The Retro Revive

20170914_112947After getting removed from a parent’s basement, my friend showed me the bag of retro games and consoles her parents had returned to her after years of sitting dormant. In my excitement of holding an original Game Boy, I flipped the device on only to have nothing happen. Batteries must be dead, was my natural assumption. I opened the battery compartment to find the batteries had leaked and corrosion EVERYWHERE.

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Alkaline Battery Corrosion! The HORROR!

A younger me would have said, “Well, nothing we can do with it now. We’ll have to get rid of it.” And if time travel were a thing, I might go back and give my younger self a rough shake and an education on when to declare an electronic dead.

Battery “Acid”

My younger self was told to never touch exploded batteries; “it’s acid and it will burn”. Well, it was a half-truth from my parents to keep me from playing with something potentially dangerous. Alkaline batteries don’t leak acid, they actually leak a material that registers as a base on the pH scale: potassium hydroxide.  Potassium hydroxide is a conductive solution used in alkaline batteries that can be harmful to us if the proper precautions are not taken in handling it. It’s a corrosive and can cause an itchy/burning sensation if it comes into contact with your skin, eyes, or if inhaled, so be sure to use gloves, safety glasses, and work in a well-ventilated area. Also, I wish it could go without saying, but DO NOT INGEST and wash your hands and work area after any contact with it, gloves or no.

Cleaning Alkaline Corrosion

(Please make sure you’re working with alkaline batteries before performing this cleaning method.)

When cleaning alkaline battery leaks, you want to use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to take on the base corrosion. What you don’t want to use are other base materials to clean it like baking soda, ammonia, or bleach, you may just make things worse this way. If you’re concerned that the acid may be too strong for cleaning your device, feel free to use a 50/50 mix (equal parts) of distilled water and vinegar or distilled water and lemon juice instead.

Use a Q-tip or small brush (soft bristle toothbrushes work just fine, just don’t use it for teeth cleaning afterwards) dipped in your chosen cleaning acid to scrub off/eat away the corrosion. Wipe with a dry cloth to remove any lingering corrosive particles. Repeat as necessary and let it dry completely before trying to put new batteries in. (Recycle old batteries.)

Some devices are caked in corrosion and require a more thorough cleaning which involves taking the device apart and soaking the contacts as I had to do for this poor Game Boy.

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Taking the Game Boy apart to remove the contacts
corrosion on contacts: before and after
Before and after soaking the contacts to remove the corrosion

 

What if I can’t save it?

Corrosion is the eventual fate of all metals, whether they are corroded irreparably depends on the type of metal and the type of corrosive as well as the amount of corrosive it’s been exposed to and how long it’s been there. I don’t know how long the batteries in this device have been leaking exactly, but the corrosion had eaten through enough of the top layers of metal to pockmark it. Fortunately, it was not enough to cause it to be irreparable for this project, a good scrub allowed us to get this device up and running again.

Should the damage to your device be irreparable and replacement parts unable to be found, recycling your device is the best course of action to take. Since Illinois state law has a ban on electronics like these in landfills, you can find local recyclers that can take your devices. Nintendo also offers repair of their products and take back programs which will allow you to send your old Nintendo devices (and sometimes other companies devices) in for recycling for free. Sony also offers a version of recycling as well.

What if it’s not Alkaline Battery Corrosion?

In regards to other types of corrosion, the cleaning methods vary. Different corrosives require different techniques. Isopropyl alcohol (90% and higher) is frequently used to clean/rinse motherboards as it dries quickly, but you could also soak/rinse a board (only the board, no power source or hard drive, etc.) in distilled or de-ionized water. It’s not the water itself that causes the corrosion, but the impurities and chemicals found in the water (like fluoride and chlorine). We don’t recommend submerging the boards although it can be done, we find it a bit risky and wasteful of resources, instead we use Qtips to apply cleaner/remove corrosion and soft bristle toothbrushes for some extra scrubbing power when needed.

 

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

With the release of the iPhone 8 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 anticipated this month, it’s a little hard to ignore the hype that new reveals can bring in the technology world. As consumers, we tend to want the latest and greatest devices, not wanting to be left behind the ever increasing technological curve of obsolescence, and the manufacturers know we’re willing to pay a premium for these brand new items. Preorders for the Galaxy Note 8’s start at $930 and iPhone 8’s cost is being estimated to be the first iPhone to go for over $1000. Now, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think that’s a pretty hefty price tag for a device that may last you 2-3 years due to planned obsolescence or less if you’re one of the few individuals who buys each year’s model new regardless if the previous phone works or not (please stop).

So, I wanted to take a look at some of the features of smartphones that sound new and exciting and level the playing field a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love new technology as much as the next person, but the big developments these devices tout aren’t really game changers… especially when comparing them to the last models that were released.

Smartphone

Screen resolution
1080p is losing out in favor of 4K for televisions and larger displays but still is at the high end of the screen resolution spectrum for phones… at the moment. But consider the size of your smartphone for a moment, is 1080p really necessary for a handheld device? Higher screen resolutions require more power to operate, not only because of the screen, but also the processor, draining your battery faster than lower resolution screens like those set to 720p would. Screen resolution isn’t the only factor to be considered when looking for a quality image, screen size comes into play as well. There is a big difference between having 1080p on a 5 inch screen versus a 72 inch screen; this is because the factor you want to look at is pixel density – or how many pixels there are per square inch. 300ppi (Pixels Per Inch) or so exceeds what the human eye is able to distinguish at a normal viewing distance. Many devices nowadays tout high ppi in their screens: the iPhone 7plus has 407 ppi and the Galaxy S8 has a whopping 570 ppi… that means you’d have to hold the phone closer than 6 inches to your eyes to make out the pixels on the screen. Basically, if you typically hold your phone over a foot away from your face when you’re looking at it, anything over 300ppi is just gravy.

Broken Glass back phone

Glass backs
Sure, they look absolutely beautiful from a design standpoint, but do little to protect your device should it be dropped. Gorilla glass, the type frequently used in smartphones, is designed to be damage resistant. The problem is it’s glass and any small surface marring – those tiny scratches your phone gets from everyday wear and tear – can weaken the overall structure of the glass making it more likely to shatter. Not to mention that glass on both sides of a device can make for a slippery surface conducive to jumping out of pockets with little warning; even a short drop to the carpet can have bad results and many glass back devices rely heavily on adhesive to hold the device together and this can make repairs quite a bit more stressful depending on how the device was designed.

image of smartphone

Curved-edge screens
While comfortable to hold and allowing for extra display area, curved-edge screens are some of the most difficult to repair and/or replace. Not only that, but according to a 2015 article from Tech News about the creation of 3D thermoformed glass used for the Galaxy S6 almost half of the screens produced were unusable… which means for every screen made another was thrown away. Also, that curve to the screen adds considerable cost to it; the cost of a flat gorilla glass screen can start at around $3, but curving the display runs the cost up to around $25 a screen.

Smart phone with water dropsWater resistance
Water resistance is great for those who are accident prone, but water resistant does not mean the device is water proof and issues can still arise with the device, most commonly problems with the speakers and ports. Although it’s a touted selling feature in many smartphones these days, there’s no warranty to back up the water resistance claims.

charging low battery phone

Internal batteries
Long battery life is what everyone looks for in a phone, but what happens when that battery wears out after two years of recharging? Many devices nowadays have sealed in their batteries in order to get higher water resistance ratings and subtly force you into purchasing a new phone every few years when the battery just won’t hold a charge anymore.

Finger print in blue

Fingerprint readers 
To be fair, these have come quite a ways since they were first introduced, but identity theft through fingerprint replication can be done albeit a bit troublesome and unlikely. But consider if someone did manage to duplicate your thumbprint, what can be done about keeping your device secure? It’s not like you can get a new thumbprint, that’s unique to you as an individual. Changing a password seems far simpler.

Take your time when deciding to make a device purchase so that you can evaluate your wants and needs and distinguish between the two and we at the Gadget Garage encourage you – whenever possible – to prolong the use of a device you own, because the most sustainable device you will ever find is the one that you already have.

*Links found in this article are provided for reference purposes and are not an endorsement by the Illini Gadget Garage or any outside entities.

Thanks to HOBI International, Inc. for Continued Support!

We’d like to express our sincere gratitude to HOBI International, Inc. for their recent donation of $5000 to support our efforts to promote repair and extending the useful life of products here on the UIUC campus! HOBI has supported our efforts since the launch of the Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) project, providing a letter of support for our original proposal for a UI Student Sustainability Committee grant and making a previous $5000 donation.

HOBI international logo, with the letter HOBI and a lotus within the O. Below that are the words "Secure. Sustainable. Solutions."

HOBI International, Inc. is a leading mobile, IT and data center asset management provider with comprehensive and traceable solutions for device management, reverse logistics, data erasure, refurbishment and recycling, as well as compliance services. With locations in Arizona, Illinois and Texas, HOBI works with enterprises of all sizes nationwide. HOBI was founded by Cathy Hill and Craig Boswell and incorporated in the State of Illinois in 1992 as a privately held corporation. Its focus remains on the complete environmental disposition of post-consumption, manufacturing and mixed electronic surplus and scrap. The company holds R2, RIOS, ISO 14001:2004 and WBE certifications. You can learn more about them at https://hobi.com/about-hobi/.

Craig Boswell, HOBI President and Co-Founder, is a UI alum who has participated in several of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC)’s sustainable electronics efforts over the years. (ISTC coordinates the Illini Gadget Garage.) He served as a juror for the 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition, came to campus to present a guest lecture for the spring 2014 course ENG/TE 498: Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations, and was also a presenter during the 2012 ISTC Sustainability Seminar Series, speaking on design for recycling. You can view the archive of that seminar below. Craig has the unique experience of having been involved in designing electronics earlier in his career as an engineer for an electronics manufacturer. Now as someone who works in the recycling and asset management industry, he has been able to observe first-hand how design decisions impact the ability to repair or disassemble a product for material reclamation–typically by making all of that much more difficult because end-of-life management is not often considered in the design phase for electronic devices. He talks about that a little bit in the archived webinar below. It’s an important lesson which we hope UI industrial design and engineering students take to heart.

See our full list of sponsors at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/sponsors/. HOBI’s contributions have put it at the “Platinum” level of sponsorship.

If you or your organization would like to contribute to IGG’s efforts to promote repair as a viable alternative to immediate replacement of consumer goods on the UIUC campus and beyond, donations can be made at http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/SEIdonation.html. After entering an amount, you’ll be taken to the UI Foundation’s secure giving site to provide your personal and credit card information. Every little bit helps us pay hourly employees that coordinate student volunteers and day-to-day operations, cover expenses for our physical workshop and consumables, and provide special services like webinars, workshops and collection of batteries for recycling. Your donations also help us keep this educational project free for the campus and broader community. See “Our Impact” to check out what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. Your support will help our positive impact grow!

Note: Businesses mentioned above are for informational and acknowledgement purposes only, and should not be construed as endorsements by the Illini Gadget Garage, the University of Illinois, or units affiliated with this project.

Proposed Right to Repair Legislation in Illinois

Illinois is one of 12 states currently with proposed legislation that would support what is called the “right to repair”—that is, the right of consumers and smaller independent repair businesses to have access to instructions, parts, and tools necessary to repair electronics. If passed into law, this type of legislation would require manufacturers of electronic equipment to sell repair parts and release service information to consumers and independent repair shops.

For more information on the “right to repair” movement, see our previous posts, Introducing Right to Repair and its Roots in the Automotive Industry and Right to Repair and the Tech Industry. You should also check the web site of the Repair Association, previously the Digital Right to Repair Coalition, a group which advocates for the repair industry and legislation to protect consumers’ right to repair the devices they own, or to take them for repair to the repair shop of their choice (not just those controlled by the manufacturers). See their “Statement of Principles” at https://repair.org/association/. This page also includes a summary of the history of the right to repair movement.

In Illinois the proposed bill is called the Digital Fair Repair Act (HB 3030). See the full text of the bill on the Illinois General Assembly web site. According to the General Assembly site, that bill was referred to the House Rules Committee in March 2017 and no recent action has taken place. If you’re interested in contacting your elected officials to express your support for this bill, the Repair Association has made it easy for you, with a form that will help you contact legislators based on the zip code you enter–see https://illinois.repair.org/. Of course, the form can also assist you in determining your legislators if you care to contact them and oppose the bill.

Other states with similar proposed legislation include Nebraska, New York, Minnesota, Kansas, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Tennessee, North Carolina, Iowa, Missouri, and New Jersey. To learn more about proposed legislation in those states, see https://repair.org/stand-up/.

Incidentally, as in so many cases, the European Union is ahead of the US in terms of facilitating the repair of consumer products and thinking about designing products with repair in mind in the first place. On July 4, 2017 the European Parliament voted to approve a resolution calling on the European Commission, member countries and producers to take steps to improve repairability. While the resolution doesn’t place requirements into law, it does illustrate the desire of elected officials to address the issue of repair and design for repair in future laws and voluntary programs. See the 7/13/17 E-Scrap News article EU body takes aim at planned obsolescence in devices written by Jared Paben for further information.

drawing of wrench clasped in a fist enclosed in a circle
Right to Repair advocacy image from Repair.org

Get a Taste for Repair at the Taste of Champaign

Calling all University of Illinois students, faculty and staff, plus members of the broader Champaign-Urbana community! The Illini Gadget Garage will have a booth at this weekend’s Taste of Champaign at West Side Park in downtown Champaign, Friday, August 18 and Saturday, August 19. See the Facebook event for more details.

Stop by to learn more about the “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair we provide to campus and community members, and why we think it’s so important that you consider repairing the electronic devices and small appliances you own rather than immediately replacing them when there’s a problem! Set up an appointment to come into our workshop to work with us on your device, learn about volunteer and educational opportunities, hear about our employee engagement event offerings, and learn how you can support continued efforts. Also, if you’re the sort of person who thinks, “oh, I could never repair a device” or “repair is too complicated,” we’ll have some practice devices on hand along with tools, so you can sit down and get a feel for what it’s like to open something up and use the tools–all without the pressure of worrying that you might make things worse with your personal device. We’re pretty sure (from our own experiences) that once you get a taste of repair and tinkering, you’ll be hungry for more!

We’ll be at booth #27 in the “Community Corridor”–conveniently near the stage and beer tents so you can’t miss us! We’ll be there from the beginning of festivities each day until 9 PM each evening. See https://champaignparks.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/TASTE-CU-2017-NG-Tabloid-Insert-w_MAP-FINAL-7.31.17.pdf for a printable map. We hope to see you there!

image of 2017 Taste of Champaign booth layout in West Side Park