About the time that Susan and I started dating, Susan when to a book signing with a friend for Dare to Repair. It’s a basic manual of home repair written to a target audience of the recently divorced woman who’d always let her husband do all the handy work. The book was a modern day women’s lib, as there is a certain amount of independence, mental and financial, that comes from being able to fix things. The contents of the book were pretty basic, but given its target audience, it probably hit the right balance.
More importantly it raised the real issue, people shouldn’t be afraid of things that are broken.
I = V / R
The repair skills of a generation ago don’t really prepare us for today’s world. A modern car has 100 million lines of source code. Most of your home appliances are complex computers. The glowing LEDs that surround you should be a constant reminder of just how much of our world is built on the IC: the Integrated Circuit.
A few months ago, due to some encouragement from the Squid Wrench meetings, I decided it was time to dive back into my college electronics and see what I could relearn. Susan was originally skeptical, as this was a new hobby with a few hundred dollars worth of startup costs. As soon as I got my new soldering iron I dug in to fixing some LED light strands that had a few wires sheered. One strand was successful, the other way not. A decent start, but not great.
The real success came the following weekend when I decided to crack open a chime alarm clock that Susan had bought a few years ago, which stopped working 6 months later. It had been laying on a shelf for years. After some poking and prodding, and adding insulation between a couple of wires, it came back to life. The clock, new, is more than a hundred dollars, so my investments were starting to show returns. Later that day I managed to fix a 5 year dead Shruti Box, which was another hundred dollars recovered.
None of these repairs required stellar amounts of skill, but they required determination to open up the black box and try to figure out what was going on on the inside. It is a determination that is being bred out of us as our everyday devices are showing up hermetically sealed from vendors that just want us to buy a new one in 12 months and throw the old one out.
A new kind of green
Last year our local fairgrounds had a Green Fair and Expo in April, which we went to. It looked a lot like a home show with slightly more discussion of solar and geothermal. Of the hundred or so vendors there I found about 3 that I cared to talk to. This year, it was a very different event. It was billed as an Earth Day celebration, and the green fair aspects of marketing slowly evaporated as we got closer to the event. There were hardly any vendors, a lot of the space was given up to musicians and lectures. Space wise it was poorly set up, and you could see that they got a lot fewer booths than they’d expected.
However, there was one thing that was really inspiring. There was a table set up for the Hudson Valley Materials Exchange: “a non-profit community warehouse for materials rescued from the business wastestream”. You could buy various wood, metal, plastic and textiles that were the intermediate stages of some manufacturing. Stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill. This group has apparently been around for a decade.
It also spawned a giant swappapalooze area in a separate tent where kids were building all kinds of things with wood, cloth, glue, and anything else they could get their hands on. That’s an inspiring thing to see now adays. No kids hanging out in the corner with Nintento DSs, just going after wood with a saw. This idea of repairing what we typically would throw out, and buidling more of what we need is definitely a new kind of green.
What if Earth Day became an anchor event in the Maker Community? Wouldn’t that be exciting.