Tech Terror: “I don’t want to break it”

“I don’t want to break it.”

It’s a phrase we hear quite frequently here at the Gadget Garage as a preamble to attempting a repair and we completely understand that concern. Technology can be costly: in both its initial purchase price or in replacement parts; it can be valuable, holding important documents or all those digital copies of family photos you have stored on it; it can be complicated, trying to determine what caused your device to stop cooperating or to stop working all together; and it can even be dangerous at times, dealing with electrical components and batteries. But not wanting to break it doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try to fix it… for many of the same reasons. Technology is expensive to replace; some information is too valuable or troublesome to lose without trying to recover it; some complicated problems have very simple fixes; and a little bit of danger can be exciting now and then. So why don’t more of us take a deeper look into the electronic devices we use everyday when something goes unexpectedly wrong?

“I don’t want to break it.”

It’s a bit of hesitation.
A bit of trepidation.
A small dose of anxiety.
A little bit of fear.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Fear is a natural reaction to something new and unfamiliar.There is a wide range of fears which can prevent us from being more involved with our technology. In general, it’s a fear of making a bad problem worse, but fear can inhibit us from even trying as some of us don’t want to ask for help because we don’t want to appear ignorant or admit to not knowing how something works. Understanding technology is a learning process for everyone. The people who design circuit boards and smartphones and tablets they all started with a blank slate … and overtime they learned bit by bit… just as we learn any other skill: through patience, practice, and a bit of trial and error. So don’t tell yourself you can’t do it before you even try.

Where would you be today if you let something that scared you a little bit stop you? Would you know how to ride a bike or drive a car? Would you know how to play your favorite sport or instrument or how to cook safely in the kitchen? Would you have made friends or started relationships with people who were once complete strangers to you? Learning about technology and your devices and how to repair them isn’t radically different from these things, and at the rate which new technology appears nowadays, we’re all learners. Even the individuals who work with technology everyday sometimes struggle to figure out a new device or a new program feature, so try not to get disheartened by your failures.

You can do a great deal more than you realize, you just have to be willing to try.

Repair Elsewhere: Repair Cafés

We want to help spread awareness of like-minded projects that foster repair, reuse, consumer empowerment, and community building throughout the world. So we’re highlighting these “kindred spirits” in a series of posts on “Repair Elsewhere.” Look for other posts in the series within the “Repair” category in our post archives.

Repair Cafe logo, consisting of the words in stylized font alongside  two interlocking cogs

A Repair Café is a community meeting organized and hosted by local residents or organizations where members of the public work together with volunteer guides to repair a variety of household items, such as small appliances, clothing, electronics, bicycles, etc. The gatherings are typically free and held in public spaces, and the goals include not only waste reduction, but also sharing of knowledge, consumer empowerment, and building a stronger sense of community through cooperation. Sound familiar? It should, since the concept of Repair Cafés helped shape the idea for the Illini Gadget Garage (IGG)!

The notion of having some form of technology repair center on campus was proposed and revised among staff members at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) working on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) for many years, as I explain in my profile on the IGG site (I’m IGG adviser and ISTC sustainability specialist, Joy Scrogum, if we’ve not met. Thanks for reading our posts!) Despite many attempts, my colleagues and I weren’t able to obtain funding for those previous iterations of the idea. Eventually, I learned more about Repair Cafés, which don’t focus specifically on a particular type of consumer product. I thought, that’s what we’re really trying to start–a Repair Café for electronics! And that’s how I would describe it to people. (For those on the UI campus I’d also say the idea would be a bit like the Campus Bike Center, but for electronics–but we’ll talk about that project in a separate post.) This helped make the concept understandable, relatable, and appealing, and thankfully we ultimately received seed funding from the UI Student Sustainability Committee, as well as donations from HOBI International and iFixit to launch the project.

But I digress–back to the story of Repair Cafés. The concept was created by Martine Postma in Amsterdam in 2009. Martine was a former journalist and mother of two, who found herself considering the environment more after the birth of her second child.  In an excellent article on the concept from a 2012 edition of the New York Times (“An Effort to Bury a Throwaway Culture One Repair at a Time” by Sally McGrane), Postma explained that she was struck by observing the tendency to throwaway items that were not “that broken.” From the Times article: “I had the feeling I wanted to do something, not just write about it,” she said. But she was troubled by the question: “How do you try to do this as a normal person in your daily life?” She drew her own inspiration from a “a design exhibit about the creative, cultural and economic benefits of repairing and recycling,” and fixed her sights on helping people fix things as a practical approach to waste reduction.

That design exhibit was called “Platform 21=Repairing.” The organizers created a “Repair Manifesto” which encouraged people to “Stop Recycling. Start Repairing.” I personally wouldn’t go that far, but totally agree that recycling alone is not enough, and that repair and reuse are absolutely essential sustainability strategies. The exhibit was held in a former round chapel in Amsterdam that continued to serve as a workspace for the organization Platform 21 for a few years. See http://www.platform21.nl/page/133/en and http://www.platform21.nl/page/6026/en for more information on that project.

Smiling woman sitting at a work table covered with various tools. In the background, people work together on repairs.
Martine Postma, from the Repair Cafe web site.

Martine held the first Repair Café in Amsterdam in a theater foyer. The idea was taken to multiple other public venues, and ultimately inspired the formation of “spin offs” in countries around the world. According to the Times, funding is provided to the Repair Café Foundation through grants from the Dutch government, support from other foundations, and small donations, which pay for staffing, daily expenses, marketing, and a Repair Café bus. (Don’t laugh, but I’ve totally thought of having something like that for the Illini Gadget Garage–like a book mobile or mobile science center for fixing things! Someday perhaps. Anybody want to donate a vehicle??? 🙂 ) The project’s web site provides information on how you can set up your own Repair Café–for a small fee you receive a manual, the logo and marketing templates, and listing in their online directory, which can assist in connecting your project to like-minded projects near you. The Illini Gadget Garage chose not to become an “official” Repair Cafe because of our more narrow focus on electronics and small appliances, and also because we thought there would be greater value in associating our identity with the University of Illinois, where we launched and operate. In this part of the world, at this point in time, “Illini” is more immediately meaningful for people than “Repair Café.” Plus, since we’re trying to build a culture of repair and community spirit around repair and reuse right here in the home of the Illini, a more “customized” identity seemed right.

Visit the Repair Café web site to learn more about Repair Cafés worldwide, including several in the US. In Illinois, Repair Cafés exist in Oak Park and Chicago. If you’re on the UIUC campus, contact us to visit our physical workshop or arrange a “pop-up” clinic at your building. On campus pop-ups are currently free thanks to the support of our sponsors. If you’re off campus, we conduct community pop-ups with support of sponsors (consider a donation to help us spread the repair spirit), and for a fee we can bring a pop-up to your organization or business for a special employee engagement event. If you want to become a volunteer, we’d love to have people from any academic discipline, and staff and community members as well as students. Join us–repair is not only great for the planet and pocketbook, it’s also a lot of fun!

A pair of women sit at a sewing machine working together, while additional women can be seen on each side working with cloth and mending by hand.
Image from the Repair Cafe International Facebook page.

Battery Recycling Progress

The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) began collecting single-use batteries for recycling at the end of 2016, purchasing collection containers and recycling services with funds donated for outreach projects of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). (ISTC coordinates the Illini Gadget Garage project and the IGG is the main outreach effort of SEI. Got your acronym scorecard straight? Hurray!)

During the Spring 2017 semester, we filled and sent in 2 battery collection buckets via the Battery Solutions program. Battery Solutions sends us “confirmation of reclamation” letters that include statistics so we can keep track of the impact of this service. According to our confirmation of reclamation records, here’s a break down of the batteries we’ve helped keep out of landfill thus far:

Total weight of batteries recycled: 78 lbs.
Weight by chemistry: NiCad 1 lb.; NiMH 1 lb; Zinc Carbon/Alkaline 56 lbs.; Li-ion laptop/modem 15 lbs.; Alkaline/Zinc 4 lbs.; Lithium Primary 1 lb.

To everyone who has stopped by our workshop to drop off their batteries, great work! Every pound of material we can keep out of landfills and see processed for reclamation and potential reuse is a small victory, and small victories add up.

"Fight Waste, Illini!" written in white on a dark blue rectangular shape with curved corners

Beginning in Summer 2017, we’ll be accepting BOTH single-use batteries AND rechargeable batteries via the Call2Recycle All Battery Recycling ProgramConvenience is key to recycling program success, so we’re pleased to be able to collect both types of batteries in a single bin. Acceptable materials include: Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Small Sealed Lead Acid (SSLA/Pb), Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn), Lithium Primary, Alkaline, Carbon Zinc, Button and Coin cell batteries, and all cellphones are accepted regardless of size, make, model, or age. Wet cell batteries are not accepted.

So bring by your single-use OR rechargeable batteries to our Oak St. workshop for recycling, or give them to staff at any of our campus or community pop-up repair clinics. We’ll make sure they get into the collection bin.

And if you appreciate this and other services offered by the Illini Gadget Garage, please consider making a small donation to SEI Various Donors Fund by visiting our online donation form. Just enter the amount you wish to donate, and you’ll be taken to a secure UI Foundation form that already has the proper fund name indicated. You’ll receive a tax letter from the UI Foundation, and we’ll acknowledge your gift on our Sponsors page. Thanks for helping us help our community to keep materials out of landfill!

Call2Recycle branded image listing all types of acceptable materials. Rechargeable and single-use batteries weighing 11 lbs. or less each of the following types: Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Small Sealed Lead Acid (SSLA/Pb), Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn), Lithium Primary, Alkaline, Carbon Zinc, Button and Coin cell batteries, and all cellphones are accepted regardless of size, make, model, or age. Wet cell batteries are not accepted.

 

Illini Gadget Garage Announces Hours for Summer 2017 and Off-Campus Services

The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) is a collaborative repair center on the UIUC campus to assist students, staff and faculty with troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues for their personally owned electronic devices and small appliances. The project is coordinated by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program as a waste reduction outreach project of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI).

Summer hours
The IGG has announced hours for Summer 2017. “Pop-up” repair clinics will be held at the Undergraduate Library Media Commons on Mondays and Wednesdays from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM. Open hours will be held at the IGG’s physical workshop (INHS Storage Building #3) on South Oak Street on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 AM to 2 PM and on Fridays from noon to 4 PM. A map is available for directions to the physical location: http://tinyurl.com/guv4n9z. Note that hours are subject to change, as staff are working to schedule more pop-up clinics in order to bring services to a wider audience, so check the project web site or Facebook page for announcements.

Image which lists the summer 2017 hours for the Illini Gadget Garage

Bring a pop-up repair clinic to your facility
Related to that spirit of expansion, the IGG is now offering off-campus pop-ups for companies and organizations that would like to bring “do-it-together” repair to their site as way to engage employees and patrons in product stewardship and sustainability. Staff will come to your location with the necessary tools, and they can arrange to have your audience fill out a diagnostic form in advance so they can research information on the devices and issues being faced ahead of time, making one-on-one interactions during the event more productive. Off-campus pop-ups are 2-4 hours long to allow sufficient time for troubleshooting, repairs, and any additional research. Note that IGG does not sell parts, but if it is determined that a part is needed, staff can assist individuals in determining the exact models of required parts and in researching ways to obtain the part. Staff can also help individuals identify local repair businesses that could help them address more complex damage or businesses that can accept items for proper recycling if they are beyond repair. IGG can help identify local businesses and/or online vendors for informational purposes only; the IGG does not endorse any external business and the ultimate decision of how/where to obtain parts or services is that of the consumer.

A pop-up repair clinic can provide a unique benefit to your staff, and be part of your organization’s sustainability efforts, by creating conversations around the impacts of product manufacture, design, and end-of-life management. Such events also provide empowerment and team building opportunities. If you have questions or are interested in scheduling a clinic at your facility, please contact Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist, for more information and pricing. Fees are charged to the host organization of a pop-up clinic to support staff members’ time both at the event and for preparation; however individuals that attend your event (e.g. employees and/or patrons) are not themselves charged for the assistance they receive. Off-campus pop-up clinics are not restricted to the Champaign-Urbana metropolitan area, but please be aware that additional fees may apply for travel.

View from above showing a student seated at a table working with tools to dismantle and repair a laptop

Support IGG outreach in your community or on the UIUC campus
Companies and corporations interested in sponsoring a pop-up repair clinic in their community or at a particular public space are encouraged to contact Joy Scrogum to discuss possibilities and to receive instructions for contributions to the appropriate UI Foundation fund. Additionally, any individual or company interested in supporting IGG’s efforts to provide product stewardship and waste reduction guidance to the UIUC community at no cost to students, faculty and staff may make online donations via the UI Foundation to the “SEI Various Donors Fund,” which supports the educational efforts of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative. You may indicate “Support the Illini Gadget Garage” in the “Special Instructions” section of the online donation form. We thank you and the project’s current sponsors for your support!

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.

Conflict Minerals: What’s Being Done?

This post continues the discussion of conflict minerals which began in my previous post, “Defining Conflict Minerals.”

In a just and simple world, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) would thrive off possessing such a rich variety of natural resources. Unfortunately, this is not the case and valuable minerals are used to finance conflict and destabilize the DRC. Even though it has taken a bit too long, the rest of the world has begun to think about ways to eliminate conflict minerals from the global supply chain. Governments have begun to pass legislation with the intent to foster responsible sourcing. Additionally, there are industry associations focused on helping manufacturers identify conflict-free sources for minerals and non-profit organizations that shine the spotlight on corporate use of conflict minerals and raise awareness of relevant issues among consumers. Fortunately, the world wide supply chain is responding to external pressures and progress is being made in the war on conflict minerals.

In 2010, the heavily publicized Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed. Dodd-Frank is primarily known for bringing about significant changes in financial regulation. However, Section 1502 of the act addresses the trade and use of conflict materials and hopes to make the corporate supply chain more transparent. This legislation introduced requirements for independent third party supply chain traceability audits, and all publicly traded companies must report their mineral sourcing to the public and the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission. More than 70 percent of smelters that produce the 3Ts (tin, tantalum, tungsten) and gold have now passed conflict-free audits. In turn, as these audits are pushed down supply lines, the new regulations will even impact private and foreign companies that are not directly regulated by the SEC. For example, corporations now feel the pressure to only source certified conflict free minerals, and mining operations are increasingly separating themselves from local militia groups. American efforts have helped inspire other governments to pursue similar actions and the EU passed its own conflict minerals regulations a little over a month ago. Like Section 1502 of Dodd-Frank, it aims to improve supply chain diligence. However, the EU legislation does differ in a few ways and applies to minerals that are sourced in regions outside of the DRC as well. The European regulation further differs in that it applies to a more narrowly defined set of companies and fewer downstream purchasers are covered under it.

While current regulations in the arena of conflict minerals are noble in intent, they have not been implemented free of criticism. As there is a large trend in governments slashing budgets, certain regulations that are perceived to be financially burdensome are being targeted. Accordingly, the cost of ensuring compliance with Dodd-Frank 1502 has been heavily scrutinized. This regulation can financially justify itself though. Costs to implement the act have dropped significantly as many innovations and tools are available to issuers and suppliers at no cost. Moreover, many corporations contribute to an audit fund that reduces some of the cost of audits to smelters. Furthermore, these efforts support U.S. national security concerns as they stabilize the region and remove power from warlords. Other arguments surrounding this part of Dodd-Frank revolve around closing existing loopholes. Some parts of Section 1502 are hard to interpret and have resulted in legal grey areas. Companies are required to “conduct a reasonable country of origin inquiry”–what counts as “reasonable” is open to interpretation. As global supply chains are increasingly complex, legislation needs to acknowledge this and make sure that companies investigate to the appropriate extent. As the extent is not clearly defined, companies have some wiggle room in disputing civil penalties.

Dodd-Frank has been a good start in the fight against conflict minerals, but more work needs to be done. Governments around the world need to help fund the construction of infrastructure and occupational training in the DRC’s mining regions. The mining sector has been hit hard by the conflict-free transition and many people’s livelihood no longer exists. Accurately tracing the source of conflict minerals in very important, but in order for it to have meaning it has to be followed by efforts to reduce or eliminate their usage. Under Dodd-Frank companies do not have self-auditing power, but the third parties that audit them are not monitored by a strict set of standards. In further defining what rigors smelters and other areas of the supply chain must undergo to show that they are conflict free, one common metric should be used to accurately access compliance.

Current regulation may still need to go farther, but fortunately there are industry associations and non-governmental organizations committed to the fight against conflict mines. See for example the Conflict Free Sourcing Initiative, Responsible Sourcing Network, and Raise Hope for Congo. Some efforts focus on promoting conflict-free mines in the Eastern DRC region. Some companies have completely stopped sourcing from the region, but this has harmed many miners that are not involved with the warlords. In response, efforts have been made to identify and promote responsibly sourced minerals from the DRC. Other organizations focus on tabulating the progress specific large companies have made on responsibly sourcing conflict minerals. For example see the Enough Project/Raise Hope for Congo Conflict Minerals Company Rankings at http://www.raisehopeforcongo.org/content/conflict-minerals-company-rankings. Some companies are making much greater efforts than others. For instance, Intel was the first company to publicly commit to making a fully conflict-free product with a deadline. On the other end of the spectrum, Nintendo has made no known efforts to trace or audit its supply chain. Unfortunately, the United States is considering abandoning the current regulations on conflict minerals that it presently has in place. This means that activist groups may play an increasingly vital role in informing the public and ensuring responsible sourcing among companies. Raise Hope for Congo conveniently provides a link that suggests ways you can take action.

Of course, another great way to help decrease the demand for conflict minerals is by either repairing or donating the technology that you possess. If you cut down on the amount of tech that you buy, then you will be cutting down on the vast array of minerals that are mined to produce it.