No user Serviceable Parts Inside? The rise of the Fix-It Culture

[Source: 1950s Television]
My first job out of high school was in a TV shop. I was hired mainly for muscle; this was the early 1980s and we sold a lot of console TVs that always seemed to need to be delivered to the third floor of a walk up. But I also got to do repair work on TVs and stereos, and I loved it. Old TVs from the 60s and 70s would come in, with their pre-PCB construction and hand-wired chassis full of terminal strips and point to point wiring that must have been an absolute nightmare to manufacture. We’d replace dodgy caps, swap out tubes, clean the mechanical tuners, and sometimes put a new picture tube in  – always the diagnosis that customers dreaded the most, like being told they’d need a heart transplant. We kept those old sets alive, and our customers felt like they were protecting their investment in their magnificent Admiral or Magnavox console with the genuine – and very, very heavy – walnut cabinet.

I managed to learn a lot from my time as a TV repairman, and I got the bug for keeping things working well past the point which a reasonable person would recognize as the time to go shopping for a new one. Fixing stuff is where I really shine, and my house is full of epic (in my mind, at least) repairs that have saved the family tens of thousands of dollars over the years. Dishwasher making a funny noise? I’ll just pull it out to take a look. You say there’s a little shimmy in the front end when you brake? Pull the car into the garage and we’ll yank the wheels off. There’s basically nothing I won’t at least try to fix, and more often than not, I succeed.

I assumed that my fix-it bug made me part of a dying breed of cheapskates and skinflints, but it appears that I was wrong. The fix-it movement seems to be pretty healthy right now, fueled in part by the explosion in information that’s available to anyone with basic internet skills.

“If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it.”

Back in the old days, if you really needed a schematic for a TV you’d have to buy a Sam’s Photofact manual, and a service manual for your car came in either the Chilton or Haynes flavors. The fact that the very people who were being asked to shell out big bucks for these manuals were the people too cheap and stubborn to pay for professional repairs somehow escaped the marketers, and so more often than not we went into a repair with nothing but basic tools and hella confidence.

Words for the fixer to live by [Source: iFixit]
These days my first thought with most repairs is, “Someone must have dealt with this already,” and I head to the Internet for a search. True, the breadth of repair information can be bewildering, while the depth of coverage can range from the incredibly detailed to the barely usable, so it can be hard to get a good signal to noise ratio for any particular repair. But the mere fact that there’s so much information out there, almost all of which comes from dedicated DIYers, really speaks to the health of the fix-it culture.

Some sites are beginning to bring order to the chaos of DIY tutorials and repair information. One of my favorites is iFixit, a wiki-based site which boasts over 16,000 community-created repair guides. Their repair manifesto really resonates with me, and the stretch goal of creating a repair manual for every device in the world is a lofty but noble one. The site is very much a work in progress, and I can see myself contributing to it if I could only find the time.

There’s the rub, though: time. For all the money and resources DIYers save by keeping fixable gear out of the landfill, the trade-off is the hours spent on the repair. Adding more hours to the repair in the form of documentation is sometimes tough to justify. And yet, the videos and tutorials just keep piling up, not only on iFixit but also on sites like FixYa and RepairClinic. And let’s not forget the love Hackaday shows for the fix-it crowd – after all, we even have our own category for repair hacks.

For those who can’t quite get past the “Warranty void if removed” stickers, or for the brave souls who delve into a project only to get into a jam, there’s also a burgeoning movement toward fix-it clinics and meet-ups. The Repair Café Foundation has been offering support and organization to a world-wide network of Repair Café meetings where people are encouraged to bring in their busted stuff for a good going over with volunteer repair specialists. The idea is for the repair to be a collaborative process, with the owner putting in some sweat-equity and learning at least a little something about the repair. Hopefully this will stimulate an interest in going further with more repairs, or at least engender an appreciation for the work and demystify the process a bit. The fix-it meet-up approach is catching on, with other groups such as Philly Fixers Guild running local workshops with similar goals.

From Fixer to Builder

All these meetups and the wealth of online repair information seem to be having a positive effect on the repair movement – witness this recent Wall Street Journal feature where a reporter and admitted DIY-newbie undertook a repair on a friend’s TV. The fix turned out to be a simple re-capping of the power supply, but the skills that the reporter learned from his experience might just encourage him to try another repair. Nothing builds confidence like success.

What about the next step, though? What about the step from fixer of existing devices to builder of new and wondrous things? That’s where the growth of the fix-it movement can really start to pay off to the hacker culture. I think that in a lot of ways, fixing feeds hacking – folks go from scared newbie to successful fixer with the help of a mentor or just on their own with online help. Success breeds confidence, and confidence results in more attempted repairs and more experience. For the experienced fixer it’s then just an incremental step from “Look what I fixed!” to “Look what I built!”

So fixers, keep fixing. Not only are you saving money and resources, but you might just be setting yourself up for taking the next step and building new stuff. And when you do hit it big and get a product to market, make sure it has user serviceable parts inside!

90 thoughts on “No user Serviceable Parts Inside? The rise of the Fix-It Culture

  1. To me time isn’t an issue. Sure there’s only so many hours in the day, but I definitely enjoy repairing and building things. It gives me a certain satisfaction that nothing else does. I absolutely love that feeling and the time spent achieving it is well worth it.

    1. Also being a fixer means you are better than most other people. you have knowlege and skills they not only lack, but they are afraid of learning.

      People that fix things tend to have more drive, more curiosity, less fear, and more education than the others. and yes it is absolutely possible to know more by learning yourself than a person that has 3 PHD’s.

    2. I would like to say time isn’t an issue for me but I only get as far as “time isn’t a psychological issue”. In reality it ends up being a set of physical constraints to deal with, some of which have names. Some days that means I only have a few minutes to work on something, which lately has been cleaning up. But it’s still totally worth it, including the time constraints with names, and even the “crap, I have to replace the car brakes today so nobody will die” days that end with a finished project.

      1. The time constraints with names are what drives my ventures into repairs. I usually try to involve them until it’s time to put them to bed. That way, they can help reduce the time required.

  2. “Fixing stuff is where I really shine, and my house is full of epic (in my mind, at least) repairs that have saved the family tens of thousands of dollars over the years.”

    While my DW might disagree with her mantra of “just buy a new one” I agree with your sentiment from your article wholeheartedly. For some of us it wasn’t a choice of skinflint or pay….it was a choice of fix it or do without! Like you I cut my teeth fixing the family electronics over the years, and even without manuals did well enough.

    One thing the fix it chorus knows well…..”If I try to and can’t fix it, how much more broken is it likely to get?”

    1. Exactly. If the alternative was buying a replacement or going without, it LOGICAL to at least give it a go at trying to fix it. Can’t make it much worse, except to make it “less fixable” by a professional.
      Only cavats are plumbing and electrical. Again, its something you SHOULD learn how to do, but not by flooding the basement or electrocuting yourself ;)

      1. I have completely rebuilt a set of 95 year old sink valve cores, using basic tooling, and more than a little lateral thinking. two basic problems – brass Dezincification ( ) erosion had pitted the valve seats, making them chew apart the gaskets (rapidly), and the carbon-loaded string valve packing had worn down the brass handle shanks, leaving them of uneven thickness. To solve the first was straightforward enough – just wear it down with some emery cloth over the pad of your thumb, thus cutting the seat a new toroidial face. The second… was a nastier problem. the solution ended up being to thread a long machine screw into the gasket screw hole and use an electric powerdrill to spin it under a wide piece of emery cloth to level out the diameter of the shank (yes i know – Oughta Use a Lathe) . By God It Worked. The sink no longer leaks in either manner, and the valves operate quite smoothly.

    2. In our family’s experience 5 years until a TV was back in our home. Dad found by doing x would make the TV operate, but only for a short period of time, he never learned why do dong x made the TV work. Tired of pulling the back off to do x he made x permanent, doing that he left the magic smoke out of the TV, he never learned why making x permanent the magic smoke out either.

  3. Recapping LCD TVs got me through college, both financially and psychologically.

    I Learned more fixing found junk, than in my actual major. Its all about that pretty piece of paper these days.

    1. That pretty piece of paper shows you are capable of learning and able to follow a system (jump through hoops).

      I think it’s equally important to show you are capable of teaching yourself new skills and have the desire to do so. Proving that will put you on the top of the list.

      1. How wrong you are….

        Secondary school could care less if you find a job, let alone if you are good at it. They will however gladly take your money and then tell you to go get certifications that swindle even more of it out of your wallet. Jumping through hoops and following systems is for circus animals and most colleges produce little more than that.

        I work in an industry that has no shortage of new engineers and technicians through the door that know little to nothing about what they are doing. Instead they are stuck to people like me that have to make sure they don’t do something stupid and hurt themselves while trying to teach them that a simple fucking incandescent light bulb does NOT have a polarity and that Alternating Current has a frequency and that a battery should not have a frequency and any number of asinine, shit headed , stupid ass questions.

        Bitter ? You bet ya! Why? Because one or two of those people can be dealt without going insane. Multiply that a few times and you’ll start understand. I don’t get a paycheck for holding peoples hands and teaching them stuff they already should know, since they have that “pretty little piece of paper”.

        And when they grow up after riding on my coat tails and get their “top brass” promotions, do they bother to say thanks? No, they think “hmmmm, I think we need more people like me with pretty little pieces of paper. So and so can train them…”

        What technical degree do you have again…? Oh, that’s right….

          1. I couldn’t have said it better, I have been tinkering since I was little. So when someone with a degree goes, “What is a breadboard?” It is almost infuriating. That is middle school level stuff to me and these are grown adults with papers saying they know the basics.
            The problem with finding a good job these days is that on your resume all that shows is your degree. You can list skills and languages and whatnot, but they all assume you learnt it in school and throw you on to the ever growing pile. There seems to be no way to shine as self educated during the initial job process. I through experience would rather work with one self taught person than 10 people with a degree and no practical knowledge.

            I have been told I am too cynical for my age by most of my employers. They say I’m as old and bitter as someone that has been in the industry for 20 years. They don’t seem to understand that this is the reason why. Poorly educated ‘scholars’ have been an uphill battle for a majority of my life.

          2. I have to agree with that. I’ve tried looking for jobs, but found out that just to get your foot in the door, you need a bachelors degree on top of “experience”. Some good my first degree is (sarcastic tone).

          3. tbjr6: when a number of external sources (your employers) all come to the same conclusion (you’re more bitter about this than is reasonable), it’s maybe time to start accepting their data and fixing the problem.

            I’m starting to detect in this comment thread something like a techy-version of the 50-year-old former high school football player sitting on his chair at home, getting drunk and complaining about the assholes in power who never recognized his greatness because he COULD have been a star but it’s all THEIR fault!

            And incidentally, I’ve met lots and lots of self-taught people in my career, and for every one who has built up an amazing set of skills on their own, there’s one who never learned some critically important concept about what they’re doing and is incompetent or dangerous. You may not like formal education, but there’s a reason it exists.

          4. Macw I wonder how many 50 year old former football players you know? Anyone who had the drive to be great at sports will find something else to be good at when that part of their life ends, I know not one single person in a very large list of high-school and college athletes that hasn’t moved on.

            My father has no college education but has done very well for himself, yet carries the same sentiment towards employers who only hire based on degree, but also appreciates good engineers who can properly spec a system.

            You sound just like someone who has emotionally invested just a little too much into the idea of higher education and not autonomous education. Afraid someone will find out about the scam and your piece of paper will become worthless?

          5. I’ve been working in electronics since my teens (I’m in my 50’s now). I’ve worked with more than a few degreed engineers whose work I had to correct.
            As far as formal education goes – it’s not for everybody. I have a couple of degrees – mostly I attended to get the paper, I had already learned the material on my own.
            In my experience engineers produce a design, techs actually figure out how to make it work, then the engineers get most of the credit.

        1. So… you teach them tech and they become management. What were their degrees to begin with? Whatever they were it seems to me that those degrees taught them how to get what they wanted… your boss’s job.

  4. Try to repair it, the worse that can happen is it will still be broken. It saved me lot of money since I apply that, and of course I refurbished a lot of electronics that works well to this day.

    1. If the women don’t find you handsome, they can at least find you handy.

      When something expensive breaks I’m always torn between the horror of loosing it and the glee of finally having a reason to open it up and poke around.

  5. What really gets me about this is that the local council brag all day about the recycling they do but when you go to the dump and see a newish vac and you know that the mains lead is fractured because you can see the kink in the wire they will not let you have it or buy it or have anything to do with it because they want to earn brownie points by smashing it to bits and sending the respective parts to plastic / metal / other recyclers.

    There is no better thing for the environment than to take something that someone has thrown away and get another 10 years out of it.

    1. Some councils have arrangements where they sell those goods to shops, that fix and sell them as reconditioned. Its not always into straight landfil and why they can be so anal about owning the scrap items.

      I used to work for a smaller white goods company that did that, we actually got paid to recycle fridges by degassing but paid for the rest per unit, if they were tidy we’d change some components and check them and sell them in the storefront after a thorough cleaning, and if they were battered but worked, we’d sell them by the containerload to africa for export. Washing machines etc the same, if we could take one, put a new bearing + seal in and sell it at a profit we would. Anything beyond economic repair we threw in a big pile in the yard that we used to raid for spares to fix the other stuff that came in afterwards until there was nothing of value left on the carcass and we’d pick all the plastic off and scrap off the remains as metal.

      My local council allows you to take items, so I sometimes come back with more stuff than I intended to take. Not tv’s and computer stuff though, they already have a agreement with a company for that.

      Boils my blood when its going for landfil and they won’t let you take it though.

    2. Our local “resource reclamation center” (read DUMP) has the same attitude. Once it enters their chain, it is county property and you cannot take it. All those lost parts from copiers, printers, etc.

      Here in the states you can peruse Craigslist to get to some items before they’re sent to the trash heap. Some diamonds in the rough….lots of junk that needs to find its way to the masher.

      1. In my country private-owned scrapheaps sell their junk. car parts mostly, but one can find just anything: from TV’s to gantry cranes, locomotives, etc. There is strong urge to fix stuff because income of most people is low and prices for new stuff are high.

        I started from learning, how stuff is made, went trough fixing stuff and now I’m making stuff. First thing I dissected was an old, Russian TV when I was 6, since then I’m hooked.
        Tomorrow I’ll be fixing Nokia E52 for family member, who broke the LCD by sitting on it. Spare part from China, of course.

        Nowadays manufacturers hate people who fix their products because every item fixed is one item sold less. That’s why laptop batteries count number of charging cycles instead of counting real available charge (which they can do) to determine how much of it is left. That’s why my washing machine broke few days before end of warranty (it should have broken after) in such a way that fixing it would be too expensive. that’s why new cars can’t be fixed in ones garage. Some car manufacturers “cheat” by designing parts in such a way they will break after end of warranty and use custom tools that are too expensive for anyone who would rather avoid their services.,,

      2. in Germany, the whole country’s like that. They even put in new containers that are designed so that you can’t take anything out of them unless you’re a hardcore criminal! You know how much THAT sucks for someone who used to spend his youth going to the local dump every few weekends and building up a computer museum from what he found.

        1. UK is the same. It is actually illegal to remove anything from a skip or a bin at the side of the road and if the police see you they will prosecute, it is not one of those forgotten laws that no one uses, it is easy money for the fundraising police force that we seem to have now.

          In Greece it is the complete opposite, the dustbin men will leave things by the bins that they think someone may want it and if it is still there a fortnight later they will take it to the dump, that is proper recycling.

    3. I worked for a summer in IT for a local office of a large corporation while I was in college. We were doing upgrades and I was often tasked with taking bins of old computer parts to the dumpster. I asked if I could take them. I was told that it used to be allowed but no longer was because people actually fought over the stuff! The ‘server guy’ was there and gave me dirty looks as I asked.

      So.. I learned to very quickly sort out what I wanted and stash it away. Then I would spread the remaining out in the dumpster so that it was hard to count the pieces. It was easy to retrieve the stash later because they were often sending me to transport new computers to a second sight down the road in my own car.

      After several interations of this I actually got yelled at by the ‘server guy’ for spreading out the parts! He told me to start dropping them into the dumpster in a neat pile so that he could “check on them”! Of course I never did and just played dumb about how they became spread out after that.

  6. While I was studying Electronics (which I never finished but that’s another story), I did a job placement project repairing and refurbishing ventilation control systems for farms. I learned a lot, mostly because the company also repaired consumer electronics, and the (other) engineers were happy to show me how they fixed certain problems. But there’s a reason why I avoid Tantalum caps and LM324 quad opamps in my own designs until this day: they were always the things that stopped working in those ventilation controllers.

  7. FixYa and have been wastes of time whenever I have looked for information. At best, the answers are wrong, or overly simplistic (“Your device is broken, You need to buy a new widget and install it”) at worst, they have nothing to do with the problem you’re trying to solve.

    1. Ive had a few good experiences with
      have to read most of it through google translate though he does have some english.
      the downside is you have to create an account which expires after 30 days of inactivity maybe it was more I never got any spam though I did still use my spam email address when I signed up.
      I have found old service manuals mainly

  8. we’ve been doing “Fix-it Night” at our hackerspace with quite a bit of success. It’s usually spent troubleshooting dead LCD tvs, but people really dig learning the troubleshooting procedure, even if their TV is DOA. I’ve also pushed my own envelope by repairing / modifying things that I was certain were irreparable, only to find out that what I think is super-hard metal is only super-hard skin deep.

    i’ve even taken on some of this burden myself, locating a bad voltage regulator on my 3d printer that would otherwise go to the landfill for lack of external resources to help.


    1. What kind of hackerspace are you in where you’d send a broken 3D printer to the landfill?? Surely even if you’ve decided that it’s totally broken and impossible to get working again, it’s still a source of useful mechanical and electronic parts…

    2. We tried a few “repair nights” at my hackerspace, but mostly the hipsters spent the evening on their MacBook Airs browsing web pages, *talking* about repairs, and taking selfies of themselves doing mock repairs to be uploaded to their Facebook pages.

  9. True story: Was driving to San Diego, and the car began making a funny noise. Pull off the freeway, discover that it happens when I turn the steering wheel.

    Waiting in a parking lot while my family uses the restroom, did a search on my car model and the noise, and the first hit was a You Tube video that described the problem (same exact noise), and HOW TO FIX IT.

    Turns out it was a known problem with an o-ring that goes bad, and allows air to get into the power steering fluid. Nothing that would do any damage soon. Finished our trip, and when I got back ordered the (genuine) o-ring from Honda. Fixing was as simple as taking out a single screw, pulling the fitting, and replacing the o-ring.

    Been working fine now for years.

    Had it not been for the YouTube vid, I’d have been out nearly $100 at a repair shop, assuming they even knew what was wrong.

  10. Not a whole lot you can do with more complex electronics. My netbook has an internal short. I managed to find a similar model (not even same series) schematic. BUT because of the board density, they don’t have refdes for the parts on the silkscreen, so it gets very hard to trace the schematic which is not even identical in the first place. I tried to lift a few simple parts (idode, caps) off it to see if they were the problem, but because of the multilayer board, it took a lot of heat even with hot air reflow + my soldering iron. So in the end even if you want to fix something, it gets very hard and not to mention of trying to replace unobtainable parts and advanced packaging e.g. BGA.

    1. Toneohm to localise it then a huge amp low voltage power supply and blow the short away. Has to be low voltage so nothing is forward biased, 0.1 – 0.2 volts.

      Often fixes it but if not then for sure it aint ever getting fixed after that. :)

      1. Yeah maybe for a toaster! In a laptop that stands a decent chance of blowing every PCB track at the same time. The amp-dumping method assumes the short is less robust than the actual circuits.

        1. OK, semi-related.

          My coworker had some bare PC boards with a particular grid pattern, and we knew we had a short between two very long nets. No amount of eyeballing could spot it. Magnifying glass, or microscope, no help.

          But we *did* have one of those sheets of LCD material you get at the toy store. The stuff that makes rainbow patterns from the heat of your hands.

          So we ran a small current thru the traces that we knew were shorted, and laid the LCD film on the PC board. Within seconds a heat pattern appeared that clearly indicate a hairline short that we just couldn’t see before.

          So the guy bought me lunch that day.

          1. THAT. I love that
            that is a fantastic method for troubleshooting. I love it. that idea is going into my mental toolbox. if you’ve got a nice flat surface, it’s as good as a thermal imaging camera!

      2. Actually I tried doing that at work for work stuff at one point. I even have a 25A bench supply, but that wasn’t good enough to blow away a short. I classify that as a caveman approach. Brunt instruments and brute force do not work in complex electronics and mutlilayers board.

        It still boils down to no replacement part even if I managed to blow away the short. There is also the issue of identifying all the parts before I start blowing things – it is a difficult task as the parts markings of chips are only a few alpha numeric that can fit on a tiny package and 0402 passives or caps do not have values marked on them.
        Things like that is hard to repair.

  11. So how do we keep the day from coming when manufacturers will be able to sue us for breaking their “rules” when we open the case labeled “DO NOT OPEN – NO USER SERVICEABLE PARTS” or “ONLY TO BE SERVICED BY QUALIFIED PERSONEL” ?!

    If Ink cartridge manufacturers are suing companies for reusing/refilling their products it’s only a matter of time before they start suing repair shops for fixing EOL products and if they can eliminate those how long until they start suing customers for repairing their appliances without the manufacturers permission.

    At the rate things are going it won’t be long before lawnmowers start selling with EULA’s and the lawnmower manufacturer will be able to require that all mowing must happen on Sundays between the hours of 11:00AM to 2:00PM or they’ll take you to court

  12. I’ve earned quite a bit of money repairing and selling ham radios that came to me completely borken. I’ve made even more in terms of friendship by repairing radios for friends for little or no money. I have the fun of working on the radios, and I can help out those around me who might not have been able to afford to send the radio out for service.

    Making repairs of all sorts was what I did for a living for 20 years, and I still do it now as much as possible. It’s almost a way of life, as I come from a long line of “Fixits” and was raised to repair not replace. Great article, thanks for the tip of the hat to those of us who love to keep stuff working!

    I’m currently working on a Kenwood TS-430 for a local ham. Wish me luck!

    1. Sounds like fun! Unfortunately I’m the fixit guy for any computer probs my friends and family, and my family’s friends, and my friend’s families have. Fixing modern software is anti-intuitive and just bloody depressing. Hours of figuring it out the logical way, only to eventually find out some tiny bit of backwards design somewhere is causing your problem, in a previously unimaginable way.

      About 60% of fixing modern PCs is understanding the demented Microsoft way of thinking. Once you’ve got the psychology of that, you can see what the problem’s likely to be.

      1. Are you sure you are not my long lost twin ????
        I work as a Facility Service Person (janitor in a public school) But even the Tech person for my school comes to me for help :) as do the teachers and and they recommend me to others not even associated with the school.

  13. I love the manifesto, but I’d suggest a different approach and add a fourth ‘R’ to the well known saying: Reduce-Recycle-Reuse-REPAIR!

    I used to be in the biz of repairing electronic music equipment and it was a struggle to make a buck (overloaded with low-margin warranty work, fewer and fewer customers who were willing to shell out money for a repair that creeped towards the replacement cost), but I still enjoy repairing stuff for myself when the labour is free!

    1. too true about the low margins. I work in a repair shop where we cover several different brands and the warranty jobs generally lose us money but keep us in the supply channel to make a buck on the non-warranty work. Still there are a lot jobs where we have to say – don’t bother, it’s much cheaper to replace. Nobody wants to spend $300+ in parts and labor for a $300 5 year old tv/amplifier/printer/etc.

      1. Wow, thanks! The funny part is that I hadn’t thought about my TV repair days in a long time. It came back to me when I was wrapping the power cord on my big Weller soldering gun, the old pistol grip induction job with the lightbulb in it. Haven’t used it in years, but I found myself wrapping the cord around the body just like the boss taught me all those years ago. I learned a lot there.

        Funny extra bonus story. I needed to measure the high voltage on a picture tube once, so I pulled out the high voltage meter. I clipped the ground to the chassis and started digging under the plastic anode cap on the picture tube. it was an old set, and the cap was stiff and brittle, and I couldn’t get under it to access the anode. So, brilliant me, I grabbed a screwdriver to pry up the cap. It worked – I got the probe on the anode and saw about 32,000 volts.

        Then I saw nothing as the high voltage arced across the plastic handle of the screwdriver and into my left hand. I lost the next few seconds and found myself on the floor with the boss looking at me and smiling. “That screwdriver isn’t rated for high voltage.” Ya think! The screwdriver was stuck in the wall behind me about 10 feet – my left arm had contracted so violently that I flung it across the room, narrowly missing a row of new TVs on display.

        Good times.

  14. The first and only time I earned smth for repairing an electronics equipment was when I fixed a tailor’s old radio at the age of 11 or 12. It was a big flat wooden box with only a few boards in it and all I did was to open it up and put it back together. I had no idea about the stuff inside, but that “hard” reset worked. I got a free pair of pants for school uniform for the “job* I had done.

  15. Building is actually an iterative process of fixing your own mistakes. Some have enough exp that they can do that process in their heads, such that it appears as if they were perfect builders/crafters. But they got that way only by fixing thousands of their mistakes.

  16. I learned an awful lot about system design from fixing tube TVs in the 1970s. But when “hot” chassis came along they were dangerous and a pain to work on. And with transistors and ICs, TVs didn’t fail much anyway.

    Fortunately, early CD players offered a whole new learning opportunity. Understanding focus, tracking and speed servos. Laser diodes, three-beam tracking, and quarter wave plates. The chip end was fascinating and Sony databooks had all the details, but the data books were hard to come by. (I picked up mine while on vacations in Japan, because that’s what engineers do on vacation.) Regardless, understanding CIRC (Cross Interleaved Reed-Solomon Coding) and Galois Fields was a hoot.

    (Historical aside: Galois was the crazy kid that got killed in a duel when he was just 21. He wrote down the Galois field polynominal stuff the night before he got killed. So think of the where we’d be with him!)

    And CDs had analog antialiasing filters adn later the up-sampling chips and audio D/A convertors. They weren’t pussy single bitstream CMOS stuff in those days, only 16-bit parallel ECL would do!

    (As an aside, I actually found a mistake in the Sony patent. How do I know? Because I looked at the chip under a damn microsocpe and copied the bit pattern of the EFM decoder. And when I compared it to the patent I realised that Sony “forgot” a few bits. Actually this is a common patent ruse.)

    Anyway, that was followed by GPS receivers, but these were quickly becoming closed, proprietary systems. Once a three or four chip design got integrated to a single chip, the fun mostly ended. So things have now come somewhat to an end. When things get too heavily integrated the manufacturers get real tight-lipped and proprietary. You you could really understand a lot about TVs, and video and VCRs, and CD players and GPS and the like by studying a detailed schematic. You could read the stuff for hours.

    Unfortunately, the current generation schematic is simply a single rectangle with a few lines representing a voltage connection and perhaps some switches and LEDS, or perhaps a display. So other than a few cursory repairs to bad solder connections, there isn’t a lot of fixing going on, and with that a real loss of learning how things work.

    I mourn the passing.

  17. I’ve been stubbornly repairing everything myself for the past year. I really can’t afford to buy anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. So far I’ve put dozens of hours into car repairs, replaced a dead fluorescent LCD backlight with LEDs, replaced a faulty button in my cell phone (I can’t begin to tell you what a pain in the ass that one was), a huge 15kBTU air conditioner, and even repaired my laptop by reflowing the chipset, same with a PS3. Along with that, I’ve done some minor plumbing and electrical stuff around the house.

    I don’t know how much money I’ve saved, but it’s a lot. Enough that I can afford to eat more than ramen, anyway.

    My poor laptop, though. This wasn’t the first time it’s needed major surgery. The battery charge controller died a few years ago, so I had to replace it. It’s begging for death, but it needs to last another 3-4 years til I’m out of school and can afford a new one.

  18. Working a temp job at a Major Multinational Corporation, setting up tech in meeting rooms: one of the rooms had built-in audio that wasn’t working. Traced it down to the ‘gold-plated’ mini-amp that would cost several hundred dollars and a service call to replace. I popped it open, found it was a very simple amp on a chip that was obviously fried. Google search revealed the actual chips were something like $2.50 each. I ordered half a dozen and fixed it the next time I worked the assignment.

    Since I wasn’t a ‘registered materials provider’, the supervisor let me ‘fudge’ my hours to compensate for the personal money I laid out. The corporation never knew how it got fixed…..

  19. “Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most
    men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide ?rule, measure, and equate the
    universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I
    know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it. ”

    Nowadays… most men can’t even take a TV wall apart…

  20. I made my way through college with computer and car stereo repair. The car stereo stuff was great because that’s when the hear-it-from-the-next-county-over crowd was getting started big time in the area. I could fix their freshly-out-of-warranty amps and radios for about the same cost as shipping to and from the factory, not to mention the actual repair costs at the factory.

    Recently, I repaired a plasma monitor that had a blown HV driver IC which shut the screen off within 1 second of turning on. I had worked on it for 7 years trying to find the problem, looking all over for a service manual. I bought a pair of boards pulled from a monitor (different model but same boards) with a broken screen off of eBay for $20. It turns out there are test points for each IC, which shows a bad IC if it shows a low resistance. A couple days later and some Chip-Quik and I had a 50″ plasma monitor to hang in my garage.

    I ended up finding a plasma TV for $100 on craigslist of the same design (actually the monitor plus a separate box with the tuner and HDMI ports) that had the same issue and used the same IC. An hour after getting it to the shop I had it up and running perfectly.

    1. Oh, and the original monitor was a steal at $40. It was only 3 months out of warranty when I bought it at auction locally from a large corporation. The replacement screen (which included the driver boards, thermally bonded) was well over $1,000 at the time and would take 3 months to deliver.

  21. May or may not be off topic – but what annoys the crap out of me are the “repair” facilities that work on cell phones. NONE of them have RF test gear or appropriate test jigs or ATE fixtures/equipment to fully characterize the device. Which fundamentally is a full duplex RADIO TRANSCEIVER. So they “repair” a phone by doing a factory reset for a complaint of not enough “bars”., or better yet, throw in a new SIM card.. yeah, that’s going to fix an RF issue… friggin idiots! None of those monkeys would know what a VNA is, or for that matter, operate the appropriate RF test equipment. The only thing they can do is replace the broken glass screens… yaaay! bragging rights (sarcasm).

    Odds are all those “refurbished” phones you see on E-bay were *never* tested for RF performance. Which should be *the* MAJOR, most critical parameter of a full duplex radio transceiver (aka cell phone). Those stupid apps or screen size, or what have you – won’t do you one damn bit of good if you cannot communicate with the BTS (at the tower site).

    1. Most of the fixable problems are mechanical issues – broken USB connector, dead battery, bad connectors, broken LCD, busted button, water damages etc. Unless the RF circuits or shields or antenna get damaged/replaced, chances are that the RF stuff won’t get touched and it is not like those guy can fix that.

      1. That’s the point. Is the PHONE supposed to be a pocket video game/camera, or a COMMUNICATIONS device ? If the latter, it’s fundamentally a radio. As such it should be checked out on the bench for transmit/receive performance. I’ve seen devices where the power amplifier chip was out of spec, or the antenna tuner chip failed. The PHONE would not have met factory QC/ATE pass criteria – but yet was pawned of as a “refurbished” unit in a brand new case – with damaged guts that no one had the qualifications or test equipment to uncover the fault(s).

      2. While it is operating a communication device, from the *average* consumer point of view, the phone is a computer and people spend a lot of time using it as such. That’s why people in the North America changes their mobiles every few years to get bigger brighter screen, faster processors for their apps, more storage etc. If it were purely used as a phone, then unless the standards or carrier change, they wouldn’t have to “upgrade” the device.

        The question I have for you is whether these phones you have seen would passes the RF test before they ended up in repair/refurb?

    2. I’ve looked into this while thinking about starting my own business for screen replacement and refurbishing (it’s only a hobby right now). I know what you’re saying completely. The problem is that with the cost of the equipment, certification, licensing, etc., it’s cost-prohibitive to be able to test the radio of a phone other than popping in a SIM card and checking for bars when you’re selling it as refurbished. I’d say a good 99% of phones I’ve run across have no problem with their cell reception. Those that do usually have other problems on the motherboard (usually water damage) that make it uneconomical to repair. But, certain carriers want you to have a license because you’re using their system to make test calls after you’ve tested it on your own equipment. Refurbishers take this into account when doing repairs–if it’s a rare problem, why bother to check beyond a cursory glance? You and I know the answer, but most don’t care or turn a blind eye to it.

  22. I fully support the fix-it culture and from my own technician background I go regularly take on jobs to help those who want to throw things away, pay a large bill for repair etc.
    On the subject I have an Oticon hearing aid programmer for the older Oticon hearing aids looking for a good home on eBay. So any audiologists/ex audiologists on here may be interested ;)

  23. I recently fixed a sony tv that had quit working with the remote. Google was my friend. It was bad caps on the power rail of the IR board. 20 screws later and a few new caps, it works. It would have been $60 or so for a repaired board.

  24. I’m a fixer, too! One thing about me is that if you find something in my trash, it’s not just kinda broken. It’s broken beyond all repair with all the components ripped out. If I can’t fix something, I’m gonna gut it and save all the parts to fix/build something else. It’s just how I was raised. Waste not, want not!

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