Yellowed kitchen appliances, dust-streaked radios, unresponsive DVD players: the table was strewn with stuff that even a local thrift store’s discounts couldn’t make enticing. Most of the electronics were broken and all of them had outlived their usefulness. But you wouldn’t have known it by the number of children—screwdrivers in hand—who crowded the table that day just to get a look inside of them.
The demographic at the last USA Science and Engineering Festival was a little different from the one I usually cater to at iFixit—a free online repair manual for everything from cracked iPhones to DIY oil changes. My company’s mission is to teach as many people as possible how to fix the stuff they own—kids included.
And kids were just as eager to learn as we were to teach them. The festival warehouse was crowded and noisy, but once they pried up the hood of a device, the world faded to mute as pint-sized tech magellans explored circuit boards and examined old motors. One middle-schooler spent two hours working on an old VCR. Time well spent, because he got to watch the old relic whir back to life—a mixture of surprise and elation on his face.
Kids are born tinkerers. They have the natural inquisitiveness of engineers. All they need is someone to put an iPod in one hand, a screwdriver in the other, and ask, “Do you want to take this apart?” And when I ask that question, their eyes go wide with astonishment. After all, their parents have been telling them not to take things apart their entire lives. Read the rest of this article »
“One of our jobs as human beings is to help make other people smile,” Cindy says as she shows me around Free Geek. Amidst the disarray of torn apart monitors, data-wiped hard drives, and ribbon cables, Cindy sits proudly at her workstation where she volunteers assembling computers as part of Free Geek’s Build Program.
Located on the east side of Portland, Oregon, Free Geek is a non-profit reuse organization. Its mission: provide access to computers, the internet, education, and job skills to the local community. Like iFixit, Free Geek maintains that repair, refurbishment, and reuse are better than recycling. Instead of becoming scrap metal, an older computer can be updated and used again––in other words, refurbishment gives technology a second useful life.
That’s why Cindy and others volunteer at Free Geek: they want to help put technology into the hands of the people who really need it. But there’s an added perk: this nonprofit teaches their volunteers valuable technological skills for the computer age. Many come to Free Geek with little prior knowledge of computers. “By the time they leave,” says Free Geek Reuse Program Coordinator Sean Ellefson, they are “able to do a lot.” Read the rest of this article »
Earl Kaplan stands near a wood table scattered with assorted screwdrivers and a package of oatmeal cookies. He surveys the half-a-dozen other retirees, each one tinkering with a computer in various states of repair.
From across the small workshop, someone heckles Earl about the stress that comes with his job.
“I give ulcers; I don’t get them,” he says with mock sternness. “It’s better to give than to receive.”
There’s a palpable air of cheerfulness in the backrooms of The Exploration Station, a youth science museum and technology center in Grover Beach, California. Computer towers stand with their guts exposed; PC fans hum placidly; the refurbishers cajole each other lightheartedly. One computer lets out a long, impatient beep. Earl glares at it.
“Tell her about our lunch,” one man shouts over his shoulder.
“Oh! Our annual lunch? Our annual no-host lunch,” Earl says. “Once a year, we go out to Round Table Pizza and we vote ourselves a percentage raise.”
Everyone laughs. The joke, of course, is that a percentage raise of zero is still zero. Earl and company are unpaid volunteers—part of the 25 regular volunteers that keep The Exploration Station running. Almost all the volunteers are retired. Some have been donating their time here for more than a decade.
But the work is rewarding. Most of the volunteers at The Exploration Station collect, recycle, and refurbish computers as part of the organization’s Computers 4 Youth program. The goal: get technology into the hands of those who need it—and do it for free.
“People need computers,” says Deborah Love, the Exploration Station’s director. “We underestimated [the degree of need], because as computers started becoming cheaper and more user-friendly, we did anticipate that the need would taper off. It has not.” Read the rest of this article »
Hi, it’s me MJ with iFixit, and today I have an exciting announcement. Have you ever watched our YouTube channel and thought, “I can totally do MJ’s job?” Well, now’s your chance! We’re looking to add another host to our video team, so if you’re into technology, love the DIY repair community, and are super comfortable talking to tons of strangers on camera, we want to hear from you.
We’re looking for someone who is passionate about our mission. Though we’re best-known for our gadget teardowns, why we do what we do extends far beyond that. It’s our mission to empower people to repair everything, and this goal has global ramifications. The repair manuals we publish for free have helped millions of people repair their gadgets—and that saves them tons of money, and slows the cycle of consumption. We love that.
Plus, when people choose repair over throwing something away and buying a new one, they’re extending the usable life of that particular thing, and keeping it from ending up in a landfill in India or Africa, where it leaches toxic chemicals into groundwater, or where children burn away the exterior cases of devices, and inhale toxic fumes in the process. Repair helps fix the world.
So, if you get riled up by unsustainable design and the global impact of consumption, toss your hat in the ring as an advocate, and apply for this position. The position is located in San Luis Obispo, California (that’s where our office and recording studio is). Check out the job posting. If you think you’d be a good fit, shoot a short video introducing yourself to us, and let us know why you want to join our team. When you’re done, send a link to your video and your resume to email@example.com.
If we like what we see, we’ll be in touch! I can’t wait to see what you all have to say, and look forward to hopefully working alongside one of you here in our studio.
We’ve all seen Rosie the Riveter: blue coveralls, red polka-dotted bandanna, biceps blazing. Rosie is a cultural icon, used to mobilize women into manufacturing during World War II. But sixty years after Rosie helped recruit 3 million women into war plants across the US, many women still seem reluctant to pick up the riveter.
Women make up over half of the population. So, why aren’t there more women repairing? Read the rest of this article »
This post originally ran with Treehugger.
In Kottayam, a spice trading city in the southwest state of Kerala, India, summer means rain—and lots of it, averaging 2.7 meters of the wet stuff each year. From June through September, monsoon waters cool down sweaty bicyclists, and the winds wreak havoc on foot passengers’ umbrellas. But in Kottayam, they don’t throw away broken umbrellas, engineering professor David Kraemer tells me.
David lived in India for six months last spring, researching ocean wave energy conversion and teaching at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur—8,000 miles from his home university in Platteville, Wisconsin. Walking around the streets of Kottayam during a visit south, he happened upon an umbrella repairman. The man sat on the ground, umbrella in his lap, mending a bent rib with nimble fingers and wooden tools. It was only spring, not yet monsoon season, but he seemed to have a little business—nobody wants to be without a working umbrella when the rains hit. David was pleased to see someone spending so much time on an item that many treat as disposable. He explained, “So often I’ve seen broken umbrellas crammed in the trash cans on a subway platform here in the US.”