Death by Design Screening, August 22 at Champaign Public Library

On Tuesday, August 22, the Illini Gadget Garage will be hosting a screening of the documentary Death by Design at the Champaign Public Library. Doors will open at 6:30 PM and the film will begin at 7:00. The film duration is 73 minutes.

The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances. The project promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream.

Death by Design explores the environmental and human costs of electronics, particularly considering their impacts in the design and manufacture stages, bearing in mind that many electronic devices are not built to be durable products that we use for many years. Cell phones, for example, are items that consumers change frequently, sometimes using for less than 2 years before replacing with a new model. When we analyze the effort put into, and potential negative impacts of, obtaining materials for devices through efforts like mining, the exposure to potentially harmful substances endured by laborers in manufacturing plants, and the environmental degradation and human health risks associated with informal electronics recycling practices in various parts of the word, the idea that we might see these pieces of technology as “disposable” in any way becomes particularly poignant. For more information on the film, including reviews, see http://deathbydesignfilm.com/about/ and http://bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/dbd.html. You can also check out the trailer at the end of this post.

After the film, there will be a brief discussion and Q&A session facilitated by Joy Scrogum, Sustainability Specialist from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and project coordinator for the Illini Gadget Garage. UI Industrial Design Professor William Bullock will also participate in the panel discussion; other panelists will be announced as they are confirmed. Professor Bullock is also an adviser for the Illini Gadget Garage project; see more about IGG advisers at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/meet-the-advisers/.  Check the IGG web site calendar and Facebook page for room details and panelist announcements.

Admission to this public screening is FREE, but donations are suggested and appreciated to support future outreach and educational efforts of the Illini Gadget Garage. See http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/donation-form/ to make an online donation and http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/ for more information on the project.

Bullfrog Films presents…DEATH BY DESIGN from Bullfrog Films on Vimeo.

Webinar, 7/27/17–What the Tech? Learn Basic Electronic Component Function with the Illini Gadget Garage

Computers and smartphones are really complex machines, right? Well, if you know a little bit about them, they’re not all that intimidating. We’re going to break it down for you in our “What the Tech?” series of workshops, providing a basic walk through of different computer components and what they do.

This first presentation, via webinar, focuses on the basic components found in computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices and their functions in making a computer operate properly. Components to be covered include, but are not limited to: processors, hard drives, memory cards, and cooling elements. The Illini Gadget Garage’s Amanda Elzbieciak will guide you through the basics. The presentation will take place on Thursday, July 27 from 10-10:45 AM. (Note that the our campus workshop will be closed from 10-11 that day as a result.) Register online at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/331629583625614595

This webinar presentation is free, but donations are appreciated to support future Illini Gadget Garage programming. The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances which promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream. In order to pay hourly staff to help the public and train and oversee volunteers, as well as to pay for expenses like utilities, consumables, etc., we rely on the generosity of sponsors like you or your organization! See http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/donation-form/

A future presentation will offer hands-on opportunities to dismantle devices at our campus workshop. If you have suggestions for topics for future presentations, email us at illinigadgetgarage@gmail.com.

photo of various electronic components laid out on a table next to a ruler for scale

Greenpeace and iFixit Assign Reparability Grades, Advocate for Durable Electronics

iFixit, the self-proclaimed “free repair guide for everything, written by everyone,” and Greenpeace, the environmental organization which has in the past published a “Guide to Greener Electronics,” have teamed up to assess how easy or difficult it may be to repair over 40 popular electronic devices. The assessments, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops launched between 2015 and 2017, can be found online at https://www.rethink-it.org/.

As electronic devices become smaller and sleeker, it’s sometimes the case that decisions are made at the industrial design stage, that, while making the product lighter and more aesthetically pleasing, can adversely impact the ability to repair it, or to dismantle it for recycling and material recovery at its end-of-life. Perhaps a battery will be glued in to avoid inclusion of a structure to hold the battery in place. Or perhaps the device will be unable to be opened without a special tool that most consumers or even many independent repair shops wouldn’t have. iFixit has been giving electronics “repairability scores” for years, based on criteria such as these, as well as considerations of how quickly a device can be dismantled, whether parts are modular and durable, whether components such as memory are upgradeable, whether repair manuals for the product are readily available, etc. Scores are on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most easily repaired item. The trend toward devices that are harder to repair or upgrade has resulted in a proliferation of electronic waste. When something goes wrong with a gadget these days, it’s not uncommon to simply replace it without giving repair a second thought.

The scores in the joint iFixit/Greenpeace list are also on a scale of 1-10, but are based on a simpler list of criteria: battery replaceability, display replaceability, whether special tools are needed, and whether spare parts are available. This latest round of repairability scores is all part of a joint campaign called “RethinkIT.” The campaign is focused on encouraging consumers to be more aware of how manufacturers contribute to waste generation through poor design and planned obsolescence–and how such design decisions can actually benefit the manufacturers. After all, they WANT to sell electronics, so if you’re more likely to replace something than repair it, that’s a form of success from their perspective. The “RethinkIT” campaign ties the list of repairability scores to a petition consumers can sign, expressing their desire for manufacturers to create products that are meant to last.

At the Illini Gadget Garage, consumers can observe first hand how design decisions impact the repairability of their personal devices, as they work with our staff and volunteers to troubleshoot and repair them. It can be an eye-opening experience, which may end up influencing future decisions on device purchases.

Read more about the RethinkIT campaign here: Greenpeace and iFixit slam smartphone companies over e-waste

Example of score from the iFixit/Greenpeace list, showing the Fairphone 2 with a 10 out of 10 possible points.

Note: Organizations, products, or links included here are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute endorsement by the Illini Gadget Garage, the University of Illinois, or associated departments and projects.

Splish Splash, the IP Ratings Bath

Sitting poolside this summer, the electronics never seem to be far from hand. Whether it’s a Bluetooth speaker you have sitting out to listen to some tunes, a phone chilling out next to the cold beverage you’re sipping on, or a wrist watch that you forgot to take off before that really impressive cannonball, your devices have a good chance of encountering liquids.

Some of you may be less concerned about this than others as you own devices that are promoted as being water resistant, so let me just start out by saying that water resistant does not mean waterproof.

Companies are trying to make electronics more water resilient since so many of them end up going for a swim. In testing their devices, they assign them IP ratings which are good for letting consumers know just how dust and water resistant your device can be. The first digit following IP gives a rating for dust or other solid objects on a 0-6 scale, and the second digit following IP gives a rating for the device’s resistance to water on a 0-8 scale. The higher the numbers, the greater the level of resistance. For example, a device that is labeled IP67, like Samsung’s Galaxy S5 or the iPhone 7, has a dust resistance of 6 which is the highest rating, meaning it is essentially as dust resistant as a device can be; and a water rating of 7 which means that the device has been lab tested to survive a temporary immersion (30 minutes or less) in less than 1 meter of water.

(Click here for more information on what your device’s IP rating covers.)

So, your phone’s immersion safe. Sounds great, right? Let’s take pictures underwater with it.

Mmm, no, not so much.

Even smartphones with the highest rating, IP68, like the Galaxy S7 , can still manage to drown.

The problem with IP ratings is that they only prove that they’ve passed the required tests in a controlled lab; real world conditions will vary. Perhaps the tests were performed for the IP ratings were done with a gradual submersion opposed to a sudden dunk; using fresh water rather than damaging salt or chlorine; or using static water rather than running water; or in lukewarm water versus a hot tub or frozen lake. There is such a wide array of variables that impact the water resistance of a device that your safest bet is to keep it away from liquids as much as possible.

Companies like Apple, Samsung, and Sony have lots of caveats for what should and shouldn’t be done with their devices regarding their interaction with liquids such as: not using the device while submerged, letting the device dry out for a few hours afterwards, and not opening the device when it’s wet as it can damage the adhesives that help give it its water-resistant rating.

Most device warranties, even those with higher IP ratings, do not include liquid damage due to the high levels of unpredictable conditions that can affect them, including water resistant components that can wear out gradually over time. And if you think you can try and take it in to see if you can get it replaced after its taken a dunk and dried out, think again. A good portion of smartphones have water damage indicator stickers inside the device and on batteries that will change colors when exposed to liquids or water vapor, a red flag to anyone opening your device for repair.

Due to the nature of phones, it seems unlikely that they will ever be truly waterproof, needing open areas for ports, picking up sound vibrations, and maintaining equal pressure with the surrounding atmosphere, but companies are making an effort to keep liquids from destroying them. And as liquid damage is the second most common way of destroying a smartphone, I think it’s a device safety net that we all can appreciate.