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.

 

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.

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.

Local (Champaign-Urbana) Repair Guide

We know that even “do-it-together” repair can be intimidating for some people, or maybe you just don’t have the time in your busy schedule currently to come in and participate in the repair of your device. We understand, but want you to still consider repair before replacement of your device. Also, there are times when a client comes in for assistance and we find that the problem with their device is beyond our abilities at the Illini Gadget Garage, but we still believe the item in question can be repaired. For these types of instances, we have composed a list of local repair shops, and posted it on our website under the “Repair” tab. You can either access a spreadsheet that list addresses, contact information, hours, and the types of devices serviced, or a map that shows their physical locations.

Be aware that you will not find chains like Best Buy or Dick Van Dyke listed. This is because they mainly specialize in servicing products that were bought on their premises–plus we know you’re probably already aware of those options for service. If your merchandise is currently covered by a warranty policy, we fully encourage you to take it the location from where it was purchased. We just want you to know that the main focus of the resources we provide is to guide you to shops that specialize in repair no matter where or how long ago an item was purchased.

We also want to be clear–the Illini Gadget Garage does NOT endorse any of the listed businesses. This list is provided for information purposes only, to help those who come to us for assistance to find additional services they require. We do not refer clients to specific businesses; we merely provide the names of companies that can service the device in question. The decision as to which, if any, of the local shops you go to, is yours as a consumer.

What if your device can’t be repaired? Don’t worry–we can help you with that too. Check out our “Recycle” page at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/recycle/. That page includes a link to the Champaign County Electronics Recycling guide, which lists local electronics recyclers, and provides links to the Illinois EPA Service Locator page and other relevant information on the electronics landfill ban in Illinois.

Have other questions? Have a suggestion for a local repair shop to add to our list? Send us a note at illinigadgetgarage@gmail.com.

Pop Ups!

Are you interested in learning about how to become a more empowered consumer and are you interested in technology? Would you like to learn tinkering skills that will serve you well throughout life?  If so, the Illini Gadget Garage is looking to mobilize its services and can come directly to you. Host a pop-up clinic–we can tailor our demonstrations and assistance to the needs of your organization.  At a pop-up clinic we can troubleshoot cell phone repair, laptop teardowns, solve software issues, or demonstrate how to solve a wide array of other issues. There is no need to worry about having the right tools or equipment, we are well stocked and all you need to do is show up.

In addition, we are open to helping all groups of people and you need not feel like you have to have prior experience with sustainability related topics. For example, on March 14th we set up a pop-up during Teenspace, an after school program for local middle and high school students. Our interactions with the adolescents helped foster a fun learning experience. Students not only worked with tools, but also learned about the accessibility of technology and the right to repair. Some students even stated that the experience made them, “want to work with technology one day.” There are many people around campus who have yet to decide on a career path and as technology is an emergent field, someone may find that they are naturally inclined towards it.

Our pop-up clinic service is free for on-campus entities thanks to funding from the Student Sustainability Committee.

Fill out the “Host a Pop-Up Clinic” online form to indicate your interest and to provide some basic information about your situation. We’ll be in touch for scheduling!

Splash! When Liquid Meets Laptop.

coffee spill
Coffee Spill

‘Tis the season when the weather starts to turn warmer and people find themselves craving iced tea and lemonade or perhaps the increased necessity of caffeine to fuel us through the workday (or school day) as deadlines approach. Whatever the reason, we frequently find ourselves with a beverage in hand as we interact with our personal electronics, so what do you do when… WHOOPS… happens?

*Sirens in the distance*

Liquid spills are a gamble of time and no small portion of luck. When it happens, you’ll want to react as quickly as possible. So here are a few steps to keep in mind to help prevent damage to your laptop – and yourself – due to a spill.

  1. Turn it off
    • Don’t bother with the start menu shut down command. Do a hard shutdown. Hold your finger down on the power button until the laptop turns off.
    • Liquids and electricity DO NOT MIX and when they do it can be dangerous to both you and your laptop.
  2. Kill the power
    • If you’re plugged in to power your laptop, unplug immediately.
    • If you have a removable battery, remove it.
  3. Unplug anything else
    • If you have any cables, devices, or drives (mice, USBs, flash drives, etc.) attached, unplug them. If your laptop shorts, it can short them as well.
  4. Flip it over
    • Help keep the liquid from traveling further into your laptop’s components by not letting it sift through it.
    • When you flip it, try to do so in a way that you keep the liquid from traveling towards the screen.
    • Do not shake the laptop in order to try and get the liquid out. It may cause further damage to internal components as it wiggles around your laptop finding new crevasses to hide in.
  5. Clean up the spill
    • Fingers crossed it was just a tiny spill, but if it wasn’t, you’ll want to be sure to blot the spill with a lint free paper towel or cloth
    • Pat, blot, but don’t wipe. Wiping may push the liquid onto other areas of the keyboard causing further possibilities for damage.

By this point, you’ve done most of what you can to save it. Now it’s just a waiting game. Try not to turn your laptop back on for at least 24 hours so that the internal components can dry out thoroughly. If you are able and willing, it may be a good idea to open your laptop and remove some components to help speed up the drying process and check for damage.

Now, the next thing to consider is what kind of beverage was spilled on it. The great majority of liquids will require some cleaning of your keyboard and likely some of the internal components as well, especially those that contain sugar. Sticky laptops are no fun. Aside from shorting out components, the biggest problem with liquids invading your laptop is that the particles in the liquid can cause corrosion. Many times, if you notice some small quirks of your computer like a few keys don’t work after your laptop has been turned back on after a spill, this is due to corrosion and it can get worse over time.

corroded motherboard
Corroded motherboard

corroded connector
Corroded connector

Please keep in mind, these steps are not guaranteed to save your laptop; they are just best practices for minimizing the damage. So save early, save often, and always try to have important projects, files, and folders saved somewhere else. Just in case.