Living in a crazy world

There are some areas where scale and automation work well for our society, but sometimes there are glitches that don’t make sense. We’ve been going through a round of routine medical examinations. As a result of a regular visit with our family doctor, the dose of one medicine that I take was cut in half. I was already taking the smallest pill available for that particular medicine, so my doctor instructed me to cut the pills in half and take one half pill each day. No problem, I thought. I have a 90-day supply because our insurance forces us to use one of the huge mail-order pharmacies and they tend to get ahead of us with the medicine. That means that I know have a half year’s supply. However, the pharmacy, receiving the doctor’s new prescription assumed that I had dropped the old prescription and gotten a new one as if it was a change in medicine. They also assumed that the way to consume the tablets was to cut them in half and discard half, which makes no sense at all to me. So they shipped me what they thought was a 90-day supply, which is really a 180-day supply. Added to the pills I have from the same pharmacy, I now have a full year’s supply on hand. Normally I would work with my doctor to allow the prescription to expire, causing automatic refills to cease, until I caught up and got a reasonable supply, but I will be seeing a new doctor in six months as we establish care in a new place. I hope the new doctor will understand the quirks of the mail order pharmacy and work with me.

All of this occurs because the insurance company believes that they are controlling costs by working with the mail order pharmacy. This can’t be the case because of the huge amounts of waste that the process creates. If I were working with a local pharmacy, I could let the pharmacist know my current supply and wait for refills until the pills are needed.

Ah, such are the perils of our modern society.

Another story from my day yesterday illustrates the point in a completely different way.

Ford Motor Company employs a host of brilliant engineers. Our seven-year-old pickup truck is a marvel of modern engineering. The turbo diesel engine produces more horsepower and torque than we will ever need. The turbo charger itself is an incredible piece of engineering. It has variable pitch blades, which are controlled by the computer. I can set the cruise control while pulling a 5,000 pound trailer and it will control my speed perfectly going up hill or down. I can descend the highest passes in the Rocky Mountains without ever touching my brakes. The cab of the truck is filled with all kinds of modern conveniences including air bags to protect driver and passengers. There are cup holders nearly everywhere you might reach for one.

The dashboard cupholder, however, is definitely under-engineered. It expands to tightly hold even the largest cup, and ingeniously springs back to a small size to fold into the dash. However, it is made of plastic with a strong steel spring to hold it closed when not in use. The result is that it appears to be stronger than it really is when it is opened. If you push down on the cupholder, the spring will break the plastic and it will flop uselessly to the floor of the cab. I found this out recently when a good friend reached for a pump of hand sanitizer that I was keeping in the cupholder. He pushed down on the pump without supporting the cupholder and, crack, the cupholder broke.

The replacement part from our local Ford dealer was $88 due, in part to another engineering mistake. Instead of making the basic black cup holder replaceable by allowing the dashboard cover to be removed and put onto a new unit, or making the hinge itself replaceable by using a few screws, the entire unit has to be ordered to match the interior color of the truck. Not wanting to spend the $88 for the new part, I went shopping online and found the part for $39 and ordered it. It arrived promptly and I could see two screw holes, so assumed that I could simply remove two screws, remove the old cupholder and then replace those screws.

It wasn’t that simple. First I had to find a Torx T27 driver to remove those two screws. Not a T25 or a T30, but a T27. Fortunately I had the correct driver. But the cupholder didn’t come loose. I had to watch two YouTube videos to learn how to take it apart. It seems that there are four additional screws that need to be removed to allow the cupholder to be removed. The first is quite easy to access. You remove a panel under the steering wheel that reveals the location of that screw. The others need to be accessed by removing the center of the dashboard, which itself requires portions of the dash to be removed that are held in place by clips to reveal mounting screws. And these mounting screws require a 7mm metric socket to remove. The center of the dash board contains a dozen connectors supplying power to the stereo, the heater controls, several power outlets, four up fitter switches and the trailer brake unit.

I suspect that if one were to take the truck to the shop to have the job done the final bill would have been over $200 with all of the labor that is required. It seems obvious to me how they could have designed the unit to be stronger, more easily replaced and less expensive. Those goals, however, weren’t among the design criteria for Ford. After all they need to keep the income stream from parts and service coming in order to support their dealer network.

I don’t think we have any worries, however. Should any of the Ford engineers or technicians lose their jobs because people like me find discount ways to purchase parts and make their own repairs, they could always find jobs in the mail-order pharmacy business. The same kind of logic prevails in both industries.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!