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Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Cry for Help -- SolderSmoke Responds

Here at SolderSmoke, we often get letters from the relatives of Knack victims. This week we received a particularly impassioned plea for help. I thought readers would be interested in this case, and in the advice we gave:
I usually don't listen to Soldersmoke, but my husband is a ham, so I overhear it from the other room on a fairly regular basis. OK, he listens to each show over and over at least 4 times. I hear him in there laughing--in his workbench area. I think the show's a good thing for the most part, and seems to keep him occupied when I don't need him to lift something heavy.
But today I am writing to you about a matter that has grown serious. A matter that can be overlooked no longer. So many of these radio hams seem to look up to you, Bill--so I am going directly to the ringleader to see if anything can be done. I have changed some names to protect the hapless victims.
I am referring to the blight called Shack Creep. It comes on quietly, but Shack Creep can be upon you before you have a chance to escape.
I'm getting ahead of myself.
In our home, it all started about 5 years ago. Charlie, my husband, had been tinkering with an old radio he found at a garage sale and he'd set aside a corner of the dining room for his small toolbox, soldering equipment, and a small box of things with wires sticking out. I noticed a piece of string or wire or something clotheslined across the room, attached to my macrame plant hanger. ''That's just temporary. I need to see if this thing works.'' Within a few weeks, though, I started to notice the card table expanding into a full-fledged workbench. The single wire that had dangled from the plant hanger had become a bundle of fat cords and wires going out the window and under the edge of the carpet to places unknown. From nowhere sprouted bins and boxes marked, 'Tubes-might work,' 'PCB scraps-keep,' 'Misc-to be sorted' and even more boxes haphazardly stacked with wires and braided cables jutting out every which way.
My dismay was only assuaged by the joyous but manic gleam in his eye as he uttered cryptic phrases like, "that's nearly four thousand miles a watt!," and "a ceramic resonator should never behave this way!"
I started finding oddly-shaped electronic parts in his pants pockets, on top of the dresser, and Arnie, our Irish Setter was recently caught with a doorknob capacitor in his slobbery jaws, headed out to play.
Bill, I love my Charlie, and I know this radio thing makes him happy, but you just have to say something to stop this tsunami of tangled wires and electronic bric-a-brac that threatens to unravel our happy home! For crabgrass we have pesticides. For roaches we have the roach motel--but nothing seems to be able to stem the tide of Shack Creep. Help!
Yours truly,


Dear Mrs. Charles:

Thank you for your e-mail. We here at SolderSmoke receive many messages like yours. I am happy to try to help you with your problem, but it is very important that you approach this problem with an open mind, and that you fully accept all of the advice that I am about to offer.

First, you must understand your husband's condition. What you refer to as "Shack Creep" is almost certainly the medical/psychological condition called "The Knack," also known as "Dilbert's Disease." This condition has plagued radio amateurs for many decades, but was first scientifically identified by Dr. Scott Adams during the late 1990s.

Dr. Adams wrote that The Knack is "a rare condition characterized by an extreme intuition about all things mechanical and electrical... and other social ineptitudes."

There is no cure for The Knack, but there are things that you can do to help your husband deal with the symptoms. Here is a list of steps that Dr. Adams and our team of researchers recommend:

-- Accept your husband's condition. Don't try to get him to change his ways, or get him interested in other things. Don't suggest that he switch to stamp collecting or gardening. He can't. He is a victim. He has a disease. Learn to live with it.

-- Victims of this disease usually exhibit a form of nesting behavior. In or near their homes they set up something that they call "the shack." Then they fill this "shack" with bits of wire, electronic items, tools and ham radio magazines. Often -- as in your husband's case -- the shack begins to fill to the rafters, and may actually overflow into other parts of the house.

-- Your reaction to this nesting behavior is very important. First, realize that your husband NEEDS to have a shack. Never suggest that his area be converted into a sewing room, or a TV room, or anything else. Knack victims are extremely territorial regarding their shacks, and will find these kinds of suggestions very upsetting.

-- Realize too that your husband NEEDS to spend a lot of time in his shack. And we mean a LOT of time. Shack therapy is an important part of our program for dealing with this condition. When your husband is in his shack, he should not be interrupted with requests to walk the dog, or take out the garbage or mow the lawn, etc. Our research has found that "honey-dos" significantly reduce the beneficial effects of shack therapy.

-- Knack victims need to consume beverages while in their shacks. Coffee -- lots of coffee -- is what they need.

--Social contact with other Knack victims is also very important, so you should NEVER object to his participation in hamfests or radio club meetings. Think of these events as group therapy sessions.

-- As a Knack victim, your husband NEEDS to work on electronic equipment. This equipment is often big, ugly, and expensive. Most health insurance plans will not cover the purchase of this equipment, but nevertheless, you should see it for what it is: a medically necessary part of your husband's treatment program. This is very important: You should never complain about the amount of money being spent on radio equipment.

-- Shack victims need encouragement from their loved ones. When your husband is struggling with an electronic project, it is best for you to avoid phrases like "Haven't you got that crazy thing working yet?" or "When will that stupid gizmo of yours be finished?" Instead, offer positive feedback: When he shows you something that he has been working on, use phrases like: "Excellent soldering!" or "Great circuit board layout!" Every once in a while, you should declare your husband to be "A true electronics genius," or "A wizard." Knack victims like to hear that.

-- Realize that there is no cure for The Knack. There are only therapies that help victims deal with the symptoms.

I want to also take this opportunity to let you know that we are also thinking of initiatives that we could propose to the new administration on behalf of Knack victims. For example we are considering a push for designated "Knack Victim" parking spots near RadioShack stores, and perhaps airfare subsidies for annual trips to Dayton, Ohio.

I hope you find this information useful and that you will take our suggestions to heart.




  1. I think you covered everything perfectly. Seems completely normal, to me. Randy K7AGE

  2. Short of some ointment, some poultice or liniment that might stave off Knack symptoms--Bill's prescription seems as good a remedy as we have. Perhaps a 12-step group for the loved ones? Knack-anon.
    ... Nice post!
    Jonathan KC7FYS/7J1AWL

  3. Bill,
    I believe that your team very accurately diagnosed the symptoms and solutions to us victims of the Knack. I eagerly read the post and solution to my lovely wife, and she was not amused. She asked what is to be done for all the rest of family. Apparently, by the time I read Jonathan's (KC7FYS/7J1ALW) remarks, her eyes have glazed over and she missed the obvious solution that Jonathan suggests. In fact, to help our families cope with our conditions, I think they should organize Knack-anon meetings to coincide with our hamfests and while we are involved with other methods of therapy we need for our condition.
    John K7JM

  4. John: Uh, helping them to get organized might not be such a good idea, if you know what I mean... Bill

  5. Actually there is a cure and hence hope for these victims. There is an ointment for this, this need to be applied not on the body but on copper clad boards that the victims use. These are not sold in medical stores either. But are available in electronic parts stores and is mysteriously called as "solder flux". Apply these, not too generously, on the copper clad boards and let the victims do whatever they want with these boards. This will keep them happy for a while. Once the ointment is over, buy more and more and more.

  6. The post brought back fond memories of my first affliction symptoms. sniff

    Alan, N8WQ

  7. I am definitely a knack victim.

    I went to a hamfest on thinking that i might possibly be interested in purchasing a wide spaced variable capacitor. I came back with six!


  8. Well Niel, obviously you NEEDED six of them. Good going OM!

  9. Mrs. Charles, perhaps a job outside the home is in order. That way you and 'Charlie' might be able to buy a larger domicile where he could have a Shack to himself.

    If I might ask, what sort of solder does Charlie use.

    Best regards from Oxnard, CA


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