Circulation: What Goes Around, Comes Around ~ 2012-11-29

So I bought a used treadmill yesterday. For a while I've been thinking about trying something like that, because I have trouble sitting in front of the computer all day. I don't know if it's an issue with my circulation or what, but the longer I sit, the more my butt aches. For a while I tried standing while I worked, but standing in one place for a long time is really hard on the feet and legs. You have to continually shift your weight back and forth, first locking one leg and then the other. But I've always known I could hike all day without getting tired.
So I got this great idea that I could find a used treadmill for cheap and outfit it with a computer stand. After all, it seems like everybody has a treadmill but nobody uses them. Surely I could find one for cheap. Danielle did some searching for me at an online garage sale and within a day or two, she came up with a really nice one.

I called the lady and told her I wanted to come and look at it as soon as possible, and that if it was good I would buy it. She was asking $175, which was a little more than I was hoping to spend, but I felt that if it helped it would be worth it. I just wanted to be able to work at the computer all day without being in pain.

Well, Ky and I drove to her house to check it out and the machine was in great condition. It had all the parts, ran well and wasn't beat up. In fact it looked practically new. She said she loved the unit and had used it a lot, and so I asked why she was getting rid of it. She said that her water heater had just quit on her and she had to come up with some money for a new one. They had been without hot water for three days (which is not so bad if you're camping but it can be pretty uncomfortable if you're trying to get kids to school and get to work). At that point I remembered seeing the old water heater laying in the front yard as we drove up.

So, I told her I'd be glad to buy it and she said I had really made her day. As I wrote out the check, I couldn't resist throwing a little extra on there to help her in a time of need: I made it out for $200 instead of $175.

She thanked me again and we were off, loading that monstrously heavy thing into the back of a pickup and then unloading it from the pickup into my house on arrival. I spent the next few hours making a really nifty computer table for it, capable of holding two flat screen monitors. The table surface was made from a counter top remnant that Danielle had found from her Facebook friends.

Then, before I could try it out, I had to leave to teach a class down at the college.

During class that night, somebody came by to pay me for a video project I had done. I had only asked them for $90 - just enough to cover the cost of the camera guys I had to pay - because it was a community event that I was involved with. Well, instead she gave me a check for $150! After I got home I remarked to Danielle that it was kinda poetic the way I paid somebody extra and then I got paid extra in more than double the amount I had given away. Pretty good life lesson.

Anyway, I finished setting up my computer on the treadmill, but it was too late to try it out that night.

This morning I woke up really excited, and sure enough, it was awesome! I set it on the slowest speed - half a mile an hour - so that I could leisurely stroll along as I played my morning games of Starcraft. It was awesome! Even though it took a little adjustment to figure out how to keep my fingers on the right keys while moving back and forth, I played some most excellent games and felt invigorated. After about 45 minutes I stopped for breakfast, then went right back to it.

After a few minutes I started smelling that burning electrical smell. Well I just ignored it, thinking that it was just the unit burning some dust off the motor or something. But it kept getting worse, and then suddenly the treadmill shifted into LUDICROUS SPEED! I mean seriously, it was going faster than I could run and the sound was enormous. Somehow I was able to step off before falling on my face and being thrown through the back door. Possibly my reflexes were so quick because I had my mind in high gear doing Starcraft, but more likely because I had my forearms resting on the table.

After saving myself, I pressed the stop button on the machine; nothing happened. I finally had to pull the emergency release to halt the Conveyor Belt of Certain Death. Danielle heard the ruckus and came running in to see what had happened. There I stood with my brand new dead miracle machine.

I spent the rest of the morning trying to figure out how to fix it. I'm not a component-level electronics guy; pretty much nobody is anymore. But I understand the basic ideas, and I know that if something electronic makes the burning smell and you open it up, you can usually find where the smoke came out. Before too long I had figured out that the problem was in the motor control board. The motor was fine (obviously... it had been running at ludicrous speed!) and the panel controls were fine.

So I called the manufacturer and explained the problem. They told me that I was right, and that a replacement board was $200 plus $18 shipping. Well I really didn't want to double my investment the day after I bought this thing, and I didn't want to go back to the lady who had sold it to me and ask for my money back. She couldn't have known it was going to fail, and besides, I knew she had just spent the money on a water heater.

I pulled out the old motor control board and sure enough, there was a place with a burned out resistor. Now like I said, I don't know a lot about electronics on that level, but I know that resistors only cost a few cents and that they have a color code so you know what kind to get.
Unfortunately, this resistor was burned so bad that I couldn't see the colored bands; it was all black in the middle with gold on the ends. I got online and looked up the color codes, and guess what... there are no resistors with gold on both ends. Maybe it was yellow? Maybe it was brown? Too burned to tell. I tried to scrape off the black with a knife, but to no avail. It was burned clear through.

I even called the manufacturer again and asked them if they could send me a schematic. The 'Service Tech' who answered the phone didn't even know what a schematic was. He said, "You mean a parts list?" I said, "No, a drawing that shows the value and placement of every component on a circuit board." He said, "You mean a wiring diagram?" Like most places, they don't do component level service either; if a 30-cent resistor is blown, they sell you a new $200 circuit board with all the components. But I'm sure he's off right now telling his co-workers about the idiot he talked to today who wanted a schematic for a 12 year old product.

So I sat there thinking and wondering. I felt like Danielle and I had been guided to find a treadmill that would suit my needs at a price we could afford. I also felt like I'd been blessed to receive some extra money after just giving some away. It seemed to me like some sense of eternal justice was being robbed, for my machine to go nuts after only an hour of rewarding use.

So I prayed to know what to do. Should I just bite the bullet and pay the additional $200 for a new control board for a 12 year old treadmill? Should I just look for another used one? Or now that I knew it was what I wanted, should I get a brand new one?

I know that God's sense of justice is not always the same as ours. Sometimes you just don't get what you think you should. But still I prayed to know what to do. It's important that I be able to work, and I can't work well if I'm always in pain.

Then I remembered that while I was on the manufacturer's web site, I had read some instructions for installing a replacement motor control board. The instructions noted that this was slightly different from the board that was originally on the unit, but that all the connections were the same. I had thought at the time, "Of course they came out with a new version of the board. You can't have a product on the market that goes into super high gear when it fails. You'll get sued!" Then suddenly it hit me. They would have done a recall when they discovered the problem. that's when they changed the circuit board design. I ran to the computer, already sure of what I would find. I searched for the manufacturer's name and the model of my unit, plus the word 'recall' and sure enough, my model and several others from the same time period more than ten years ago had been recalled.

I called the manufacturer back again and told them, "I have a unit here that was recalled. It just went into super-high speed. How can you help me?" Without hesitation, the lady knew exactly what I was talking about. She took down my name and address and told me I should have the part in about four business days. No charge... not even for shipping. And that was it. In a two-minute phone call my problem was solved.

Funny that the first lady I talked to never mentioned the recall, even though I described with exactness the very circumstances that had CAUSED the original recall. Funny that there is no mention of it on their web site. Yet funny that when I said the magic words, they suddenly knew exactly what I was talking about and helped me at no charge.

So whether it's good deeds or bad, money or the blood in your veins or the belt on a treadmill, what goes around... comes around. And maybe sometimes life is fair.