Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The joy of talking to kids

One of the Toastmasters in Capitol Club, Marilee Fuller, ACG, is teaching a youth program on public speaking for a group of ten 4th to 6th grade students at a local charter school (ANSER). She asked for volunteers to speak to the kids, and of course I said yes. The school is located within walking distance of my home and club.

I gave a ten-minute speech to them complete with PowerPoint slides. It was a technical mystery story called “The Case of the Corroded Computer”. They enjoyed hearing it, and I certainly enjoyed telling it to them. The moral was that, just like kids, we adults don’t always think things through before we act.

The story began with a luxury car dealer getting ready to move into a remodeled vintage building in a state capital. Everyone was in a big hurry to get the move completed before New Year’s Day.

The last step before moving the cars and the shop equipment in turned out to be having a contractor come to clean the discolored grout on the white tile floor for the showroom. The contractor was told it was OK for him to use hydrochloric acid and he did.

The very next day the dealer called and accused him of destroying a brand new minicomputer located in the bookkeeper’s office. The contractor said that was impossible, since his crew had not even been in the carpeted bookkeeper’s office, and the door had always been locked.

A company I worked for got called by a claims adjuster from the insurance company for the contractor. She wanted an independent technical evaluation of the damage. A chemist and I went to look at the computer. All the screws on the case were rusty brown instead of shiny silver color. Chemical tests on the motherboard revealed exposure to hydrochloric acid.

How did the acid get there? The building had a forced air heating system. A furnace was located in the back of the showroom, just outside of the bookkeeper’s office. The cold air inlet was located just a few inches above the tile floor. The very first hot air outlet from the furnace led right into the bookkeeper’s office. By Murphy’s Law that outlet was located on the wall directly above the computer. So, the computer got an acid vapor bath. Oops!

After our report the insurer for the contractor bought the dealer a new computer. They got the “old” one to salvage. By hindsight the computer should not have been there yet.

I forgot to mention to the kids that the preceding story somewhat resembles a Sherlock Holmes story about murder in a locked room, called the Adventure of the Speckled Band.

After the talk I gave the kids a handout to read. It was a two-page Claims magazine article I had written for their September 1995 issue, on “How to investigate corrosion damage to goods stored, shipped”. I am not sure if they were impressed or appalled that the article was older than they were.

1 comment:

Michael Kroth said...


Good for you!

I think I'd have more "fear of speaking", as you've been covering on this blog, with children than I would have with adults.