Waste Not, Want Not: Right to Repair Laws on Agenda in Some States

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She now spends most of her time in Asia researching a book about textile artisans. She also writes regularly about legal, political economy, and regulatory topics for various consulting clients and publications, as well as writes occasional travel pieces for The National.

Motherboard reports that five states have resurrected legislation that would mandate a right to repair consumer electronics. These states are Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York. The bills would require companies to make replacement parts available to independent repair shops, as well as make public diagnostic and servicing manuals, and are aimed to dismantle the exclusive aftermarket repair market that limits repairs to the original manufacturers.

Allowing such monopoly arrangements to continue unchallenged allows original manufacturers to dominate aftermarket repairs. And this status quo imposes more than mere economic costs on consumers. It also creates unnecessary electronics waste that burdens the environment: first in consuming more resources to produce unnecessary products, and in requiring disposal of devices that are at best imperfectly recycled and contain many hazardous materials. Manufacturer control over original spare parts forces independent repair shops either to scavenge broken devices for parts, or to turn to grey market sources of supply. As another Motherboard piece, How to Fix Everything, describes, the Department of Homeland Security and federal customs agents have conducted raids on such shops for using allegedly “counterfeit” parts in their repairs.

This is not the first time that state legislatures have considered right to repair legislation.  In 2012, following a direct ballot initiative that saw 86% of those voting supporting the measure, Massachusetts passed the first automotive right to repair bill, and that eventually became the basis for a nationwide policy. Auto manufacturers themselves promoted a federal policy out of concern that otherwise they might have to deal with 50 competing state statutory variants on the same theme.

Tech Companies Oppose Right to Repair

So far, tech companies have successfully quashed previous right to repair measures in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, and most recently, in New York, when a measure was diverted and never brought to the floor of the New York State Senate for a vote. As reported in The Huffington Post, in a piece headlined Big Tech Squashes New York’s ‘Right To Repair’ Bill:

“We were disappointed that it wasn’t brought to the floor, but we were successful in bringing more attention to the issue,” New York state Sen. Phil Boyle (R), a sponsor of the bill, told The Huffington Post Friday.

Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, a group of nonprofits and businesses that backed New York’s right to repair legislation, blamed the lack of a vote on lobbyists for major tech companies.

“They threw enough doubt into the minds of legislators that Fair Repair was not put out for a vote,” Gordon-Byrne told HuffPost in an email, referring to the legislation by its title, the “Fair Repair Act.” “Four companies against 19 million [New York] consumers.”

About a year ago, repairers created an advocacy group, The Repair Association, to seek federal and state law changes that will preserve and extend the right to repair items including cell phones,  computers, farm equipment, refrigerators, and watches, according to another Motherboard piece, A New Advocacy Group Is Lobbying for the Right to Repair Everything. The group claims that “Over three million Americans work hard every day to keep our cars, computers, appliances, and other critical infrastructure operating smoothly.” Just as importantly, these skilled jobs are distributed throughout the country, “Repair is the lifeblood of local economies. Our members make products last longer, save owners money, and create local jobs.”

At the the federal level, efforts focus on fixing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to enshrine a right to repair; at the state level, the group promotes state-specific changes.  This link provides a roster of The Repair Association, whose founder members include the Electronic Frontier FoundationiFixit, and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

Rejecting the Throwaway Culture

Regular readers might recall that I spend much of my time outside the US.  When I occasionally return– most recently in September/October– I’m always struck by how wasteful so many basic American systems are. Some of these may be due to consumer choices, but as is clear from what I’ve written above, others are imposed on us. So, for example, standing in a Trade Joe’s on Long Island, I was overwhelmed by the amount of plastic swathing just about any possible purchase, most of which were packaged in increments that were far greater than my husband and I could reasonably consume. (Before I get shredded by the commentariat, I should mention that I prefer to buy food– fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, meat– at local farmers’ markets, in quantities that we can use.  But sometimes it’s just not possible to do that. Such markets are seasonal– when they exist at all– they’re often open at most a couple of days a week, and local growing seasons limit available food choices.)

So two points spring to mind. First, over the last decade, I’ve visited India many times.  There, the amount of waste is strikingly lower. It’s not difficult to understand why: India is a much poorer country than the US, and with a much lower per capita income, most Indians simply cannot afford to waste things. It’s a principle drummed into each and every Indian not to waste food.  And this is a principle I see people regularly follow, even those who don’t have to struggle to afford to pay for a simple meal.

The “waste not, want not” dictum carries over beyond what one eats.  India retains a healthy repair culture. Further, when one no longer has use for an item, Indians tend to pass things along to others to reuse them.  (Although the country lacks formal recycling programs, that doesn’t mean discarded objects are abandoned; wastepickers comb through refuse and although it’s easiest to focus on the abhorrent nature of this work, those that do it ensure that items with some economic value are either reused or recycled).

A couple of weeks after acquiring my first basic $30 dumbphone sometime in 2010, iirc– I’m by no stretch of the imagination an early adopter– I stumbled during a moment of Kolkata “load shedding”– aka, a power cut– and dropkicked my new ‘phone down a spiral staircase. Fortunately, since it was a dumbphone, rather than the latest i-model, it survived its journey more or less intact, save for a badly cracked screen. In the US, I would probably just have bought a new ‘phone. But since I was in India, I was able to take the ‘phone to a nearby repair shop and get it fixed for $10.  Now I understand there’s a difference between a smartphone and a dumbphone (or so I’m told) and further, as I’ve written above, consumers themselves aren’t opting to use Apple or original manufacturer repair services exclusively; the companies themselves have stymied alternatives.

But I’m also old enough to remember when even many American small towns had thriving repair shops. At that time, toasters and tube tvs were the items being repaired. Why then, today, should we be forced to return electronics to their original manufacturer or an authorised outlet for repair, forced to pay out whatever that company wants to charge, rather than allowing a competitive, local service to develop, with access to necessary parts, and appropriate documentation necessary to provide proper service?

The EU’s Circular Economy Initiative 

My second point relates to the EU’s circular economy initiative. A couple of years ago I wrote an article about this topic and as I was writing today’s post, I decided to look at what had happened in the interim. In contrast to the US, the problems of waste management are largely left to cities, municipalities, and states to resolve, the EU is (at least in theory) moving forward with a comprehensive waste management program.

One element of this is an ambitious ‘circular economy’ package. Proposed in 2014, The European Commission in May 2015 launched a public consultation on this initiative for increasing resource efficiency, and adopted the package in December of the same year. This policy was motivated by a conscious decision to replace the ‘take-make-consume-dispose’ model of how resources are used and consumed (with some minor tweaks to promote for end-of-life-cycle recycling for some inputs).  EU policymakers appreciate that as the world’s population approaches 9 billion people, the prevailing wasteful linear model of resource consumption results is no longer sustainable. The circular economy alternative instead considers the entire life cycle of a product, and seeks to reduce waste by various means, including reducing materials used in products; promoting durability and thereby extending the useful life of a product; practicing ecodesign (and so facilitating easier maintenance, repair,  or remanufacturing); and promoting waste reduction by minimizing recycling costs and encouraging reuse.

Last week, the Commission released a report on the implementation of the Circular Economy Action Plan: 

This package included legislative proposals on waste, with long- term targets to reduce landfilling and increase recycling and reuse. In order to close the loop of product lifecycles, it also included an Action Plan to support the the circular economy in each step of the value chain – from production to consumption, repair and manufacturing, waste management and secondary raw materials that are fed back into the economy. The Commission committed to undertake the detailed list of actions within its current mandate.

The transition towards a more circular economy brings great opportunities for Europe and its citizens. It is an important part of our efforts to modernise and transform the European economy, shifting it towards a more sustainable direction. There is a strong business case behind it which enables companies to make substantial economic gains and become more competitive. It delivers important energy savings and environmental benefits. It creates local jobs and opportunities for social integration. It is closely interlinked with key EU priorities on jobs and growth, investments, the social agenda and industrial innovation.

Standing Up for the Right to Repair: What Is to Be Done

I don’t see the Trump administration following the EU’s lead and committing the US to following circular economy principles anytime soon (to say the least).  In the interim, however, the Repair Association has made it easy for readers who live in the states of Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, and New York to contact their respective state legislators and weigh in on pending legislation enshrining a right to repair.  This is certainly not a particularly bold, far-reaching, or comprehensive approach to the huge environmental problem of consumer electronics waste management, but is instead a sensible, albeit small step forward– and one which has the added benefit of promoting local skilled employment.

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116 comments

  1. NDP

    Another problem is that we now have kids who don’t know how anything works, because they can’t take anything apart and try to fix it without parts. It’s a real shame.

    1. Dirk77

      Yes, this would be awesome! It’s fun to repair stuff and you learn so much. Plus, repair is a go to way of making _some_ money if you can’t find a decent job anywhere else. I did that for a time.

      1. Ivy

        One of the joys of youth came through the discovery of taking apart and investigating countless devices. How do they work, I wonder what that does, what is needed to fix it and so on. Such inquiries led to new topics, more contacts, resources, skills. That was an integral part of growing up, providing depth and breadth to a new world.

      2. darms

        While I support “right to repair laws”, as to consumer electronics products most are very difficult to repair these days because the components are tiny & many semiconductors require extremely expensive equipment to remove & replace. The most cost-effective repair is to simply replace the pwb. Unfortunately the only source for that part will be the OEM & I doubt that a “right to repair law” could limit the cost of the required part. Regional repair depots are a possibility but the days of the teevee repair shop are long gone. I had to leave the business in 1986 as the dubbing cassette decks that were $70 new I would have to charge $100 for a thorough overhaul in order to make any money at all after parts & overhead…

        1. Dirk77

          Idk. I need to think about it. If you read this and similar blogs, you are aware of the issue of whether the now and future has a place for people. Should people fit in or should the future fit around us?

        2. bob

          It’s not the semiconductors that fail, most of the time.

          It’s the mechanical parts. The moving parts.

          This is just more urban legend being propagated into “what can be done?”

          Batteries wear out. Charging ports get bent wrong. Headphone ports get abused. That’s 90% of problems, and it’s nothing new.

          Semiconductors don’t have moving parts. Do they fail? Yes, but a lot less than people seem to believe, and even that could be fixed by good QA before building the gadget with crappy parts.

          “But I paid $500 for this phone, I’m not an idiot, I’m very smart, and well versed in tech. It can’t possibly be easy to fix, I wouldn’t buy junk. All my friends agree.”

          So then, what are you going to do?

          “buy another, naturally, relying on the same self assured confidence that led me to the POS in the first place.”

          You may not be an idiot, but you sure sound like you’re insane– keep doing the same and expect different results?

          1. Code Name D

            Sadly, this isn’t true. As parts get smaller, they are more susceptible to ESD or Electro Static Discharge. Just walking across a floor can generate enough voltage to fry a component. Thermal expansion also slowly takes electronic systems apart over time as the component all expand and contract at different rates, creating cracks in solder joints. And as components get smaller, manufacturing is starting to use questionable techniques to soldering in components. Bubble-grid solder is notorious for coming undone after a few years. And parts do age, especially when you use exotic chemicals for some of these small chips. I could go on.

            1. bob

              Sadly, this isn’t true.

              Quite the vocabulary. Nothing new. and nothing that can’t be designed for. I have plenty of electronics that don’t get fried when I walk across a carpet. Even small ones, with chemicals.

                1. bob

                  So it’s a really, really tiny bench?

                  This all started about someone saying that things are too small to fix.

                  You claim to fix them, then go on to describe a bunch of problems that all have nothing to do with replacing chips, on a “Bench”.

                  Are you that tiny?

                  I’d also argue that most of the damage you describe is mechanical. Solder breaking because it was flexed.

                  How are you able to replace “chips”?

                  I know, trade secret.

          2. darms

            Bob, the $100 overhaul for a $70 dubbing cassette deck was precisely because of mechanical parts & not electronic parts. Seldom did I have to do more to the electronics than clean the R/P switch. Rubber oxidizes & to do a good repair, one that will last, you have to replace all of the rubber parts and that takes time & costs money. Recently I was presented w/a powered speaker containing a DC-coupled power amp that was killing the power transistors. In the thru-hole days I would check every resistor & change every semi. Unfortunately this printed wiring board (PWB) was all smd and the labor to change these parts by hand would have been ludicrous…

        3. John Wright

          From my perspective, your statement about cost effective electronics repair is “on the money”, particularly for complex printed circuit assemblies.

          I work in the electronics industry and my work involves industrial products that are expensive enough to merit repair over their long lifetime.

          These products are not tossed out and another purchased.

          I have spent some time at contract manufacturers’ sites watching costly printed circuit assembly boards being manufactured.

          Today’s complex printed circuit assembly (PCA), with hundreds of extremely small parts, is a product that can be very difficult to diagnose, re-work and repair.

          The modern PCA is built in a very controlled environment to avoid damaging parts.

          A repair facility must follow these precautions if they want a quality, long lived, repair..

          The PCA’s must be protected against ESD (electrostatic discharge) during all handling operations.

          The raw unloaded printed circuit board (PCB) and the components loaded on it must be handled properly (proper moisture bake off for hours) if the PCB, or components to be loaded on it have absorbed too much moisture that could cause damage during soldering re-flow temperatures.

          A repair facility SHOULD also follow proper moisture bake off procedures on a board to be repaired.

          Component removal/repair might require pre-heating an entire board and then applying local heat to only the defective component and adjacent parts might come off in the process, adding to the repair cost.

          And sometimes the parts on the board are good and there is a defect in the raw printed circuit board itself.

          A board may have a ball grid array (BGA) that has many hundreds of solder connections under the part itself, and if this is a point of failure, and someone wants to repair the PCA, the BGA must be removed in a very controlled thermal environment, the area cleaned, and then new solder paste carefully stenciled on before attempting to reflow on a replacement part..

          And perhaps the board will be then x-rayed, using yet another costly system, to inspect the new solder joints
          .
          Troubleshooting to a failed component on a complex board is also difficult, test points take up precious board area, so probing is more difficult than in the old days of through hole components and fewer parts on a PCA.

          I suspect many consumer boards may be very difficult to troubleshoot when assembled, as adding test features can add cost.

          I watched a demo of a focused infrared component removal system that cost 25K USD before options, something a small shop is unlikely to buy..

          For testing the assembled board, frequently complex boards are tested in dedicated test systems with test fixtures, unique to each unique board, costing 15K to 20K USD each.

          Counterfeit parts ARE a problem, but so are “recycled” brand name parts pulled from old PCA’s. These parts may have good date codes and test ok, but have a short life due to the lifetime heat cycles these parts have experienced, consequently new replacement parts should ALWAYS be purchased from well vetted distributors.

          In my experience, engineers, in general, hate to see any equipment (electronic or otherwise) tossed out if it can be repaired, but sometimes the repairs can be very daunting, even for experienced people with all the expensive supporting equipment.

    2. human

      My first XT in the ’80’s came with a couple hundred page user manual and a separate Basic programming book. Computer Shopper was a several hundred page monthly bible listing parts, prices , buyers and sellers. Building computers was fun. Then UNIX came out of its’ constraints and all bets were off. Those of us in the know were able to implement the free variants through firmware programming, modification, testing or the new effort known as Linux, while those without the time or experience were forced into the Micro$oft fold of embrace, extend, extinquish and accepted what that they were told that it was illegal to buy any computer without an operating system.

      He who Controls the Bootloader
      End of an Era
      Scot Hacker, August 2001
      birdhouse.org/beos/byte/30-bootloader/

    3. Altandmain

      Another problem is that we now have kids who don’t know how anything works, because they can’t take anything apart and try to fix it without parts. It’s a real shame.

      As a Generation Yer who builds his own desktops and who has upgraded his own laptop, I strongly disagree with that statement.

      There is a huge DIY community of computer enthusiasts. There is also a huge community of Linux enthusiasts as well on the software front and other open source fans.

      I think this stereotype is wrong and unfair. If there were more upgradeable computers, there would be the option to repair them. Build it and they will come.

      The other is that it must be trendy to upgrade. With the end of Moore’s Law, there is a historic opportunity to make computers upgradeable. Open hardware too may pick up.

      1. oliverks

        Altandmain i think you make a good point. Software has become much more open over the last 20 years with linux, GIMP, LibreOffice, gcc, … the list goes on and on.

        Hardware has been getting increasingly closed off even to designers. Some chips are hard to buy, such as Broadcom or Qualcomm, and the chips that are available often have secret parts that you can not access.

  2. lyman alpha blob

    Thanks for this – I was completely unaware that this policy even existed. I was pointing out to my kid recently where the TV repair shop in the small town I grew up in used to be and that similar places no longer exist. I assumed it was due to our disposable culture where it was just cheaper to buy new stuff so nobody bothered to repair but clearly that isn’t the whole story.

    Here’s a question I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Would it really be that difficult for computer manufacturers to make devices where you could simply buy new components rather than replace the whole thing, for example just snap in a new faster processor or bigger memory chips if hardware becomes worn out or obsolete? I think this was possible to an extent when most people still used big clunky desktops but as the machines got smaller and people have moved to laptops they seem harder to get inside and fix. We’ve standardized lots of components in other industries – light bulbs, batteries, etc so why not computer parts.?

    1. barefoot charley

      You’re right–laptops and teensy electronics have factory-fused connections, whereas in the good old computer days you could buy a generic desktop box with or without pre-installed connectors, and build your own computer with off-the-shelf parts. Snowden’s instructions on how to disable your telephone’s NSA-friendly features show how much know-how is needed to hack your own new electronics.

      1. flora

        I’ve used the ifixit repair guides. They’re useful, imo. They cover step-by-step so I can judge before starting whether it’s something I think I can do or not. ymmv Here’s a link for entertainment purposes only. (that’s a disclaimer. :) )
        https://www.ifixit.com/Guide

        Thanks for this post.

        1. flora

          adding: anything that is still under warranty should be repaired by the manufacturer’s approved repair business to prevent voiding the warranty.

    2. Squeeky Fromm

      FWIW, I am 32 years old, and I am typing this on Toshiba Satellite Laptop from like 2011ish, and on which i just replaced the keyboard all by myself! I ordered it from Amazon for like $13, and I had to return the first one but this one is working fine! I watched a youtube video on how to do it. Next, I am going to add more ram to it. Plus, I am a girl!

      Squeeky Fromm
      Girl Reporter

      1. pricklyone

        For a couple extra bucks, you can even get the fancy backlit one that comes on the more expensive ones.

  3. Jim Haygood

    … efforts focus on fixing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to enshrine a right to repair

    DMCA — the evil that keeps on giving:

    It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as digital rights management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works. It also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Millennium_Copyright_Act

    Thanks, Bill Clinton! /s

    1. Carolinian

      Think you’ve put your finger on it. The DMCA was International-Harvester’s excuse for not allowing farmer’s to repair their own tractors–“proprietary code” they said.

      However when it comes to electronic devices most are so cheap now there’s no point in taking to a repair shop where the hourly labor rate would be much higher than the cost of the parts. Apple might be the exception. That said, it would be nice if all gizmos were required to have replaceable lithium batteries that aren’t soldered in.

  4. oho

    At the receiving end of this—It’s maddening that a perfectly fine (but older) GE oven fails because of a faulty motherboard.

    And since it’s a motherboard problem, literally nothing a layman can do.

    And since the motherboard + service charge is $$$$, the more reasonable option becomes spending more money to get a brand new appliance (for me not GE)

    and IIRC GE consumer appliance brands are now owned by Haier.

    1. Keenan

      That’s exactly the reason why I opted for a “no frills” GE gas range a couple of years ago. No motherboard, no touch screen, no membrane panel, no programmable controls. When the guy at the big box started pitching the extended warranty, I stopped him telling him that I picked this model precisely because it had none of the things which are prone to crap out.

  5. Glen

    The only problem with this initiative is that the manufacturers have been able to easily thwart it by grossly inflating the cost of parts.

    Take my old fridge for example. It was a built-in Electrolux. The same fridge is rebranded and did as a GE Monogram. The mother board is over 500 for the Electrolux but half the price for the GE. Even though they are the same part. Here, in Canada the plastic headlight assembly for a BMW x5 is over 3000.

    Even if independent servicers have access to parts, the inflated cost for parts make unlikely to be worthwhile to repair.

      1. Glen

        Yes. I used to work beside a body shop that would buy x5’s written off buy insurance companies. A 4 year old one in a front end collision that would need 2 headlights, hood, grill and fenders would be in for more than 20k in parts. Which was why they were written off.

        1. cnchal

          That is an awesome virtuous circle. BMW puts such a fantastic price on their parts that a fender rub writes the car off, and pretty soon a market forms that takes advantage of the fact that some of those cars are wrecked from the rear and some from the front, and by recombining the good parts with bad corners, create value from the wreckage.

          1. Oregoncharles

            My mother once had “the shortest Mercedes in Indiana” (my father’s phrase); she’d been sandwiched in a highway chain reaction. Not much harm to the people, but I shudder to think what that cost to fix.

        2. Felix_47

          And BMW wants about 700 for a three series front headlight…….That is why BMW resales are so cheap. And if you don’t service it at the dealer the warranty is not valid……..unless you hire an attorney.

      2. John Wright

        A friend of mine has an old BMW with a trunk latch that failed (a small coil spring broke).

        The dealer only had the complete latch for $280.

        An 80 cent spring from the hardware store worked well enough.

        Google helped find advice from people who had solved this problem already.

    1. kgw

      When my dear mother’s double-door reefer started blinking instead of working, I got on the interwebs and found a .pdf, complete with color pictures on how to pull the pcb (printed circuit board) and remove the two capacitors with the mushroomed tops. After a trip to Radio Shack, and about $3, I resoldered two new capacitors to the pcb. Voila!
      Repair by the seller was $400…Turned out that there was a plethora of such failures.

      1. bob

        If you can find the part number, sometimes you can find the part.

        There’s a local appliance repair shop that serves repair people. It’s not home depot, they don’t sit down with you and make you feel warm and fuzzy. It’s a parts warehouse, with parts all over. But, they do have a TON of parts, cheap.

        Walk in there knowing what you need, and you can walk out in less than 2 minutes. It seems that that hardest part is getting people to believe that they have the part, in that “dump” of a building, when they spent all of 5 minutes looking online.

        “it’s $400, I’ll just get a new one”

        There are still specialty repair shop wholesalers. No, it doesn’t pay for them to organize and catalog everything they have and put it up on the internet, for a $5 pump.

        1. bob

          Just adding, if you find a bunch of other people with the same problem, there is usually an aftermarket.

          That the “internet” doesn’t find it, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

          Specific phone calls, not fishing for advise, but a part, work very well.

          “hey, do you have a part number XXX?”

    2. Bugs Bunny

      BMW, like many others uses software that optimizes pricing for spare parts to total out cars so they can replace them with new ones. This should be illegal but, it isn’t.

  6. FluffytheObeseCat

    Thanks for this and the links. It’s a great story that needs to be advertised widely. Also the fact that ‘Right to Repair’ can and should be done at the state level. I.e. My local, Simon-owned mall has a phone repair kiosk in its main longitudinal hallway. I bet you don’t have anything like it in New York malls because…. laws. State laws. Or regs with the force of law. ‘Regulations’ tend to be the favored authority! tool for unethical restraints on legitimate commerce.

    Everybody here knows you can like donate your old phone via a favorite church or charity too right?

    1. Liberal Mole

      No, we do have them, just like we have Simon-owned malls. You wouldn’t want those moneyed New Yorkers to have to go use the phone repair shops on Main St! Maybe they aren’t on the same level as the Apple Store, but I’ve seen them.

      I’m not exactly sure what to make of this law, as Apple certifies some independent shops to repair their products. I have an old iMac whose video card died and Apple no longer repairs them, so they sent me to a place that would do it for over $700. I passed on that for now, but might get it repaired later if someone in the family needs a desktop.

      1. Propertius

        Have you looked to see if there’s an ifixit guide for this particular iMac (the link is further up in the comments section)? The older iMacs are much easier to work on than the current models, and you can probably get a replacement video card on eBay (a quick search there shows iMac video cards priced at $52 – $165, depending on model).

        It’s broken and out of warranty – what have you got to lose?

  7. human

    Please support eff.org, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and fsf.org, Free Software Foundation.

    They are both in the vanguard of protecting the publics’ rights.

  8. craazyman

    Wow. You didn’t have your first phone until 2010? That is SLOOWWWWWW adoption.

    I remember using a phone in the 1960s. It had a dial like a wheel. You’d put your finger in a hole beside each number and you’d drag it clockwise, spinning the whole wheel, until it hit a metal stopper. Then you’d let it go and the wheel returned itself to equilibrium,where it started. The phone numbers only had 7 digits back then. So you’d drag seven numbers, one by one, and realease the dial after each.

    Each number was a shock to equilibrium. But the system always returned to equlibrium. Then it made the phone call. The phone had two parts — the base, upon which the dail was mounted. And a hand-held piece shaped like a long ‘C’ that you both spoke into and listened into. You held that part up to your mount and ear simultaneously and you’d speak into the mouthpice and listen in the earpiece.

    It never broke. Never. You could kick it but you’d break your foot, that’s how heavy it was. If it was windy in your house — for whatever reason, either you have fans blowing all over or your windows are open — you could put it on a pile of papers and they wouldn’t blow around.

    I have a lamp that won’t work but I have no idea what to do with it. I don’t want to throw it away — I bought it for $15 in a junk shop and it has wooden narrow extendable legs stained an attractive mahogony color with brass fittings. It’s very nice! It won’t work. But I won’t throw it away because it’s kindd of beautiful. So it put it in the corner and open the curtains to get light. It’s likee a reverse lamp — the day light lights it up.

    It must be very easy to fix. It would be nice to pay soembody, say, $40 to fix it. I bet they could in 3 minutes if they have electrical skills.

    The cable modem for the internet has a digital clock on it. The clock right now says 7:35. Not only is it off by about 7 hours but just yesterday it was only off by about 4 hours. I have no idea how to adjust it. This is worse than a VCR, whicch always flashed 12:00. At least you knew that was right twice a day. This one may either be right randomly during the day or never right! This is progress! It’s incredible. This is a downward spiral into almost paralyzing anarchy.

    It would be nice to have a place to takke these problems and have them taken seriously. However, I did spill wine allover a laptop a few months ago and THERE IS A SHOP 3 BLOCKS AWAY THAT SAID THEY COULD FIX IT! Some Chinese dude with a streetfront store, glass window and metal bookshevles loaded with computer junk. A few tables for desks and a flourescent light. And letters taped tot he windwo that said sometthing like “JLC Computer Repair”. Something like that. The computer was dead after I spilleed wine all over it and the tech guys at work said No Way is this thing gonna be fixed. But the Chinese dude fixed it! Sort of. He said he’d fix it but all but 1 of the USB ports are still dead, the touchpad is still dead and the fan grinds noisily — eventhough he said he’d clean it and fix it.

    I paid $150 for that, which wouldd have been OK if the fan didn’t still grind. I was a little upset, since he did sayhe’d fix the fan.

    I would have been OK if the fan just didn’t grind. It’s distracting, trying to think withthe fan grinding away. I guess nothing is perfect, but it was good to at least have the. Dude recover what he could. Can you imagine having to start over with a new computer, getting all the software back on it working. That would have taken me days. I would have cried.

    Equlibrium for this computer is now rather compromised. But at least it’s reasonably stable. Unlike the old phone, which had an equlibrium so stable you would be injured yourself if you tried to shock it into a state of occilation.

    1. Carla

      craazyman, have you checked your local Craigs List to see if anyone in your area repairs lamps? I love that you have partially solved the problem with daylight, but hate to think of you sitting in the dark on these long winter nights.

      This Waste Not, Want Not post led to a friend informing me about a repair service local to my area. How cool is this?

      https://www.facebook.com/ReJacks/

      I refuse to belong to FB, but apparently this is a “public page” and Zuck was kind enough to let me view it.

        1. pricklyone

          When I was a mere child, I knew this knot, but not its name! You just had to look at how things were assembled as you took them apart, to learn to fix them. So easy.

      1. Oregoncharles

        Our town used to have that service, but the arrival of Home Despot finished off the Plumbing and electric store that did it. I miss that store!

        However, as Jim is pointing out below, most lamps are very simple; I can often repair them myself. The switches, etc. are usually at the hardware store.

    2. human

      I lived in an area with a PBX; only 4 numbers necessary to reach a neighbor; and even an area with a party line; pick up the phone to tell the operator (another neighbor) whose phone to ring (coded).

      1. JTMcPhee

        …and when my family was on a party-line system, one would pick up the receiver, say “Hello” and add “AND NELLIE GET OFF THE LINE, DAMMIT!” which would be followed usually by a huffy snort and a click as Nellie Arnold, the neighborhood busybody, hung up her phone.

        I sort of miss the old days, when it was Nellie instead of the Matrix that was eavesdropping and adding to her store of gossip and blackmail material…

        1. bob

          Yup, I remember those days. Party line until the early 90’s.

          If you called long distance, you’d get an operator who would, before the call connected, ask what your phone # was, to bill it.

        2. pricklyone

          You may have just given me a good rejoinder to people who think NSA spying is OK, cause they “have nothing to hide”. Just tell them this tale, makes it kinda personal and local. Who wouldn’t resent Nellie in their bizness.

          Thanks! I won’t even hold it against you that your life history sounds like “Andy Griffith” plot device! –grins–

    3. Waldenpond

      I’d get on youtube and load some videos on how to wire a lamp. Also, trip to the hardware store and a peek at the back on the package may resolve the issue.

      1. bob

        Lamps are very low tech. The guts are also cheap. Sometimes, buying a “new” one at the dollar store and stealing the guts is worth it.

        1. pricklyone

          Yard Sales! New Leviton sockets are crapified beyond belief, too. Had to go thru 3 to find a working one. Older stuff is really better. Find the ugliest lamp on the planet, get it for pennies.
          Guts are all interchangeable.

    4. pricklyone

      craazy, you may be kidding, but I have 2 of the old rotary dial phones in service here, today. No batteries!
      When the power goes out, it still works! Unlike the new landline phones. Wont lose its charge in a few hours like a mobile.

      1. Praedor

        This is why I insist on still having a landline in my home…besides right now I MUST have a landline because DSL. In any case, a landline is immune to power outages or issues with batteries and forgotten recharges. They just work. Always.

      2. jrs

        my phone outlet has an 3 line adapter plugged in for two phones and dsl. One phone is a phone that will work if the power goes out, the other a portable landline headset that won’t. Instant backup to more primitive tech if the power goes out.

    1. Carla

      In my state (Ohio), sales tax is charged on services too–because we never met a regressive tax we didn’t like.

  9. annie moose

    This is a big deal in Kansas software is proprietary are on newer farm equipment which means a trip to the dealership for most repairs. Very big hassle.

    1. Oregoncharles

      Which makes you question the value of software in farm equipment. The farmer isn’t good enough?

      1. JTMcPhee

        SOMEbodything has to control the diesel injectors and air conditioning and drive the darn thing…

      2. Praedor

        As with WLAN routers, there needs to be an opensource group to produce a new Linux-based system replacement for the shitty corporate version. Flash the farm tractor computer with the new opensource linux OS and it’s yours forever.

        Only problem is that, unlike wireless routers, the user base for farm tractors is VERY narrow and small so there’s no natural ecology to push a group of interested linux coders to do the deed.

  10. Altandmain

    I strongly support this law.

    Lots of laptops today for example have everything soldered. That makes it impossible almost to do things like upgrade the CPU, RAM, and often even storage today is soldered. Worse the batteries are glued and they are the first part in any laptop (or phone) to die.

    Moore’s Law ended with 28nm. That means that next year’s smartphone won’t be that much better than the year’s before. Likewise, IPC improvements on microprocessors have slowed down a lot. We’re a long way from Dennard Scaling.

    1. pricklyone

      When you say “lots”, you mostly refer to Apple products.
      If you want the lightest, thinnest, stylishly “designer” product, this is your reward.
      Made cheap to sell high, baby.

  11. DarkMatters

    Pointless product replacement isn’t a bug but a feature. IMHO, lack of repairability is a core part of the profit strategy associated with planned obsolescence. The invisible hand can push us into some arcane behavior.

    This shows most starkly with software:
    a. If I want to use the latest Adobe products for my photography, I’ll have to buy a new computer which will have an operating system that will support these latest products. And then I’ll have to upgrade all the other software I have that won’t run on the new platform.
    b. When I last tried to come up to speed on a Word upgrade on a somewhat serious level, I came across a tutorial and review written by an IT VP of a large corporation. In describing his own learning experience, he said it took him several weeks to re-acquire the fluency he had with the old software, with no discernible benefit. After reading this, I just incompetently hacked around in Word like everyone else. I do wonder, how many person-hours of productivity have been lost to Microsoft’s latest rent extraction.
    c. But how does a software company and its personnel support themselves, once they’ve made a product that works well which its users understand well? (I once asked a company’s support line how much they would need to charge to survive with NO upgrades, just bug fixes.)

    I recently fixed my 15 yo oven after an overheat thermostat failed during a cleaning cycle. It cost me $15 parts + shipping, but the stores I called before placing the order all asked why I wouldn’t prefer to buy a nice new one for $2000. As if that were a prudent recommendation. But the entire supply chain, from designers to manufacturers to shippers to retailers to installers, was out the $2k of business they would otherwise have had. I find it odd that product breakdown can be taken as an economic stimulus.

    1. TastySharkSnack

      Regarding point c.

      I’m seeing many software companies abandon the one-time purchase model for subscription licensing. While I’m sure anti-piracy considerations were a large reason for this, I would think that it provides more revenue in the long run when users decide they don’t want to buy the latest version with features — and potential bugs — they don’t need.

    2. TheCatSaid

      @DarkMatters:

      Pointless product replacement isn’t a bug but a feature. IMHO, lack of repairability is a core part of the profit strategy associated with planned obsolescence.

      Exactly. “Design for Failure” is a crucial part of the product design process since the 1950s. How this plays out depends on the company’s profit-making strategy for the new product in question. Unfortunately these days it usually means, “Design the product in a way that is not modular or reparable, to drive new sales.”

      The part of “design for failure” that makes sense is to understand ahead of time which parts are more vulnerable than others, and how long each is likely to last. It’s good to understand the likely point(s) of failure. Since about the 1960s, our throwaway culture (“more sales is better”) manufacturers have deliberately dispensed with “repair and replace” because they’d rather sell more new, cheap things. They require that new products are designed so that do not have parts that can be easily taken out and repaired or replaced, and that are likely to fail after a specific amount of time or uses.

      IOW, crapification.

      1. DarkMatters

        The Japanese keep their auto industry in business, while still maintaining high quality, by requiring meticulous upkeep which apparently gets expensive enough so that buying a new car becomes preferable. This has led to a thriving export business in used cars fro Japan. I learned about this when my 1999 Subaru Legacy got the leaking headgasket Subaru disease. The (US) mechanic asked whether I’d prefer a low mileage used engine from Japan instead of repairing my own. (apparently there’s a land-office business in used engines as well as autos)

        Design for failure isn’t necessary; only the throwaway part is. (To some extent, that’s the iPhone marketing strategy as well). But in either case, the invisible hand is channeling surplus capacity into the filling of scrapyards, instead of retooling its capacity to a more useful direction. Infrastructure projects come to mind, but that sounds vaguely socialistic and hence unthinkable.

    3. Praedor

      I had a shitty shitty SHITTY Whirlpool clothes washer and dryer pair. The washer was the trendy front-load kind (with the unadvertised attribute of REEKING from mildew/bacterial growth after a short period of time using it – turns out you need to leave the front hatch opened a crack all the time between washes AND you need to periodically run bleach through it to kill off the bugs). The dryer…ah the dryer. Spent good money (ie, WASTED) on the set and the dryer kept crapping out. The digital screen would put up a cryptic F70 or other similar code after a few months of use and beep at you, refusing to work. If you unplugged it a while and let it cool down it would SOMETIMES make it through a couple loads of laundry before it started beeping and F70ing at you again. Turns out that the circuit board in that make/model tended to develop cracks from the vibration of the machine operating. This thing isn’t bouncing around and dancing and banging, it was a very gentle/subtle vibration like any other tumble dryer. Nonetheless the circuit board couldn’t hack it. Got a repairman out to fix it. $600 to repair it with a replacement circuit board. Done. A few months later it is F70ing and beeping again! Turns out that this dryer would regularly need a new circuit board with normal/modest use (just TWO of us). I looked online once after it started F70ing again and found possible boards online. I ALMOST sprang for it (~$200) to replace it myself (I watched the repairment replace the last one) but realized I’d have to do it again in a few months, ad nauseum, so we opted for a new set NOT Whirlpool. I WILL go online to find out if there’s repair instructions when/if the time arrives to deal with the new set (the washer is a top loader this time…last washer/dryer we had lasted FOREVER, didn’t have a bunch of fancy circuits and programs on it).

  12. Norello

    “The circular economy alternative instead considers the entire life cycle of a product, and seeks to reduce waste by various means, including reducing materials used in products; promoting durability and thereby extending the useful life of a product; practicing ecodesign (and so facilitating easier maintenance, repair, or remanufacturing); and promoting waste reduction by minimizing recycling costs and encouraging reuse.”

    Current practice in the United States is to do the exact opposite of that in an attempt to increase profits. Planned obsolescence is a plague that has spread to most durable goods. The lifetime of durable goods is designed to be ever shorter. They are also designed in such a way that repairing said item will be more expensive than buying a new one.

  13. Oregoncharles

    There may be problems with doing this on the state level. My first thought was in response to: “, the Department of Homeland Security and federal customs agents have conducted raids on such shops for using allegedly “counterfeit” parts in their repairs.”

    How does state law protect against federal enforcement actions? I figured that out: by requiring manufacturers to provide “genuine” parts. What if the manufacturers refuse? Remember, much of the electronics sold is NOT from local stores; it’s from national, mostly on-line sources. About all the state can do is forbid in-state sale of products that don’t supply parts. That would complicate life a little for the distributors, but not a whole lot, and the local stores would scream.

    Another approach might be through the consumer fraud laws: if parts aren’t available, that constitutes consumer fraud (I would argue that it does), regardless of where the item was bought, and consumers could sue, as could the repair shops. As they would. Nice class-action suit, there. Bogarting parts could also be subject to anti-trust actions, if the state has anti-trust laws.

    Should be interesting to see how this plays out.

    And on “repair culture:” the guy who used to repair my lawnmowers and other equipment set up to also repair electric tools and small appliances (there are several major appliance repair places in town.) It was very handy – but it didn’t pay. Granted, this guy eventually went out of business because he wasn’t a very good businessman (nor am I); but I think the problem was lack of demand. And possibly of parts – I didn’t ask him.

    The comparison with India is relevant: people there work much cheaper than in the US. I’ve long thought a systematic study of where the elevated cost of living comes from would be helpful – health care is an obvious one, but so are zoning and building codes. So while it might cost $10 fix a $30 phone in India, it might cost $50 here.

    1. Propertius

      Remember, much of the electronics sold is NOT from local stores; it’s from national, mostly on-line sources. About all the state can do is forbid in-state sale of products that don’t supply parts. That would complicate life a little for the distributors, but not a whole lot, and the local stores would scream.

      This has not prevented states from prohibiting the sale of, for example, normal-capacity rifle magazines (a/k/a “high capacity magazines”) to their residents and requiring on-line retailers to abide by those restrictions. How is this different?

        1. ambrit

          I would suggest that the “real” purpose of such restrictions is to demonize even the potential of independence from “official” society among any portion of the populace. As the old pornography debate prefigured, the “lowest denominator” could act as the baseline for standards. Declaring something to be a crime is as much a psychological as a physical strategy.

        2. Praedor

          Depends. You don’t want to go to a public shooting range with a prohibited NORMAL capacity magazine but you can keep your original mags and go shooting on your own property or other locations where permitted and use them to your heart’s content.

  14. Dave

    When you have a broken small appliance that you have given up on, put it on top of your garbage can, instead of inside it.

    Someone will probably pick it up and either attempt to fix it successfully, or will later throw it away.
    Same thing with old spray paint or anything useful you don’t want.

    1. jrs

      But you aren’t supposed to throw away appliances these days anyway, you are supposed to take them to electronic waste disposal.

  15. cocomaan

    EXCELLENT article, thank you.

    So, for example, standing in a Trade Joe’s on Long Island, I was overwhelmed by the amount of plastic swathing just about any possible purchase, most of which were packaged in increments that were far greater than my husband and I could reasonably consume. (Before I get shredded by the commentariat, I should mention that I prefer to buy food– fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, meat– at local farmers’ markets, in quantities that we can use. But sometimes it’s just not possible to do that. Such markets are seasonal– when they exist at all– they’re often open at most a couple of days a week, and local growing seasons limit available food choices.)

    Part of the plastic obssession, I think, is a Victorian holdover about cleanliness. I know a kid around age twelve who only eats things out of plastic packaging, out of fear of “germs”.

    My wife and try to grow as much of our own food as possible, but having under ten acres probably means it’s not possible, and we don’t have that much. No need to apologize.

    1. Oregoncharles

      The amount of land necessary depends a lot on just where you are and how hard you’re willing to work. I think it was Jeavons (names are coming back slowly – may have to go search out the book) claimed to be able make a living from a quarter acre. That was in the Bay Area, though, with a year-round growing season and a big market nearby. Also with double-dug beds and every other aspect of intensive gardening. If he could make a living, he could probably feed himself. Not much meat, of course.

      I’m not exactly advocating this; I don’t think I’d want to work that hard. The techniques are out there, though.

      1. cocomaan

        Absolutely, depends on region.

        A quarter acre might be possible, but I also think you’d stress the land something fierce. The external inputs you’d need in the form of fertilizer would mean you’re reliant on some external inputs.

        I have two acres in a temperate area and I fully admit that me and my wife would starve if we tried to live solely on what we had on this land.

        That’s why I don’t fault Jerri Lynn or anyone else for going to a grocery store. There’s nothing wrong with that, what’s wrong is our ag system.

      2. Praedor

        You can extend growing season many places with a greenhouse or cold frames. Some things could be grown indoors during winter (tomatoes, for instance) with the judicious use of a string of red and blue LED lights for low power consumption.

    2. gepay

      I was a stay at home dad and used to grow much of our food. I found I could grow about half of our food as as a part time job. To grow all of our food would have been more than a full time job so it wasn’t worth it. Much easier and more lucrative to pick up part time work here and there. I did repair all of our fully depreciated vehicles.and most of the appliances. More and more repairs are replacing assemblies when it is just one small part of the assembly. Dryers are much simpler than washers and easier to repair. Many needed small assembly parts are almost impossible to find. i didn’t repair the fire wire jack on my Thinktop because everything needed to be taken apart to get to it. It is entirely too easy to inadvertently damage delicate electronics. the first rule in repairing electric devices is check the plug. More and more things are not being made to be repaired but just replaced.

  16. ambrit

    I remember building bicycles from parts scrounged from the town dump. Now you cannot even enter the dump without “official” approval.
    This is all about financializing everything. The side result is the criminalization of poverty. Unlike the days of yore, poverty now includes anything that can’t be exploited for someone’s personal gain.

    1. craazyman

      You had a dump with bicycle parts? All we had were miserable piles of trash on the streets that fouled the air and gave us rashes on our arms and legs, mostly from rotting garbage that decayed into a near-liquid that even rats wouldn’t eat. Oh, what we would have done for a dump! Just one place to put it all, that would have been a deliverance from a plague. Just so the pile wasn’t everywhere all over the place so you could even walk two steps without running into to. A bicycle! That would have been something descended from heaven out of a prayer! We would not have dared to even wish on a Sunday, in our most unrestrained fantasies and prayers to God, for a bicycle. A dump with bicycle parts! That’s hardly believable, but we, admittedly, did have it bad. Some people are just born lucky.

      1. ambrit

        Oh, the humanity! My heart bleeds for you! (Proper DemoDog response.)
        But, gadzooks craazyman, your fair environ didn’t budget for garbage services? You grew up in some third world country like Peoria or Cucamonga? Why, I guess we must have had it better than we knew. We even had broken down washers and dryers to drag off for use as targets for our gun nutteries. The scene from the film “Rancho Deluxe” comes to mind where Sam Waterston and Beau Bridges shoot a Lincoln to pieces.
        Also of historical note is the fact that such “town dumps” were local venues and not corporatized regional behemoths. Fun fact: One of the worst sites in South Florida was a dump that only was open for seven years. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munisport

        1. craazyman

          Are you sure it wasn’t a Sears store? Bicycles, washers and dryers. That sounds like Sears to me. A kid may not completely realize. If it was Woolworth’s, that would have been a dump. They were in bad shape when I was a kid and it just got worse. But I don’t think they sold washers and dryers. They might have had bicycle parts from display models that fell over and parts broke off and rolled across the floor. Nobody would have cared. Nobody who worked there would have given a flying f—k. The floors were dirty and the ceiling was peeling off and falling. You could see dust on the windows and the walls. If you wanted lunch in the cafeteria you had to sit next to insane people with bags. When they saw you they’d look shocked. That’s how bad it was.

          Sears was not anywhere near as bad as that. But sometimes shlt would fall on the floor and get kicked around.

          Sometimes you can’t fix something that’s broken. You just have to change your life. That’s even harder. I have a toaster oven I never threw away and it still works! I cleaned it today with steel wool, in the sink. Goddam this thing is tough. I put water all over it and all in it and scrubbed all the gunk off. Now it shines! You plug it in — after all that — and the dam thing works! IT firest right up! Hotter than hell. Not one computer chip inside. Nothing but wires and a few knobs. It’s made of some kind of black metal. Probably steel. This thing is just like an old dial phone. It’ll be in a museum in 399 years — in the cafeteria, working.

          1. ambrit

            Alas, one of my first formal jobs, while in High School, was at the Downtown Miami Sears store. The essence of what you perceive as “reliability” in appliances I’d characterize as simplicity. The fewer moving parts, the better. Un-square that CDO and what do you have? Money!
            About stuff falling to the floor and being kicked under the shelves. Do, if you have the time, do an archeological survey of the stuff found under a store’s shelving when it’s moved for some arcane reason. Depending on the department, you’ll find enough stuff to prove Fermat’s Last Theorem!
            Wow, poor Woolworths. I vaguely remember going to the lunch counter of the Woolworths in downtown Miami, Florida with my Mommy way back in the late fifties or early sixties. What an adventure! All the people, big buildings, and food! We evidently, being recent immigrants, couldn’t afford much, but, to a kid, anything out of the ordinary is noteworthy. A grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk. I remember eating that sitting on a swivel stool next to Mom. A little later, I got to sit in the pilots seat of the Friendship Seven Mercury capsule when it came around to Bayside Park on a ‘goodwill’ tour after John Glenn’s low earth space orbits. Even as a kid I realized that this thing was small. Talk about reliability? Low earth space travel is still being done with old soviet era rocket boosters like the Vostock and Energia. B-52s still fly, after fifty years of service. America recently elected a seventy year old man as President. This cult of youth is junk.
            Sweet dreams.

  17. Norb

    Thinking about personal ownership has to change if sustainability is ever going to be reached. The main idea is having access to products,things, and services instead of owning them outright. Paying for access requires a totally different mindset and infrastructure. Working toward that goal is one path, The other path, the one most are trotting down is personal ownership. Digital media is a case in point. Does everyone need to own a physical copy, or can some way be devised that both the creators of content and the viewing public both benefit. Who or what is the intermediary? Why is this right held in a few hands or able to be purchased for resale? A new form of patronage must be devised, which is connected to the ideas of strong local communities and a jobs guarantee. Goals must be defined. Access and profit are diametrically opposed concepts. It is defining an acceptable level of poverty- the acceptable level of denied access.

    Corporations are moving in the opposite direction. Instead of freeing up creative potential and improving sustainability, and by extension access, they are actively setting up barriers to maintain profits- in direct contradiction to proven results. Neoliberalism seeks efficiencies to cement social control, while guaranteeing inefficiency in product life and sustainable use practices.

    The problem with repair shops, is there is no guarantee. Money can be spent to no relief, so the choice is made to purchase new- thus perpetuating the current status quo. A real catch-22.

    While this legislation is warranted, the larger picture is making manufactures also responsible for the full life of their equipment. Only then can accountability be added back into the manufacturing picture instead of pushing negative aspects of a design off as an externality.

    Until then, its scale back on unnecessary possessions, reuse as much as possible, and repair when you can. We are hell bent on entering a Mad Max type of world. Those that can afford to be part of the status quo will, and those that cannot, will creatively figure out ways to cobble together the parts of industrial waste and the excess leftovers of the elite. We are all hackers now.

  18. Paid Minion

    I hate to be the “rain on the parade” again, but there isn’t much to “fix” in consumer electronics. Any of you feel up to changing diodes and transistors or ICs on a tiny card? Yeah, I thought not.

    Anyone in the aviation business will tell you that there is no money to be made in the labor troubleshooting and fixing. I’ve personally had a couple of deals where I made more on my 5% markup on a part, than I did working four months on the airplane

    About all Ive managed to accomplish is changing a cracked screen on my phone. Disassemble, plug and play.

    I won’t bother to mention that any tech who values his time isnt going to screw around with it. Think about the amount of wasted time and free “rework” you are going to have to give away, arguing about whether the thing is “fixed” or not. Or fix it, present the bill, and hear “I could have bought a new one for that”.

    Airplanes with tons of usable life left are going to go to the boneyards in the next two years, because the labor costs to inspect or upgrade them is more than the airplane is worth. That is, unless you knock back the pay scales of A&Ps and avionics techs to minimum wage (or below). And you are having trouble finding people to “fix stuff” at current payscales.

    Of course, you could knock everyones pay back to $3/day, like India. In which case, its going to be real hard selling $30k cars, $400k houses, and keeping the Dow at 20,000

    1. Paid Minion

      Okay, so you “mandate” that OEMs supply repair data for free, and that they keep parts available.

      How long? 10 years? 5? How long is the “liability” tail? Who pays the lawyers when a device is repaired incorrectly, and the owner sues everyone in sight?

      In the case of aircraft, its the OEM, because they are the only people worth suing. How did they address it? You guessed it……..to fix anything on an airplane, you have to have “approved data”. Stop selling manuals, and the problem goes away.

    2. Propertius

      I hate to be the “rain on the parade” again, but there isn’t much to “fix” in consumer electronics. Any of you feel up to changing diodes and transistors or ICs on a tiny card? Yeah, I thought not.

      A cellphone is not an airplane. You are not going to die if you screw up a screen or battery replacement on a cellphone. You are not going to crater your cellphone into a daycare center, wiping out scores of children in an apocalyptic conflagration. It’s a cellphone. The most common failure modes are going to be a dead battery or a cracked screen – no tiny diode or IC replacements necessary. They’re relatively straightforward to replace, even on an iPhone.

      The main impediment here is, I think, “learned helplessness”. My cousin Mike was so intimidated by the notion of replacing the battery in his iPhone that he just threw it away and got a new one. He’s an MSEE, but he was afraid to open the bloody thing up – even though it was completely nonfunctional. What horrible misfortune did he think was going to ensue? It was busted. It was out of warranty. How, pray tell, was he going to break it *more*? To be sure, he’d have had to acquire a magical “pentalobe” screwdriver to open it up (no plebeian screws on an iPhone), but those can be had online for a few bucks ($2.62 on eBay), and that was in fact the cause of his trepidation.

      I guess he expected to be hauled off to some Apple gulag in the middle of the night for having the temerity to do so.

      1. Paid Minion

        The only thing you are going to be able to fix on your phone/electronic device is the screen, maybe the touchpad (if a separate module), or the battery. All are removable modules.

        Might I suggest that if you dont know how to replace the battery, you have no business doing anything more complicated.

      2. Praedor

        The main things that go bad on cellphones (or tablest) are the screen, the battery, and the connector port(s). Each is within the realm of being able to be replaced/fixed by a normal user with the right small tools, parts, and instructions. RARE is the IC failure.

        Also, a slightly greater skill set would allow users to expand internal memory from the usually pathetic OEM level to a superior level. Only 32gb of memory? Crack it open and replace the mem chip with a 64gb or 128gb chip. Moderate soldering skill needed but certainly within the realm of doable.

  19. bob

    Apple is the worst at this. They are the best at soldering everything into a giant ball that can’t be fixed, or can’t be fixed without breaking something else.

    I saw a “rant” on how their new ear buds can’t be “recycled”. They’re smaller and lighter than a quarter. The problem with apple starts and ends with apple. They do this on purpose, it’s built into everything they make. Especially the big computers.

    Picking on the earbuds is closing the barn door after the tornado took all the horses, and threw your door into the next county.

    1. Brian

      In a (modest) defense of Apple, I think the phenomenon you describe has mostly to do with the drive to make their devices as small as possible. In this, Apple proved themselves prescient from a market perspective, as mobile devices benefit a lot from being small and light.

      In general, I find Apple hardware to be high quality. There is an active market for the used devices, and they get used for a relatively long time.

      More problematic is the constant churn in the operating systems, which in turn causes churn in software. Most of our Apple products (household and business) get retired due to software compitbility issues, long before hardware failure. Web apps are just as bad. Browsers have moved to steady update release pattern, so even if I decide to “freeze” a device on a given OS, web apps can be very demanding about using a current browser version, which requires a current OS, which means you can’t get there from here.

      This really disturbs me, but there is not a lot of market incentive to stop this endless cycle of upgrading.

  20. jfleni

    Remember the Russian proverb: “one hand washes the other”; that’s how it is with hardware and software.

    Two of the states you named, MA & MN have several thriving businesses or charities refurbishing computers. Why not all of them?

    With much-better Linux substituting for “microswift” or “apple-jack” or just selling stuff which needs a new free CD to get it going, and with parts like screws available, it’s nuts to throw it all away!

  21. DarkMatters

    Paid Minion & Bob, above:

    Why attempting an electronic repair business is insane (a Luddite’s lament):

    1. It takes a high level of skill, good instrumentation and too much time just to figure out what the problem might be. And to do the necessary testing, you have to figure out how to get inside the cleverly-engineered package without breaking fasteners, and be able to place electrical probes in place without shorting anything out. (How many times can you do this consecutively without screwing up once? 100 times? 200 times?)
    2. In-house replacement inventory is probably impossible unless you’re renting the upstairs loft from Digikey. And if you order on-line, you have to go through the spec sheets and know enough to be sure the replacement for the defective part not only has the right electrical specs, but can physically fit the same space occupied by the failed component.
    3. Rework is a nightmare. Components used to be the size of a large insect whose leads you could safely heat with a blowtorch and which could be pried out non-destructively with a crowbar or vise-grips. Today with miniaturization and surface-mount-technology, you need a microscope and micro-robotic station. It’s practically impossible to heat the pads (all at once!) to free the device without doing damage and/or charring a hole in the board or ripping traces (Apple’s “giant ball”). Putting everything back together in better shape than you started with becomes an event worth celebrating.

    (I’m still suffering from PTSD from these experiences.)

    1. bob

      90% of problems are fixable. They deal directly with ports. Headphone ports, charging ports.

      This isn’t “soldering diodes”. It’s changing out a mechanical connector, if you can.

      Apple has done their best to “re-engineer” stuff that worked perfectly fine, but wasn’t proprietary to apple. Have you seen their headphone ports? It’s a perfect example. Make it just a little bit different, and create a captive, well heeled, market.

      It also makes all of the existing peripherals that most people already have junk. Is there really that much difference in utility between headphones?

      Gotta change up again, they got rid of the port, time to buy another gadget, and …do what with the existing?

      Apple claims design supremacy. They could design things better if they wanted to. They don’t. They’re using their supremacy to install a monopoly.

      1. Praedor

        THAT just gave me an ideer. A great second-hand market opportunity: replace the proprietory connectors (power lead, etc) on iPhones, iPads, etc, with universal STANDARD equivalents. Replace apples retarded and unnecessary mini-port connector/recharge port with a STANDARD mini-USB version, no more retarded power connector for an iPad, just a normal USB port or miniport like humans use.

      2. DarkMatters

        Bob: Point taken, especially Apple: failing to use standard Torx screw heads is prima facie proof of guilt. I’d also have to agree with you about “childhood” mortality problems (in contrast to infant mortality), since these usually involve something like mechanical misuse by the owner (or crappy design in the first place). I had in mind “adult” failure problems. In the 70’s, I gave my father an Astrocom-Marlux tape deck, something of a cult classic built and designed to aerospace standards by, well, laid off aerospace engineers; who else?. About 15-20 years later, one channel went dead, and, as you sort of imply, you can make an intelligent guess, here, that it was a failed electrolytic. A look at the schematic identified the suspect, but no close replacement was readily available, and I had to rig a doubled-up substitute. It worked, and the dang thing still fucntions all these years after that single fix. But there was plenty of room to work and schematics for diagnostics. (And the company that made one of the arguably best tape recorders ever, and for a reasonable price, is out of business.)

        But what do you do now, for instance, when a new auto-focus lens run by an ultrasonic motor for a camera stops focusing (as recently happened to me)? What would it take to tell whether it’s corrupted firmware or defective hardware?

        Maybe in addition to stocking parts, there ought to be a requirement for companies to release technical repair manuals. I’m not even sure that’s thinkable. If everyone who spilled wine on their Mac Pro touch pad replaced it for $50 themselves like I did, instead of paying Apple $700, whatever would the Apple genii do?

        Extending product lifetime is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, this would be a good thing: it encourages quality design, and repairs arguably extend the population’s skill. But on the other, our whole economy is built on a product cycle that would be broken if lifetime were significantly extended. Not just profits, but jobs would be lost, and economic activity reduced in general. And one might argue that skills required for repair could be better employed elsewhere (which is itself a problem, because they are not). And do you realize that it will be necessary to subject the population to ever-more sophisticated, psychologically detrimental manipulation? To slightly paraphrase Ned Beatty in Network, “You are meddling with the primal forces of nature!”

  22. dimitris

    Re: laptops: Even now more than a decade after the Lenovo acquisition, ThinkPads still get detailed maintenance manuals published, and parts are available, both from Lenovo and the gray market on Ebay.

    Also see https://www.reddit.com/r/thinkpad/ for a good FIY ThinkPad community

  23. Jeremy Grimm

    I can recall when an old VW bug was a very desirable vehicle not for its performance nor beauty but for its simplicity, ease of repair and inexpensive readily available parts. Today the efficiencies of the all-knowing Market have improved upon such quaint notions as durability, long-term reliability and inexpensive repairs — key features of what I used to regard as quality. Now I can enjoy the quality of shiny surfaces and latest style features in products designed to last a few years … until I absolutely must have the latest style in my gadgets … and even if I don’t the gadget breaks. Ultimately the all-knowing market will succeed in building each product as a quarter-decade wonderful one-hoss shay.

  24. TheCatSaid

    A good 3-minute video about Planned Obsolescence and Perceived Obsolescence:
    (From Annie Leonard, The Story of Stuff)

    For more history, see The Lightbulb Conspiracy, a 2010 documentary that describes how the planned obsolescence concept originated and took over. (At first, it was a 1924 cartel called Phoebus to prevent the rest of us having lightbulbs that were still working fine after 110 years like Chaillet’s original!) It’s a fascinating documentary.

  25. Patrick Lynch

    Right to Repair is a huge problem in the US Medical Equipment area. As a hospital-employed biomedical equipment technician, we have the technical skills to repair almost every medical device safely, quickly, and effectively, and at a cost to the healthcare system that averages about 5% of the purchase price of the medical equipment. When the manufacturers do the same repairs, their costs are 15% to 20% of the original purchase price. This can amount to as much as a $100,000 differential per piece of equipment! And every hospital owns at least 5,000 to 20,000 pieces of medical equipment. They try to prevent us from repairing our equipment by refusing to provide service manuals, using passwords to lock us out, refusing to train us, refusing to sell us parts, and charging as much as $450.00 per hour for telephone tech support. This is not against the law, but it should be. There are not enough players in the medical equipment market to make boycotting of their products a viable option in all cases. We need legislative assistance. Visit http://www.HTMDirt.com .

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