Thursday, July 3, 2014

Thank you William of Ockham

William of Ockham was a 13th century philosopher who, among other things, is best known for what is now referred to as Occam’s Razor: “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”

As the technology we use gets more and more complicated we assume that the solution to our current problem(s) must, of necessity, be equally complex and complicated.

And so it was when I began having starter problems on the Harley a couple of weeks ago. A press on the start button was met with silence. Nothing. Nada. Like the kill switch was off. The idiot lights all glowed happily but, as the expression goes, no one was home. Turning the ignition switch on and off a few times eventually got it started but I was worried that eventually I’d get stranded. Which I did, fortunately in my own garage, when it wouldn’t start at all.

Like most modern vehicles the ignition system is burdened with checks and crosschecks, any one of which will interfere with starting – kill switch off, low oil pressure, fuel pump malfunction, key fob missing (security system), etc. However a diagnostics check showed nothing untoward so I headed to the internet forums for advice on how to proceed. And it got kind of crazy after that: “Replace your kill switch”, “Replace your ignition switch”,  “Cut these two wires and solder them together to make sure your kill switch is working”, “Check this”, “Replace that”, “Your whizbang isn’t”, “Test your starter motor by… “. You get the drift. I was overwhelmed with recommendations but had little confidence anyone knew what they were talking about. (The internet is like that.)

fobMeanwhile I had gone back to first principles following Occam’s Razor. Of course I didn’t think of it in those terms but as I narrowed it down to what I considered a range of likely problems there was only one solution that didn’t involve tools – replacing the battery in the key fob. I had previously tried my spare key fob but it wouldn’t start with that one either, so I initially dismissed that as the problem. (Both batteries dead? Nah, never happen. Besides, that’s too easy.) But still… could be… maybe.

Bottom line? A couple of small batteries later and the bike is starting fine. No wrenching involved. Nothing cut/soldered/replaced or otherwise tampered with. And William of Ockham is once again proven a very wise man indeed.

11 comments:

  1. Canajun:

    My bike has a FOB but it is just a RIFF key. I bought a spare one for my trip and it had to come from BMW on special order and is coded to the electronic serial number of my bike. There are no batteries in it. Without a proper key it will not start.

    agree with you that simpler is better

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

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  2. Bob - Not sure about all the various electronics in mine, but there's obviously some sort of transmitter requiring power. I have now decided that part of the spring tuneup every year will be battery replacements.

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  3. If the key fob is near the bike the fob battery will drain faster as it'll "wake up" from pings from the bike. Thanks for the history on Occam's Razor.

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    1. Richard - You become so familiar with it that eventually it's just *there* and doesn't warrant a second thought. Easy to overlook, as I discovered.

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  4. I wasn't familiar with Mr. Occam though I'm a huge fan of the simple, direct, least resistant path.

    Yes, the Internet IS like that!! I've learned so much, in fact, learning to read on, further down the page, past and through the first dozen "tips" has been one of the most valuable things learned.

    Glad that you're up and running again. Little things can certainly start a chase!

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    1. Coop - Thanks. And you're right, usually the most helpful information is on page 2 or 3 (or 300) of any Google search.

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  5. Ahhh technology making things simpler. Remember when keys were just keys and that wouldn't have been the issue? At least it was an easy fix.

    Have you ever seen the UK Comedy IT Crowd? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn2FB1P_Mn8

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    1. Trobairitz - Never seen the IT Crowd before. Hilarious. Thanks for introducing me.

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  6. Geeze, who knew? I'm glad my scoots just have a regular old fashioned key.

    So if you're way out in the sticks and the fob goes dead I guess you're SOL!

    :=(

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    1. Deb - There is a manual override, which I didn't even think about until after I'd fixed the problem. I think a series of 'senior's moments' were involved with this whole thing. :(

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  7. Both batteries were installed when the bike was new. Batteries generally have about the same lifetime as any other battery of the same type. When one dies, the other is either already just dead or just about to be dead. Replace one at DST on in the spring and one at DST off in the fall, or some other easily remembered set of dates, or remember the override (which every bike thief knows about but every owner never remembers because he never uses it).

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