Thanks to Urbana Public Television (UPTV6) for visiting the Illini Gadget Garage recently and featuring us in the February 2018 edition of “It’s All About U,” a program that highlights events, services, and programs in the City of Urbana, IL. Host Natalie Kenny Marquez spoke to project coordinator and sustainability specialist from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), Joy Scrogum, and IGG staff members Madeleine Wolske and Amanda Elzbieciak. If you’re just learning about our project, haven’t had a chance to visit our workshop, or would like some ideas for how to get involved, check out the video clip below. (Note the bit on the IGG starts at 8:59.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Interested in taking a closer look at how your technology works? Want to try taking apart a device without the risk of damaging something you own? Stop in to the Illini Gadget Garage for a group teardown. We will work as a group to open and investigate a matching set of laptops in order to learn more about how they work and how to repair them. We only have 8 laptops available, so spots will fill up quickly. Reserve your spot today.
This event will be at our main location at 1833 S Oak Street, Champaign, IL on August 1, 2017 from 10:15 AM – 1:00 PM.
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.