Thanks to iFixit for Continued Support!

Our sincere thanks to iFixit for their recent donation of $1000 to support our efforts to promote repair and extending the useful life of products here on the UIUC campus! iFixit has supported our efforts since the launch of the Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) project, providing a letter of support for our original proposal for a UI Student Sustainability Committee grant and providing the toolkits that you’ve used if you’ve come to the IGG for help with repairs or to participate in a class.

iFixit logo, featuring the company name below a stylized blue and white Philips screw head

iFixit is the self-proclaimed “Free repair guide for everything written by everyone.” Founders Kyle Wiens and Luke Soules got into repair back in 2003, as students at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. When attempting to fix an old iBook, they found that no instruction manuals were available online. So they tinkered on their own with the tools and information they could find, and ultimately were successful. The experience inspired them to try other repairs, but again they found it difficult to find instructions, parts, and tools. So they began buying old computers on eBay for parts, and created a business out of selling parts and writing repair guides for the devices they worked on. Now iFixit is a wiki-based site geared toward helping people fix almost anything. Anyone can create a repair manual for a device, or edit existing manuals to improve them.

iFixit also collaborates with universities to provide technical writing experiences for students, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, via the Illini Gadget Garage and Sustainable Electronics Initiative at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. In the iFixit Technical Writing Project, students research common device problems and present software and repair solutions to guide others through the troubleshooting and repair process. To see guides completed or being worked on by UI students as part of this effort, see http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/ifixit-student-guides/.

See our full list of sponsors at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/sponsors/. This most recent contribution has brought iFixit up to the “Diamond” level of sponsorship. If you or your organization would like to contribute to IGG’s efforts to promote repair as a viable alternative to immediate replacement of consumer goods on the UIUC campus and beyond, donations can be made at http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/SEIdonation.html. After entering an amount, you’ll be taken to the UI Foundation’s secure giving site to provide your personal and credit card information. Every little bit helps us pay hourly employees that coordinate student volunteers and day-to-day operations, cover expenses for our physical workshop and consumables, and provide special services like webinars, workshops and collection of batteries for recycling. Your donations also help us keep this educational project free for the campus and broader community. See “Our Impact” to check out what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. Your support will help our positive impact grow!

Incidentally, if you’d like to know a little bit more about iFixit and the work they do, both Kyle and Luke are featured in the documentary Death by Design, which the IGG will be screening (for FREE) on Tuesday, August 22 at the Champaign Public Library–see http://illinois.edu/calendar/detail/2195/33277370 for further details. We hope to see you then!

logo for film "Death by Design" showing a soldering iron and smoke on a circuit board, with the film's name and tag line "The dirty secret of our digital addiction."

Note: Businesses mentioned above are for informational and acknowledgement purposes only, and should not be construed as endorsements by the Illini Gadget Garage, the University of Illinois, or units affiliated with this project.

Group Laptop Teardown Offers Hands-on, No-Pressure Experience

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.

Close up of someone using a spudger to work on a circuit board. The words "Tech Teardown" appear in the upper right corner of the image.

 

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.

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.