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Machine Problems

In servicing machines for 25 years I saw a LOT of problems. Some were machine faults, some were caused by users, and some were just plain weird. I also get a lot of email from machine owners who are frustrated with problems that have been presented to their dealer multiple times, but never get fixed. This post is aimed to help prevent that.

Nothing makes anyone more angry than to take something, anything, to a repair center, leave it, wait for it, pick it up, and take it home, and then find out that the original problem is still there. This happens to all of us sooner or later, but why? To understand that we need to step to the other side of the counter to the technician’s bench. Let’s look at the process.

The machine is presented to someone other than the technician. She’s busy repairing machines. So someone, probably a salesperson, takes the machine, notes your name and phone number, and hopefully a brief description. Hours or days later the tech picks up the machine and looks at whatever was written down. She’s already seen 7 machines before getting to yours. Three of them appeared to be working fine. Two were just in for cleaning. One needed parts and had to be set aside to wait for them, and one has been badly abused and is waiting for the owner to authorize what will be an expensive repair.

You’ve brought your machine in for a message that pops up from time to time, stopping the machine dead in its tracks. Sometimes the message goes away and sometimes it comes up every few minutes. It’s nearly impossible to get anything meaningful done. So you brought it in. Now it’s on the bench and the tech is running a bit of stitching through. It’s working fine, with no messages. Ten minutes later, still good. Now the tech has 23 other machines to get through before the weekend. She can’t sit here for an hour sewing without the boss getting mad. The only option is to note NPF (No Problem Found) on the ticket and send it home. She’s annoyed, you are now branded as a possible crank, and you’re going to be really mad when you have the problem again.

Understand that intermittent problems are the absolute hardest ones to resolve. If a technician cannot see or hear the problem, it’s almost certain that it cannot be fixed. How do you deal with that? In cases of messages on screen, take a picture of the message. Print it out and on that page note the stitch or design you were using. If it’s a design, make sure it’s stored in the machine. Include fabric that’s close to what you were using when it happened. Write in a few words exactly what you did and what happened, step by step. Make sure that your picture and notes are included with the machine when you submit it for repair. This will improve the chances of the problem being found. Leave the machine threaded with the same thread you were using and the same bobbin in the bobbin case. If possible, try to list the steps needed to recreate the problem. If you can’t recreate it, the technician won’t be able to either.

Sometimes a problem only shows up after a period of time. Electronic components that work cold, when the machine is first turned on, may fail after use has made them warm to hot. Let the technician know that. There were some problems that I had to deal with in our store that were like that. I put a brick on the foot control and let the unthreaded machine run while I did other work. This would get me to the fail point without wasting any time.

It’s important to know what to bring in with your machine. Don’t bring the book! If the repair technician needs the book you need a different technician. We were Janome-only dealers, so I insisted on the minimum amount of stuff with each machine. Before instituting that policy I had a customer claiming we had lost her accessory box and all the feet in it. We had no way of knowing, so we had to make an expensive replacement. Multi line dealers will likely want the cord and foot control. The foot control could be important if the problem involves it in any way. If in doubt, ask them first. Please put your name on everything, even the machine. Write it on painter’s tape, which is easy to remove. Make a note of the serial number on your machine. Getting the wrong machine back is extremely rare, and may not even be noticed, so having the serial number gives you a way to detect it.

Software problems are an entirely different animal. Understand that your dealer is not any more of a computer expert than you are, in most cases. They will have to call Janome, and ultimately Janome may have to call you. Because of the limited tech support at Janome, this process can take a lot of time. Before presenting the problem to your dealer, try Google. Search for the error message you got, if appropriate, or the condition you are experiencing. Note that if you get an “exception” message in Windows, with a long string of numbers, it is of no use to carefully note those numbers or even take a screenshot. Just substitute the word “crash” for all that. If Google fails to turn up anything useful, post your problem to our email list. Be specific and detailed! Things like “I got an error message” (What was it?) or “Program X won’t open” (What happens?) are so vague that nobody can help. Be detailed as to what you were trying to do and what happened. Again remember that if your problem cannot be duplicated, it probably can’t be solved.

Janome sewing machines are some of the most reliable on the market. This is great, but when a problem does occur it is somewhat jarring. Some dealers will take an adversarial approach: “What did you do to it?” This puts you on the defensive, and I’ve noticed that many of the problem posts I’ve seen show that the poster assumes that she has done something to cause the problem. That’s especially true on computer problems. Most of the time she did nothing wrong. The problem is due to something outside of her control, like a component failure, a mechanical problem, or, in the case of software, a program bug.

I hope you never have a problem with your machine or computer, but if (OK, when) you do please refer to this post for your best course of action!

Computer or iPad?

Do you need a full Windows computer or can you do everything you need with an iPad? Let me state from the outset that by “iPad” I mean the iPad tablet made by Apple, NOT a tablet that uses Android. Yes, all of the Android tablets are cheaper because they were designed to be lower cost than the iPad. I’ve explained why I don’t write apps for Android in a previous post. I don’t recommend Android tablets for those reasons, and also because the iOS operating system used by iPads is far more secure than Android.

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010 he made the point that most people don’t need the power of a desktop computer for their daily needs. The iPad provides email, web browsing, word processing, calendar management, messaging, and even video. It’s extremely portable, even more so than a laptop computer, and less expensive. The case for a full computer comes down to the need for a large screen, more processing power, or high resolution graphics. In the world of sewing software this is mainly limited to embroidery digitizing software.

Since readers of this blog are almost entirely sewing enthusiasts let’s address how an iPad might be used. The main use of computers in sewing is for embroidery. Designs can be purchased as digital files and sent to machines for stitching. Some machines, such as the Janome Memory Craft 15000 and the Janome Skyline S9, have built-in WiFi. Janome has software that can transmit designs directly from an iPad to the machine. If you don’t have a WiFi-enabled machine you can still use an iPad to manage designs. Nearly all machines with embroidery capability  can accept USB flash drives. USB flash drives with the iPad-compatible Lightning connector are readily available and can be used to move designs from iPad to machine. There are also numerous flash drives that have built-in WiFi and apps that allow designs to be sent to the flash drive wirelessly.

If you have one of the Janome models with WiFi there are a number of free Janome apps that can be used on iPads. Other apps, such as DRAWings Snap and StitchBuddy, provide support for most common embroidery formats. It should be noted that the Janome AcuDesign app is very similar to DRAWings Snap, and supports designs in all popular embroidery formats. The cost of the AcuDesign app includes design editing, which makes it the cheaper of the two.

If you don’t need design editing there are other embroidery apps available, such as the free AirStitch app. This allows designs to be saved in the iPad, as well as DropBox or the AirStash wireless USB devices. All common embroidery formats are supported.

It’s also possible to purchase designs on the iPad. You can have them emailed or download them directly from the website. Online designs are nearly always packaged in ZIP files. To unpack those you will need the free Documents app by Readdle. Once unzipped you can copy the designs to other apps installed on your iPad.

Since the release of the first iPad Apple has traditionally updated the device every year. The recent Pro models offer an optional keyboard that doubles as a cover, as well as the Pencil for drawing. iPad apps have also evolved to be very sophisticated. A good example of this is the Affinity Photo app from Serif. It offers an astounding array of tools for editing photographs, rivaling those of desktop and laptop computers.

Although the iPad is the ultimate in convenient tools, there are some downsides. The main one is probably the screen, which is covered in glass. If you use your finger to operate it, you will quickly fill the screen with smudges. A microfiber cloth is essential for periodic cleaning, although using the Apple Pencil or third party stylus can avoid the fingerprint problem. Dropping an iPad is potentially dangerous, though a number of third party repair shops now offer glass replacement. Finally there is the battery, which is built-in and non-replaceable. At some point it will no longer charge, and the device can then only be used when connected to a power source. This is not too different from a desktop computer, which will eventually need a new hard drive, or a laptop that will need a new battery and/or hard drive. Cheap Windows computers also tend to be largely plastic with minimal memory and processors, so they need to be replaced frequently. In that respect the life of an iPad is at least as long as a cheap Windows PC, if not longer.

To decide between an iPad and a Windows computer you should list all the functions that you need to have available. Use Google to search for apps for those functions. Add the cost of the software you will need to the cost of the iPad, and compare it to the cost of a computer with the cost of the software you will require. This will make it easier to compare. You can also query Facebook and Yahoo groups to get opinions from those who use iPads versus computers.

When purchasing an iPad you will be presented with choices. Some, like screen size and finish, are just personal preferences, but storage size is something to consider carefully. The working memory, comparable to RAM in a conventional computer, is the same in all models. The storage memory is literally that; memory used for storing documents, mail, photos, movies, etc. Price goes up with storage capacity, and you can’t add more storage later if you find you need it. Apple provides 5 GB of iCloud storage free to each user and you can add more for nominal cost. You can also get storage from apps such as Amazon Drive or Microsoft OneDrive. All of these external storage options require a WiFi connection to access, so how and where you use your iPad will factor into your decision. I generally don’t buy an iPad with the minimum storage, just because I want the convenience of having all my files available whether I have WiFi available or not.

Hopefully this will help you decide which device to get for your sewing needs. Questions can be posted to the Online Sewing discussion group.

Support your LQS

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a good local quilt shop (LQS). It’s not a high profit business, and it takes far more money than you might imagine to start one. We’ve seen the fabric business, which we depend on for our hobby, dwindle down as more and more of the traditional sources drop fabric from their inventory. Local quilt shops and online sources are now the last outpost for good fabric. Sure, the “big box” stores like JoAnn and Hobby Lobby have fabric, but the overall quality is seldom as good as that found in your local shop.

Quilting has kept the fabric industry alive, but like so many industries it has moved offshore. Fabric, thread, and related textiles are now imported. Factories that made these goods have closed, frequently taking down the “mill” town they were in. The dollars spent on fabrics and thread are now flowing out of the country, contributing to the large imbalance of trade between the US and other countries, with China being the primary beneficiary.

In attempting to level the playing field our president has proposed putting tariffs on a lot of products, including some of the textiles we rely on for quilting. This puts our local quilt shops in peril, as discussed in this article. Good fabric is almost never cheap, and prices will have to rise. Few, if any, quilters are wealthy and the higher prices will almost certainly impact the revenue of these shops. As mentioned in the article, some may have to close.

If your city is large enough to have at least one quilt shop, then there are likely enough quilters that you also have quilting clubs or informal groups. You can help. Ask the owner of your favorite LQS to join members for coffee and a frank discussion. She can tell you what she thinks will happen as a result of the tariffs, and what it will mean for her business. Now would be a good time to buy a little extra thread that you know you will need eventually. Stock up on stabilizers. Get some patterns or kits to work on through the winter months. Summer is a slow time for quilt shops and extra dollars are very welcome.

If the situation is especially dire consider a Save Our Shop (SOS) event within your quilting group. Most quilters may have a small (cough, cough) stash of fabric. This is frequently the source of “discussions” with your significant other, and said other doesn’t know about the stuff you’re storing with a friend. Have a sale within your group, selling off fabric you know you won’t live long enough to use, and give the proceeds to your LQS. There are no government subsidies for quilt shops, so if it comes down to needing a cash infusion to survive, you are probably the last line of defense. Get creative and let your shop owner know that you support her!

Here’s a shout-out to the Quilt Shop of Deland, Florida. We were able to visit them last week and happily left with a new kit and some fabulous fabrics.

Will you make it for Android?

The short answer is “No!”, but let me explain why. Let’s start with the basics. What is Android and why are those devices so much cheaper than Apple? The heart of any computer-based device is software called the operating system. It’s a manager that controls the device from powering on through switching between the various programs. The single greatest cost item for any electronic device is software, because it cannot, at least so far, be generated automatically by machines like hardware can.

The Android operating system was created by Google to use in the phone they built to compete with the Apple iPhone. It was made open source. What that means in sewing terms is that they created a designer dress, but made the complete pattern available to anyone, for free. They also released the full set of tools used to create Android software. That allowed companies like Samsung to create phones and tablets where the greatest cost item, software, was free. Soon there were dozens of companies making their own smart phones and tablets, with each of them creating their own customized version of Android. Competition quickly heated up and it became a race to have the absolute lowest priced devices on the market.

For the average non-technical person, all smart phones and tablets seem pretty much the same. That means the only criterion that is used to evaluate them comes down to price, and this has allowed Android to become the dominant operating system used on the devices with the largest market share. On the surface that would seem to be an obvious reason for software developers to develop for Android first and maybe exclusively. Why do they almost all develop for Apple iOS first, or like us, exclusively?

Software development is labor intensive, even though the labor is mental rather than physical. Almost all software is written for money, either from the sale of the software or advertising embedded in it. Only a few weeks after our first app was released we were at Janome Institute. When informed about our app, one dealer asked if we could “bump” phones. Bump? At the time it was possible with Android to transfer software, paid or unpaid, to someone else’s phone just by bumping them together. The prospect of selling your software once, then having hundreds of copies distributed for free, is not very appealing to any developer. By contrast, Apple has a very strong system in place to ensure that apps on iOS are close to impossible to copy. Developers surrender 30% of the sale price of their app for this, but it does ensure that you will get paid for each one sold.

Because of the open source aspect of Android, it’s easy for anyone with malicious intent to see exactly how it works, and how to bypass security. This allows for virus and other malware to be injected into devices that use it, in some cases just by being nearby the source of infection. It’s also easy for shady developers to create apps that are very similar to other apps, with confusing naming. This allows them to have cheaper versions of popular apps that contain embedded software to extract customer information and send it to them for nefarious use. By contrast Apple is vigilant about user privacy and vets every app for such practices before allowing it in the store. The process is not infallible, and there have been exceptions, but they are quickly removed when discovered. No serious developer wants to risk his or her reputation by putting dodgy software in the App Store. Google has only recently started paying attention to this, as documented in this story.

For independent developers like us, the equipment budget is not very big. To develop for iOS you need a Mac computer. Period. Android also has a low equipment overhead, so they are equal in terms of cost. The problem comes with which version of Android you are developing for. For example, Amazon’s Fire devices all use their own custom version of Android, so you need to own the device you are developing for. Every Android phone and tablet manufacturer also has their own customized version of Android, and they don’t always keep it updated to the latest Google version. Difference in screen sizes and device capabilities mean that a developer has to have even more devices for testing. There may be some inherent risk in just buying Android devices for testing, as discussed here. When developing for iOS I need to only decide which version I want to support and write for it. It’s very easy to make sure my apps work correctly on all the different devices.

Finally there is the learning curve. I have been building iOS apps for 7 years, and have spent hundreds of hours, as well as numerous conferences, building my skill set. Going to Android would mean starting over from scratch. Given my age and probable lifespan, it’s something I suppose I could do, but there is no motivation to do so. Supporting only Apple devices does limit our market, but Janome seems to be in agreement with our decision, since they also are Apple only on tablets.

Here’s to Your Health

After retiring my mother became an avid quilter. She made quilts for my sister and I, and then for our children. She had already begun to have symptoms of Alzheimer’s when she started the quilt for our second granddaughter. It was extremely difficult for her, and took much longer than usual to finish. The final result was heart-breaking. Mom had always been very precise, quilting by hand. This quilt combined many different types of fabric, including drapery and upholstery fabric along with the quilting cottons. Some of the seams were open, and coming apart. It was clear how much she’d lost. Our daughter-in-law still treasures the quilt, of course, but it’s too fragile to ever use.

We all know someone with Alzheimer’s, be it family or friends. It’s a terrible disease, one by which the patient actually dies twice: first by losing recognition of those they’ve known forever, and finally succumbing to the inevitable end. With my mother having had it, the odds of me getting it as well are 85% higher. Recently health care professionals have started calling Alzheimer’s “Type 3 Diabetes”, due to the fact that Type 2 Diabetes often leads to it. It’s become an epidemic and the costs are astounding.

From 18 months to six years old I was always sick, due to chronic spring and fall allergies. With a persistent sore throat I ate very little, and was consequently skinny. At the age of six my tonsils were removed and I began eating and putting on weight. The bad part about that is that I never stopped putting on weight. By the time our first son was born I was in the range of morbidly obese. I never “grew out” of the allergies, they just got worse. Trying to keep my weight to the point that I could buy clothes off the rack was a constant battle.

Mom’s decline motivated me to do something, and retirement gave me the time. We started walking, every day, rain or shine. Soon I was fit – and fat. Regardless of what the TV shows would suggest, you don’t lose weight through exercise. We tried various diets, losing on some. Becoming vegetarian didn’t really help. Fasting one day a week also did not accomplish much. Allergies were still a problem, and my overall health was poor.

It probably is no surprise that I spend a lot of time on the Internet. That’s how I happened to stumble across Mark’s Daily Apple, a website maintained by Mark Sisson. He advocates the “Primal” approach to eating, which is centered around eliminating grains and most sugar. This is not a diet, per se, as much as a lifestyle. It’s a modified form of what is popularly known as “Paleo” eating. Within a few weeks I started losing weight, eventually getting back to my weight at age 21. My health got better, but was not perfect. Allergies were easier to manage, but I still had the usual “old people” problems.

While I stopped eating sugar, either directly or in packaged food, I continued to indulge in fruit – heavily. The weight loss stopped. Some of my old health issues returned. At that point my doctor still classified me as “one of her healthy ones”, but I didn’t feel like I was where I should be. About that time Mark and his associate Brad Kearns released The Keto Reset Diet, building on the original Primal lifestyle. It’s based on the way that our ancestors ate, long before they started farming. I decided to give it a shot.

After six months on Keto I have lost 30 pounds and have a Body Mass Index (BMI) that is officially normal, for the first time in my adult life. But that’s not the real bonus. One by one my health problems have disappeared. After suffering with allergy for 68 years, I am no longer bothered by the spring pollen. Fall symptoms would normally be starting now, but this year they are not. Virtually every aspect of my life is better. Worldwide there is a growing community of people who have adopted the Keto lifestyle and they are having the same dramatic results. A documentary called The Magic Pill, currently showing on Netflix, illustrates the huge difference Keto has made for an autistic child and a senior diabetic.

So why I am I blogging about this here? At virtually every quilt show I have ever attended, the aisles are often blocked by scooters, used by people whose health problems are so bad that they are unable to walk very far without assistance. The majority of those who can walk are clearly overweight. I’m sure most of you have seen this at the shows you have attended. More than a few of these folks are going to wind up like my Mom, no longer able to do the quilting that they love. It doesn’t have to be this way. Our health care system is built on treating symptoms of disease, rather than preventing it. Selling prescriptions is profitable, teaching people how to avoid getting sick not nearly so much.

If you have stayed with me to this point, I hope that this information will help you or someone you love. I don’t know whether my experience will result in my having a longer life, but it will definitely be a better one. That’s why I’m sharing it with you.