Support Repair on Giving Tuesday

Tomorrow, November 28, 2017, is #GivingTuesday. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) since 2012, this is a global movement that celebrates and encourages donations to charities and non-profits in your community. While consumerism abounds during the holiday season, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and other appeals to purchase and give items to express your affection for and appreciation of friends and family, Giving Tuesday is a chance to step back from consumerism and appreciate the various organizations and causes that work to make our communities better places by donating funds to support the missions of those organizations. It’s a day to give back ; a chance to contribute, literally and figuratively, to positive change. You can learn more about the history of Giving Tuesday at http://www.givingtuesday.org/about.

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Here in Champaign-Urbana, we’re very fortunate to have a lot of great community organizations which also include an element of reuse in their operations that divert items from the landfill while fostering positive change. Places like the IDEA Store, Courage Connection (with its Connections thrift store), the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Salt and Light, and of course Goodwill and the Salvation Army are just a few that come to mind. And of course, the Eastern Illinois Food Bank, Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, and similar entities that fight hunger in our area also help fight waste by accepting donations of unwanted or surplus food, and thus feeding people instead of landfills. If sustainability is important to you, there are many worthy causes that address all three aspects of sustainability (social, economic, and environmental) here in CU. We’re proud to be able to contribute to positive change and waste reduction in such a community.

The Illini Gadget Garage hasn’t been around as long as other organizations you might consider this Giving Tuesday, and we certainly can’t claim to impact lives as deeply as those fine institutions, but we work to do our small part every day to foster positive change. We want to empower individuals with the knowledge and tools needed to feel confident enough to consider repairing devices instead of replacing them, thus stemming the tide of electronic waste while also making technology more understandable and accessible. While helping community members to repair their own devices, we help them understand how choices made at various points along a product’s life cycle–from design to manufacture, through use and end-of-life disposal–can impact human and environmental well being. A conversation about glued-in batteries versus ones that are easy to swap out, or lamenting how difficult a certain device is just to get open in order to troubleshoot can lead to broader discussions about sustainable design, reuse, and repair. In this we way we get people thinking about sustainability through the action of considering a practical problem in their own lives. When an item is genuinely beyond repair, we help people learn about local recycling options, or if something is unwanted by functional, we can help with information on donation opportunities. And we’re currently able to do all of this at no charge to the public–UI students, faculty, staff, and yes, members of the broader CU community and beyond–are all welcome to come to our work space or to one of our pop-up clinics for assistance. That’s all thanks to donations. We launched with seed funding from the UI Student Sustainability Committee, but that funding has been used up, and we are currently powered 100% by donations from corporate sponsors, such as HOBI and iFixit, and individuals.

This Giving Tuesday, if you believe as we do that repair and reuse are important for a sustainable society, then we hope you’ll consider a donation to Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) Support Fund, the UI Foundation fund which allows the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center to coordinate the Illini Gadget Garage’s repair education and assistance efforts. Even a small donation of $5-10 is a big help, and every donation is greatly appreciated. Here’s what your donation helps with:

  • Funding the collection of single use and rechargeable batteries and shipping those to Call2Recycle and its partners for proper recycling.
  • Paying salaries for our hourly staff members, Madeleine and Amanda, who take care of our work space, train and coordinate volunteers, lead the public in one-on-one troubleshooting and repair, produce informative blog posts and podcasts, and in general help others learn not only how to repair, but why it’s both important and lots of fun.
  • Paying for recurring expenses like utilities and cleaning of our work space, purchasing supplies and equipment from printer paper to tools, paying for room rental to host community pop-up clinics, paying for marketing materials, etc.
  • Conducting not only open hours at our workshop, but also pop-up repair clinics in public spaces both on and off campus.
  • You can read about the impact we’re having, including the pounds of devices and materials we’ve diverted from landfill, at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/about/our-impact/.

Visit http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/SEIdonation.html on Giving Tuesday to contribute to our efforts on campus and beyond. Note that the Illini Gadget Garage is the sole educational project of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative currently, so your entire contribution will support the IGG. Our sincere thanks for your support!

Shop Safe this Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us, and for many that means that online shopping will see an uptick in numbers, not only from Black Friday deals, but also Cyber Monday and beyond. Just last year consumers spent $3.45 billion on online shopping on Cyber Monday; Black Friday’s online sales trailing behind that figure by only $110 million less. To keep your money and information from ending up in places where it shouldn’t be, here are some best practices to keep in mind when online shopping this holiday season (and beyond):

Use “https” encrypted websites

Look for “https” in the web address (the “s” at the end of “http” stands for secure). This should be in the web address of every page you’re on (especially ones which ask for personal information) and not just on Sign In pages. This is an added level of protection which encrypts any information you submit.

Protect your passwords

Harder passwords may be more difficult to remember but it makes them more difficult for outsiders to crack. Avoid using things which can easily be found online like names, birthdates, phone numbers, and addresses. And don’t tell others your password.

Only give them the information that’s required

If you can get away with not filling out every field, like optional phone numbers, don’t bother giving them any extra information. The less you provide the less someone could possibly swipe and the great thing is this can help save time, too.

Skip debit cards

Use credit cards or services like PayPal to protect yourself. Debit cards link directly to your bank account and we don’t want any strangers getting their hands on that. Credit cards can offer a certain amount of protection and lower liability should your card number be stolen.

Do a little research

That ad or email offering a deal too good to be true? It just may be. Check to make sure the company you’re dealing with is reputable. Type in the company name into a search box and try out keywords with it like “complaint,” “review,” or “scam” and see what comes up. Then decide if you feel secure enough providing them with your information.

Avoid clicking links and attachments

This goes along a bit with the last point. When you open emails, check the sender’s email address. If it looks suspicious, you can delete the email or mark it as spam or perhaps a phishing attempt depending on the content of the email. Phishing is an identity theft crime where an email or website looks like a legitimate site or person but is in fact there to collect your information by asking you to do simple things like: update your account information, reset your password, or verify your address. If you’re not sure about the authenticity of an email do a quick search to see if it might be a scam and/or (without clicking any links in the email) access the website (by typing it into your browser) and check that the legitimate site is indeed asking for your information.

Don’t overshare on social media

You got a super ginormous HD television for $100? That’s great, but not everyone on social media needs to know. Publicly announcing purchases is a good way for thieves to know where to get the goods. Be sure to check your privacy settings on social media, as well. Can only your friends see your posts? Can your friends’ friends? Can EVERYONE see them? How well do you trust all of these people? – Privacy settings are also important because the things you post to social media are clues for people to hack your accounts. That fancy boat “windwalker” that you took a picture with better not be one of your passwords.

Make sure your virus protection is on and software up to date

Having up to date software can give you a base level of security against viruses. Having anti-virus is helpful, but it’s malware that you have to watch out for. Malware has to be downloaded to your device, it’s not something you can just “catch,” but it’s usually attached to a legitimate-looking program or download. To guard yourself against this, only download applications from a legitimate, trusted source like Google Play or the App Store.

Avoid using unsecured networks or public hotspots

If you don’t need a password to get onto the WI-FI, identity thieves don’t either. Public networks can leave your information exposed. The safest method is avoiding wireless altogether.

Avoid saving your credit card information on the site

It can be helpful to have a site you use often to store your information, but that also makes it a bit easier for people who get into your account to purchase things. – This doesn’t even have to be a stranger, say you left your browser open and a child or family member decided to do a little shopping.

Check your financial statements regularly for odd charges

This is good practice any time. If odd charges come up, its best to know sooner better than later in order to minimize possible damage.

Check the company’s privacy policy to see who they share your information with

A lot of people skim over the fine print when they sign up for things, but it doesn’t hurt to know what you’re getting yourself into by signing up. Check to see if they share your information with any third parties and decide if that’s something you’re okay with.

 

Hopefully these tips will help you have a less stressful online shopping season, so shop smart, stay safe, and enjoy your holidays everyone. 🙂

 

 

Tumbles of the iPhone X

The iPhone X.

In the adage of toast falling off tables, you better hope this phone lands butter (screen) side down.

This isn’t to say we hope anything bad happens to any of the iPhone X’s now popping up in consumer’s pockets now – in fact, we’d love to hear about them having long, fulfilling lives – but being a primarily glass construction, they’re not doing so hot. Social media is already swimming in posts about unfortunate individuals whose devices have already humpty-dumptied.

Screenshot from Apple's iPhone X webpage
Screenshot from Apple’s iPhone X webpage

Several websites this week have posted about how easily the iPhone X’s supposedly ‘most durable glass ever’ breaks. (And let’s be honest, anyone saying “most ____ ever” is basically a challenge to test its claim. This same drama was happening with the Galaxy S8+ when it came out.) It comes as a surprise to no one that glass breaks, however, if it’s going to be touted as the most durable, it should hold up to a fair amount of abuse… which doesn’t seem to be the case for the iPhone X.

From the articles I’ve sifted through online this week, the most prevalent “tests” to be mentioned were those by CNET and SquareTrade. In all fairness, these tests were not highly scientific (CNET just dropped theirs outside on the sidewalk a couple times at about pocket height to see what would happen) or generally applicable (Squaretrade used a mechanical device to standardize the conditions of the drop, but then dropped it from a height of 6 feet); the take away you’ll want to glean from their experiments is that you need to baby this device.

Get the case. Get the screen protector. Get the insurance.

As I generally disapprove of Apple’s authorized repair service model where you’re supposed to take/send it to an authorized Apple repair center to keep your warranty intact – let us fix it ourselves, Apple! *shakes fist angrily* – it may have become fiscally responsible to purchase AppleCare+ with the device.

With a glass front and back, you’ve doubled your chances for damage. The fancy bezel-less OLED screen on the iPhone X is actually developed and manufactured by Samsung (and then tweaked by Apple) and they’re not cheap. Apple reporting it’s iPhone X service pricing at $279 for the screen repair only; other damage, which would be if the glass back panel shattered, is a whopping $549. That’s half the original cost of the phone! Purchasing AppleCare+ for $199 and paying the service fee for replacing a broken screen ($29) twice cost less than repairing the screen once without it, and AppleCare+ with the $99 other damage coverage is significantly less than $549.

So when that device drops, for the sake of your wallet, you better hope it cracks the screen.

Why is the back glass so bothersome? It’s not really repairable. With the way that the device was designed, the back-glass panel is actually welded to the metal frame beneath it where the camera bump is located. From iFixit’s teardown of the iPhone X, they’re speculating that in order to repair the back glass, you’ll need to remove all of the internal components of the phone and reassemble everything in an all new chassis.

But let us not forget that if the phone was better designed to take damage, many of these extra expenses in protecting the device wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.

What I personally find ironic about designing a glass phone to look sleek and beautiful is that it inevitably will be covered up with a case to protect it, so aside from taking it out of the box, you likely won’t see that sleek glass panel again. Want to protect those corners? You’re going to have to cover at least some part of that swanky bezel-less screen to compensate. I understand that Apple didn’t switch to glass backs as purely for aesthetic reasons, glass is better for wireless charging than aluminum or plastic, but you have to ask yourself, is this trade-off for wireless charging really worth it in the long run?

 

Why I Can Never Have Oreo

Android droid and Oreos

I love my Galaxy S5. Thanks to a case, screen protector, and a fair amount of luck, my phone has survived three years of abuse by me and is still in like new condition. Yes, I’ve had to purchase a replacement battery. Yes, my internal storage on my device has been eaten through by system memory and apps so I occasionally have to delete things. No, my phone is not sleek, new, or exciting, but after all this time it does the jobs I need it to do.

The problem I’m facing now doesn’t lie with the device itself, but with the software. My Galaxy started off its life with KitKat (Android version 4.4) and got upgraded the next year to Lollipop (5.0) and then to Marshmallow (6.0) the year after. I was running through the whimsical gamut of delicious upgrades, ever awaiting the next delicious version… but that’s where the magic stopped.

Nougat (7.0) was released and I waited.
Waited.
Waited.
It became fairly apparent when they announced the release of Oreo (8.0) a few months ago that my phone wasn’t going to be getting sweet new versions any longer.

While this is a bit disappointing in itself – I will never have Oreo or whatever delectable version comes next (Pancake? Parfait? Pumpkin Pie? Pop Tart? Popcorn?) – what is more disappointing is that the useable life of my phone is now ticking down to a close. While my phone may have another year or two of software and patch support as it made it to Marshmallow (6.0), many devices currently in use do not, and users of devices currently running KitKat will soon be unsupported like the many sweet themed iterations that came before it. According to an Android version distribution survey, as of August 2017 KitKat users and versions below that make up a quarter of devices still running that use unsupported operating systems.

UNSUPPORTED? SO WHAT?

The problem with devices losing support and running outdated versions of their operating systems is that it makes them more vulnerable to the contagions of the internet: viruses, malware, hacks, etc. This can put your personal information at risk, and if you use your device for work related activities – for example, if you’re logging into your company’s networksHacker with code and apps with a vulnerable device – you could put the whole company at risk for an attack.

While operating systems are supported, developers keep an eye out for bugs and vulnerabilities in the code where it may be easy for hackers to infiltrate and they then create patches (code corrections) to fix or improve the weak points in your system which helps keep your system from being exploited. Criminals will compare newly released patches to the existing code to find out what changes have been made, so they know where the holes are to exploit in software that hasn’t been updated. Unsupported systems don’t receive these patches and make easy targets for criminals.

Having unsupported software can also be a problem when it comes to third party software support. Third party phone applications get updated with new software to keep up with technology trends; over time, they’ll stop adjusting their application to cater to your device’s operating system in favor of providing better support to most users with supported systems. So, some of your favorite apps may become obsolete or never again see an update.

*This is becoming an increasing problem with the amount of “Smart” technology being produced without easy and continuous access to updates or things that we simply don’t consider updating. Ever think about the operating system on your e-readers, smart watches, home security systems, smart appliances, streaming devices like Rokus, listening devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, digital cameras, and GPS navigation systems? Perhaps not until now. But keep in mind, if it can connect to the internet, its able to be hacked.

WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?

Android droid and marshmallows

The problem of becoming unsupported isn’t unique to Android, this happens to essentially all software as it’s developed, as it evolves with device hardware and user wants and needs. IPhone users may get a generous 5 years of support. Android users may get 3 years, if we’re lucky. Windows phone users are promised a minimum of 18 months software support, but software upgrades can only be achieved through the purchase of a new device.

Android doesn’t have a one shoe fits all approach that it can use like Apple does. When Apple does updates and software support for their devices, they know what hardware specifications they’re working with because they’ve made all of the devices that run iOS, the same can’t be said for Android. Android is an open source code which is used as a software base for a variety of different manufacturers like Sony, HTC, LG, Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, etc., who then take that base code and customize it to their device adding features and software to make their devices more appealing. Customizing it to their device and their brand often ends up with the software being closed-source (we don’t want the competitors using the same stuff we do, right?) which means that updates to Android have to be run through the manufacturers for re-development and distribution and this comes with a lot of caveats.

  • Many manufacturer’s will typically only expend the effort of updating newer and popular devices, generally their flagships (the phone they’re most known for). Lesser known and purchased devices will be slow in getting updates if they decide to roll them out at all.
  • The manufacturers can be held up by cell phone carriers who can delay updates by months on their networks in testing for compatibility. CDMA (US) and GSM (Global) radio systems used for sending and receiving calls and data (and vary depending on device and carrier) are developed differently and tweaking Android to the way these devices operate takes time to make it compatible.
  • And there’s isn’t a great amount of interest in keeping the devices updated after they’re released. With the sheer volume of phones being released and consumed by the public (phones having an average lifespan of just 21 months in the US), there’s greater profit in selling a whole new device than keeping your existing device running.
  • Software can be incompatible with a device’s hardware.

WHAT TO DO

The best thing that can be done currently is to make sure your devices are up to date with updates. If the software updates are no longer being extended to your device, you may consider seeing if your device can handle a community built upgrade to the next version. Or remove your operating system and install a custom Android ROM like LineageOS (formerly CyanogenMod). – Technology will keep progressing forward, but we can encourage manufacturers and developers to extend the length of time they keep device operating systems supported. Aside from directly demanding longer support, keeping our devices in use longer rather than purchasing new each year would theoretically lead to longer support for our existing devices and vice versa.