Saturday, November 14, 2009

Getting The Power

In our house, there are certain chores my wife and I share, while some are mainly hers and others mine. As an example, due to my dismal track record, I am basically prohibited from doing the laundry (put a pair of jeans in the dryer and shrink them more than once, and you get a reputation). On the other hand, keeping the family books and dealing with the myriad of statements that come in the mail falls mostly to me.

Also in the "mine" category are most things that are technical or mechanical in nature. In some cases it can be complex, such as troubleshooting the computer network or installing new software. However, it can also be mundane and routine, such as hanging a picture or setting up the Christmas tree. And also in this particular arena is replacing batteries in various gadgets when the need arises.

True, in most cases it's not that hard to do, and my wife can handle it on her own if she so chooses. Be it the remote control for the TV or a flashlight in the glovebox, it's usually simple enough. However, there are other appliances and devices which aren't so user friendly. When they grind to a halt, I usually find the offending item on the counter when I come down in the morning or get home at night. And chief in this category is clocks and watches.

In most cases these items are diminutive in size. That means that replacing their power supply entails 2 major challenges. The first is merely getting to it. Rather than having an easy to remove cover, the compartment housing the battery is usually secured with screws so small that they may as well be invisible. Fortunately, when I first discovered I needed cheaters with which to read, I bought the strongest pair I could. The 2.5 magnification proved to be way beyond what I needed for everyday use. But I kept them, and indeed they proved to be the equivalent to an optician's loupe and perfect for this particular chore.

Once I don the glasses and retrieve the set of miniature screwdrivers bought just for this purpose, I expose the innards. Sometimes it's just a matter of popping out the little button with the edge of a knife. Occasionally it means removing tiny straps and retainers obviously installed by trained squirrels working with tiny tools in slave labor camps in Taiwan. In both cases, it usually ends with me crawling around on the floor as the dead battery shoots across the counter and slides under the kitchen table, there to be found as much by feel as by sight.

Once I retrieve the useless cell, a process which takes several minutes to a solid half-hour, I have to figure out what kind it is. With regular flashlight batteries, you have a choice between cells labeled as D, C, AA and AAA (one wonders what happened to poor B). Telling them apart is child's play, with the size difference apparent. Not so with watch batteries. At first glance there appears to be about 4 possibilities, from dime-sized down to baby aspirin-sized. Look closely, however, and you will see that for some strange reason, like snowflakes, no two are actually the same. A 323 looks like a 326, which suspiciously resembles a 329. And in fact, save for a millimeter or two, they are identical. But that silly little millimeter means they are not interchangeable, unless you use a hammer to install them.

Added to this wrinkle is that different manufacturers designate the same size different ways. It's as if the engineers at Rayovac and Duracell and Renata thought that by giving unique names to their products they would somehow preserve their market share. So when you go the store to get a replacement, you have to thumb through a well worn guide hanging by the shelf which tells you that a 321 is the same as a SR616SW, which is no different from a 611, a 280-73 or a SB-AF/DF. It's a battery Tower of Babel.

After spending way too much time taking one blister pack at a time from the rack and comparing it to the old battery I have taped to a piece of scrape paper so I don't lose it, I have to reverse the entire process. I go home and try and put the whole thing back together again. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it turns out I got the wrong one anyways. That's usually because the size designation, which is etched in 1 point type, is scratched. And so 326 looks more like 328, which is what I actually bought. And so I put it back into its package, return to the store muttering, and exchange it. Thankfully, I’m not armed at any point in the process.

I'm not saying I got the short end of the stick. I’m happy to shoulder my load of the assorted household chores. But, Honey... can I take another swing at the laundry?


Marc Wollin of Bedford just threw out an old watch rather than deal with replacing the battery. Turns out it's almost cheaper to buy a new one these days. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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