly it sounds: 'What is there about a Pontiac that makes it not
: start when I get vanilla ice cream, and easy to start whenever I get
: any other kind?'"
: The Pontiac President was understandably skeptical about the letter,
: but sent an engineer to check it out anyway. The latter was surprised
: to be greeted by a successful, obviously well-educated man in a fine
: neighborhood. He had arranged to meet the man just after dinner time,
: so the two hopped into the car and drove to the ice cream store. It
: was vanilla ice cream that night and, sure enough, after they came
: back to the car, it wouldn't start.
: The engineer returned for three more nights. The first night, the
: man got chocolate. The car started. The second night, he got
: strawberry. The car started. The third night he ordered vanilla.
: The car failed to start.
: Now the engineer, being a logical man, refused to believe that this
: man's car was allergic to vanilla ice cream. He arranged, therefore,
: to continue his visits for as long as it took to solve the
: problem. And toward this end he began to take notes: he jotted down
: all sorts of data, time of day, type of gas used, time to drive back
: and forth, etc.
: In a short time, he had a clue: the man took less time to buy
: vanilla than any other flavor. Why? The answer was in the layout of
: the store.
: Vanilla, being the most popular flavor, was in a separate case at
: the front of the store for quick pickup. All the other flavors were
: kept in the back of the store at a different counter where it took
: considerably longer to find the flavor and get checked out.
: Now the question for the engineer was why the car wouldn't start
: when it took less time. Once time became the problem -- not the
: vanilla ice cream -- the engineer quickly came up with the answer:
: vapor lock. It was happening every night, but the extra time taken to
: get the other flavors allowed the engine to cool down sufficiently to
: start. When the man got vanilla, the engine was still too hot for the
: vapor lock to dissipate.
: Moral of the story: even insane-looking problems are sometimes real.

Best Regards;

John McMillan Jr.
IRT Design:
Spectra Distributing:
Charlotte, North Carolina


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