IFixit Licenses Manuals Under Creative Commons

Yesterday, iFixit.com announced that they are releasing all of their manuals under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. The site has long been an abundant source of tear-down photos for hardware and has been gaining momentum as the go-to source for Apple hardware repair information. With the move to Creative Commons, the gates are open to distribute and improve upon the site’s content. There are even plans in the works to host user-submitted improvements (something akin to a wiki?) to the guides but there are not yet any details. The news also includes mention of forthcoming support for translated guides around the end of 2010.

The Hackaday crowd would rather fix things than throw them away. As iFixit moves past Apple products to a wider range of repair manuals and starts working collaboratively with users, we hope to see an explosion of detailed tips, tricks, and guides to keep our stuff working better, longer.

Samsung Releases Minimum Viable Galaxy Upcycling

It’s a tragedy every time a modern smartphone is tossed into e-waste. We prefer to find another life for these bundles of useful hardware. But given all the on-board barriers erected by manufacturers, it’s impractical to repurpose smartphones without their support. A bit of good news on this front is Samsung testing the waters with a public beta of their “Galaxy Upcycling at Home” program, turning a few select devices into SmartThings sensor nodes.

More devices and functionality are promised, but this initial release is barely a shadow of what Samsung promised in 2017. Missed the announcement back then? Head over to a “How it started/How it’s going” comparison from iFixit, who minced no words starting with their title Galaxy Upcycling: How Samsung Ruined Their Best Idea in Years. They saw a bunch of Samsung engineers at Bay Area Maker Faire 2017, showing off a bunch of fun projects reusing old phones as open hardware. The placeholder GitHub repository left from that announcement still has a vision of a community of makers dreaming up novel uses. This is our jam! But sadly it has remained a placeholder for four years and, given what we see today, it is more likely to be taken down than to become reality.

The stark difference between original promise and actual results feel like an amateur Kickstarter, not something from a giant international conglomerate. Possibly for the same reason: lack of resources and expertise for execution. It’s hard to find support in a large corporate bureaucracy when there is no obvious contribution to the bottom line. Even today’s limited form has only a tenuous link of possibly helping to sell other SmartThings-enabled smart home devices.

Ars Technica was similarly unimpressed with launch functionality, but was more diplomatic describing the beta as “a very modest starting point”. XDA-Developers likewise pinned their hopes on the “more devices will be supported in the future” part of Samsung’s announcement. Until Samsung delivers on more of the original promise, we’ll continue to be hampered by all the existing reasons hacking our old cell phones are harder than they should be. Sometimes an idea can be fulfilled by helpful apps but other times will require hacking into our devices the old-fashioned way.

Digital PlayStation 3 Purchases May Only Live As Long As Your PRAM Battery Without Sony Servers

Word of Sony shutting down PlayStation storefront servers for PS3 this summer spread like wildfire on the internet Monday. The discourse in comment sections were filled with anti-DRM rhetoric and renewed pledges of physical-only game collections, because without content servers to connect to, your digital PS3 purchases will eventually become unplayable. Even if legitimate purchases are installed to the console’s hard drive before Sony “flips the switch”, they may only live on as long as the internal clock stays in sync. Which is why this guide to replace a PS3 PRAM battery written by [Andrew] has renewed importance. After a battery replacement the internal clock needs to be reset and this requires validation from the PlayStation network (you know, the one that’s soon to be shut down).

Game preservationist group [Does it play?] drove home the impact of such a business decision by Sony on Twitter. The thread is quick to point out that even if users are quick to re-download all of their purchases to a PS3 system before the purported July 2nd deadline, those games will eventually become unplayable if the system clock becomes desynchronized. Replacing the PRAM battery and reconnecting to the PlayStation Network prior to Sony shuttering their servers should buy the user some more playtime. However, without any further changes to Sony’s licensing policy little else can be done physically to ensure those digital PS3 games will work in perpetuity.

Sony isn’t the only one to have drawn the ire of digital rights advocates in regards to terminating their online services. Nintendo shuttered the DSI-Shop in 2017 and Microsoft turned off access to the original Xbox LIVE servers in 2010. The big three console makers have all let their consumers down by removing the ability to reacquire purchases in some way, but the fact that so many PS3 exclusives were only ever available digitally just further exacerbates issues with digital rights. Dropping in a fresh coin-cell may not be the permanent solution everyone is looking for at the moment, but it couldn’t hurt to re-familiarize yourself with the Cell processor.

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European Right To Repair: Poor Repairability Shamed With Rating System

Happily the right to repair movement is slowly gaining ground, and recently they’ve scored a major success in the European Parliament that includes a requirement that products be labelled with expected lifetime and repairability information, long-term availability of parts, and numerous measures aimed at preventing waste.

… including by requiring improved product information through mandatory labelling on the durability and reparability of a product (expected lifetime, availability of spare parts, etc.), defining durability and reparability as the main characteristics of a product…

Even the UK, whose path is diverging from the EU due to Brexit, appears to have a moment of harmony on this front. This builds upon existing rights to repair in that devices sold in Europe will eventually have to carry a clearly visible repair score to communicate the ease of repairability and supply of spare parts, making a clear incentive for manufacturers to strive for the highest score possible.

We live in an age in which our machines, appliances, and devices are becoming ever more complex, while at the same time ever more difficult to repair. Our community are the masters of fixing things, but even we are becoming increasingly stumped in the face of the latest flashy kitchen appliance or iDevice. The right to repair movement, and this measure in particular, seeks to improve the ability of all consumers, not just us hackers, to makebuying decisions for better products and lower environmental impact.

With a population of around 450 million people spread across 27 member countries, the EU represents a colossal market that no manufacturer can afford to ignore. Therefore while plenty of other regions of the planet have no such legislation this move will have a knock-on effect across the whole planet. Since the same products are routinely sold worldwide it is to be expected that an improvement in repairability for European markets will propagate also to the rest of the world. So when your next phone has a replaceable battery and easier spares availability, thank the EU-based right to repair campaigners and some European lawmakers for that convenience.

European Parliament from EU, CC BY 2.0.

Teardown Experts Sing Praise Of Stretch-Release Adhesives

Anyone who enjoys opening up consumer electronics knows iFixit to be a valuable resource, full of reference pictures and repair procedures to help revive devices and keep them out of electronic waste. Champions of reparability, they’ve been watching in dismay as the quest for thinner and lighter devices also made them harder to fix. But they wanted to cheer a bright spot in this bleak landscape: increasing use of stretch-release adhesives.

Nokia BL-50J Battery
An elegant battery, for a more civilized age.

Once upon a time batteries were designed to be user-replaceable. But that required access mechanisms, electrical connectors, and protective shells around fragile battery cells. Eliminating such overhead allowed slimmer devices, but didn’t change the fact that the battery is still likely to need replacement. We thus entered into a dark age where battery pouches were glued into devices and replacement meant fighting clingy blobs and cleaning sticky residue. Something the teardown experts at iFixit are all too familiar with.

This is why they are happy to see pull tabs whenever they peer inside something, for those tabs signify the device was blessed with stretch-release adhesives. All we have to do is apply a firm and steady pull on those tabs to release their hold leaving no residue behind. We get an overview of how this magic works, with the caveat that implementation details are well into the land of patents and trade secrets.

But we do get tips on how to best remove them, and how to reapply new strips, which are important to iFixit’s mission. There’s also a detour into their impact on interior design of the device: the tabs have to be accessible, and they need room to stretch. This isn’t just a concern for design engineers, they also apply to stretch release adhesives sold to consumers. Advertising push by 3M Command and competitors have already begun, reminding people that stretch-release adhesive strips are ideal for temporary holiday decorations. They would also work well to hold batteries in our own projects, even if we aren’t their advertised targets.

Our end-of-year gift-giving traditions will mean a new wave of gadgets. And while not all of them will be easily repairable, we’re happy that this tiny bit of reparability exists. Every bit helps to stem the flow of electronics waste.

DIY Dongle Breathes Life Into Broken Ventilators

We have a new hero in the COVID-19 saga, and it’s some hacker in Poland. Whoever this person is, they are making bootleg dongles that let ventilator refurbishers circumvent lockdown software so they can repair broken ventilators bought from the secondhand market.

The dongle is a DIY copy of one that Medtronic makes, which of course they don’t sell to anyone. It makes a three-way connection between the patient’s monitor, a breath delivery system, and a computer, and lets technicians sync software between two broken machines so they can be Frankensteined into a single working ventilator. The company open-sourced an older model at the end of March, but this was widely viewed as a PR stunt.

This is not just the latest chapter in the right-to-repair saga. What began with locked-down tractors and phones has taken a serious turn as hospitals are filled to capacity with COVID-19 patients, many of whom will die without access to a ventilator. Not only is there a shortage of ventilators, but many of the companies that make them are refusing outside repair techs’ access to manuals and parts.

These companies insist that their own in-house technicians be the only ones who touch the machines, and many are not afraid to admit that they consider the ventilators to be their property long after the sale has been made. The ridiculousness of that aside, they don’t have the manpower to fix all the broken ventilators, and the people don’t have the time to wait on them.

We wish we could share the dongle schematic with our readers, but alas we do not have it. Hopefully it will show up on iFixit soon alongside all the ventilator manuals and schematics that have been compiled and centralized since the pandemic took off. In the meantime, you can take Ventilators 101 from our own [Bob Baddeley], and then find out what kind of engineering goes into them.

The Smallest Large Display Is Projected Straight Onto Your Retina

For most of human history, the way to get custom shapes and colors onto one’s retinas was to draw it on a cave wall, or a piece of parchment, or on paper. Later on, we invented electronic displays and used them for everything from televisions to computers, even toying with displays that gave the illusion of a 3D shape existing in front of us. Yet what if one could just skip this surface and draw directly onto our retinas?

Admittedly, the thought of aiming lasers directly at the layer of cells at the back of our eyeballs — the delicate organs which allow us to see — likely does not give one the same response as you’d have when thinking of sitting in front of a 4K, 27″ gaming display to look at the same content. Yet effectively we’d have the same photons painting the same image on our retinas. And what if it could be an 8K display, cinema-sized. Or maybe have a HUD overlay instead, like in video games?

In many ways, this concept of virtual retinal displays as they are called is almost too much like science-fiction, and yet it’s been the subject of decades of research, with increasingly more sophisticated technologies making it closer to an every day reality. Will we be ditching our displays and TVs for this technology any time soon?

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