Lately, we’ve been combing through data from our community survey and collecting stories for the Amazing Break series. All those stories have taught us a thing or two about the way people go about fixing things.
We firmly believe that it’s always best to use the right tool for the job. But, sometimes, time is really of the essence. When you’ve just dropped your iPhone in a glass of Sprite or your motherboard is on fire, you probably don’t have time to wait for a box of shiny new tools to arrive in the mail.
In these cases, you may need to resort to some improvisation. Here are a few tricks we’ve collected from our own experiences and those of our users:
A funny thing happened on the way to Congress yesterday. For once, lawmakers introduced a common-sense bill — the Unlocking Technology Act of 2013.
If passed, the bill would give Americans freedom to do what they need — unlock, repair, maintain, modify — with the devices they own, whether cellphone or car. “Own” being the operative word, because, as I’ve argued here before, it’s no longer obvious who owns our stuff when we live in an age where physical objects are also digital and require access to information (such as service manuals).
With such a common-sense bill, you might assume that Congress will make a rational decision to guarantee our rights — especially when introduced by a bipartisan coalition of representatives: Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Jared Polis (D-CO).
But don’t kid yourself: this is an uphill battle.
Technology advocates don’t have a great record of legislative wins compared to the deep-pocketed carriers and content lobbyists who are masters of playing the long game. The most likely course of action is a stopgap solution — like a Leahy bill that scores political points but fails to solve anything — so it’s important that we voice our support, now. Read the rest of this article »
I’m lucky enough to own an Apple Extended Keyboard II, which belongs to my Macintosh SE. Unfortunately, it wasn’t doing much good connected to my rarely-used SE. So, I figured it would find a better home on my desk at work, where I spend the day pounding away on a crummy keyboard anyway.
The Apple Extended Keyboard II is a dream to type on because it uses mechanical switches. And I lucked out: Apple made a lot of revisions of this keyboard with cheap switches, but it turns out that I got one of the good ones. Mine is a USA model with authentic Alps Cream key switches.
The biggest stumbling block to the project was the computer’s interface. The Apple Extended Keyboard II is from the days of ADB, or Apple Desktop Bus. The internet revealed two possible solutions: An expensive and sometimes-hard-to-find adapter by Griffin, or a $16 microcontroller and some DIY elbow grease. Naturally, I chose the latter.
While Congress is working on legislation to re-legalize cellphone unlocking, let’s acknowledge the real issue: The copyright laws that made unlocking illegal in the first place. Who owns our stuff? The answer used to be obvious. Now, with electronics integrated into just about everything we buy, the answer has changed.
We live in a digital age, and even the physical goods we buy are complex. Copyright is impacting more people than ever before because the line between hardware and software, physical and digital has blurred.
The issue goes beyond cellphone unlocking, because once we buy an object — any object — we should own it. We should be able to lift the hood, unlock it, modify it, repair it … without asking for permission from the manufacturer.
But we really don’t own our stuff anymore (at least not fully); the manufacturers do. Because modifying modern objects requires access to information: code, service manuals, error codes, and diagnostic tools. Modern cars are part horsepower, part high-powered computer. Microwave ovens are a combination of plastic and microcode. Silicon permeates and powers almost everything we own.
This is a property rights issue, and current copyright law gets it backwards, turning regular people — like students, researchers, and small business owners — into criminals. Fortune 500 telecom manufacturer Avaya, for example, is known for suing service companies, accusing them of violating copyright for simply using a password to log in to their phone systems. That’s right: typing in a password is considered “reproducing copyrighted material.” Read the rest of this article »
It’s been a little over a week since the White House threw its support behind the effort to legalize unlocking. Almost immediately, cell phone unlocking became a hot button political issue.
The Federal Communications Commission quickly backed the Obama administration’s position. Petitions popped up demanding Congress to take action. Sina Khanifar, author of the We the People petition that first got the White House’s attention, launched a campaign to Fix the DMCA—the massive anti-piracy law that made unlocking illegal in the first place.
Congress clamored to throw its hat into the legislative ring. The response has been uncharacteristically bipartisan. Unlocking is a political grabbag—there’s something that appeals to everyone: personal property, digital freedom, consumer choice, sustainability, and business growth. In the last week, Senate members have penned no fewer than three bills to legalize unlocking. Read the rest of this article »
In October, the Library of Congress canceled an exemption that protected unlocking cell phones without carrier permission. The decision, which effectively banned legal unlocking, sparked public contention: More than 114,000 people signed a petition demanding that the ban be lifted. Yesterday, the White House added its name to the ban’s list of opponents, declaring “It’s time to legalize cell phone unlocking.”
The White House response was unequivocal in its defense of the practice — and not just with regard to cell phones, but also tablets:
“[I]f you have paid for your mobile device, and aren’t bound by a service agreement or other obligation, you should be able to use it on another network. It’s common sense, crucial for protecting consumer choice, and important for ensuring we continue to have the vibrant, competitive wireless market that delivers innovative products and solid service to meet consumers’ needs.”
If you’re unfamiliar, unlocking is a software tweak that disables a phone’s SIM lock. Once the device is unlocked, owners can use a different service provider. Most cell phones come locked, though unlocked version of some phones — including the iPhone 5 from Verizon and Google’s Nexus 4 — are available for purchase. Read the rest of this article »