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Repair cafés waging war on throwaway culture (theguardian.com)
571 points by wcunning 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 364 comments

As a repair café volunteer, I've found two drawbacks to being a volunteer/having repair cafés:

- A small subset of people buy shitty products (1$ bicycle lamps, lights, cheap-as-shit appliances like clocks, hoovers, …). I have no problem fixing stuff, and showing them how to fix stuff, but I always refuse to try to repair really cheap stuff. It's not even repairing at this point, but more sticking it back together. When this case happens, I explain in good term that they should buy a slightly better quality next time; it'll last them longer

- these cafés attract in general "alternative" people. I've got no problem with that, but I'm a bit fed up with conspirationists, anti-nuclear, really left-wing people.

But in general, it's a really rewarding experience !

>these cafés attract in general "alternative" people. I've got no problem with that, but I'm a bit fed up with conspirationists, anti-nuclear, really left-wing people.

If anybody ever finds a solution to this, every hackerspace in the world would love to know what it is.

I find that the biotech hackerspaces I've gone to don't have this problem. That's because the biotech equipment is not really amenable to back to the land post apocalyptic use and it takes a while to learn how to use it to be able to do anything productive. A lot of kooks think that they can throw some bits together and make an iron man suit. If they actually found out how much work it is to actually make simple things, I think they'd lose interest.

Maybe have people have to take a class or two on how to use the equipment before they can join?

> Maybe have people have to take a class or two on how to use the equipment before they can join?

That's how Dallas Maker Space does it and seems like a good approach. I did the wood shop orientation and decided not to join because I had to postpone the project I was planning. But I don't know whether that filters out the annoyances mentioned.

Well, one would expect the "no Frankenfoods!"-crowd to avoid places that call themselves biotech hackerspaces.

It would be worth reviewing all the branding and the marketing plans, if you really wanted to solve this. Is it being positioned in such a way to be attractive to conventional, non-politically engaged?

This is an under-appreciated element in grassroots campaigning. How does it look to potential sympathetic outsiders?

Every goa party attracts esoteric folks- all i wanted to do is to dance to psy-trance, instead i have to listen to a half hour talk about demeter-tomatos. To be honest, if i get really bored, i start some fantasy tales myself- just to see if there is a point, those people will call me out for rambling nonsense.

One of these days, i guess.

Side note: do you mean actual parties in goa, India? Would love to know about this! I spend time in that area every year.

Side note to your side note: I don't know what the parent was referring to but if I had to guess, I'd guess Goa Parties (which are a thing) as opposed to Parties in Goa.

Goa Parties (in my experience anyway) involve Goa Trance music[0] and are sort of their own subculture but it involves people from all walks, e.g. from Burning Man techie decompressionists to German hippies and beyond. Oh, and drugs, though not mandatory.

But I'm no expert so maybe ask an expert if you're interested in this kind of thing. I bet there are also Goa Parties in Goa.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goa_trance

Yes, there are indeed psytrance (goatrance) parties in Goa :) My friends make a regular trip there for the November full moon party season, like migrating birds.

Just curious - who are 'techie decompressionists'? :)

I think techies who want to decompress.

haha :D

Well today I learnt this ... :)

Wow, these days I see so many people who "know" India on the internet. I'm starting to get to know how the US folk feel, where every other YouTube channel caters to them or when many websites (or at least the ones I visit) assume you're from the US.

For some additional context: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xq5cq6

Just googled Demeter tomatoes, wow what a cool fragrance company! Thank for sharing, is this stuff carcinogenic?

Print a poster of a pyramid, an eye and "Annuit coeptis Novus ordo seclorum"

You can tell it’s legit because it’s in Latin!

It’s unsurprising (and probably inevitable) that counter-cultural social clubs tend to attract nonconformists.

There isn't a culture to be cultured against any more. This isn't 1960 where there is one medium that connects 75%+ of people. What you have now are a lot of different cultures.

That's definitely not true. Travel to some country on the other side of the world and you can appreciate for yourself that, subcultures aside, there is a large body of shared cultural beliefs and practices that most of us more or less share.

Including the counter cultures.

I've yet to meet genuine American socialists, even your hard communists sound like Christian Democrats with some odd ideas of race thrown in.

I don't know if I'd say that, but the persistent idea that we're all charting a unique ideological course from first principles is, I think, somewhat characteristic.

>This isn't 1960 where there is one medium that connects 75%+ of people.

Was it ever like that though? Even in 1960?

How do views on nuclear weapons/energy even come up? What are people bringing in?

Well, there was a time some rando flipped out after overhearing a conversation I was having regarding my tritium key fob.

Frankly, I've found the overall environments in these sorts of cafes/hackerspaces to be frustratingly anti-social. And I am someone who would be considered fairly left-leaning overall. But good lord were my hopes dashed when it came to thinking I would meet other folks that would be fun to talk to, just because not 100% of my views line up with the accepted SV zeitgeist.

Allow me to generalise a little, but from experience, people with those views (or who are very strongly opinionated), always seem to be able to bring those topics up.

This is exactly my observation as well. You know the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon thing? It’s like that but can happen in 3 degrees or less, and almost any crazy subject.

How would you know if there were counterexamples? By definition they would not be telling you about it.

How do you know if someone is a conspiracy theorist? Don't worry, they'll tell you.

Or a vegan, a cyclist, a crossfitter, an atheist...

BTW, I'm using Arch Linux.

Hey, I'm an atheist, and I never do this!

There should be an "upvote if intended irony" button on HN, where the author has to flag the post as irony beforehand and gets the upvote only if he did it, otherwise it becomes a downvote and vice versa.

The masses have assembled to be enligthend about my lifestyle, for im the chosen prophet of the church of me.

Or a Christian...

I live in the Northeast and most Christians won't really bring it up unless they know you pretty well (frankly I'm the same because I'm not that interested in having to defend myself or being treated like a hick).

They let you know by saying things like "For the love of God don't leave the soldering iron on" or "Jesus Christ you ruined our table".

Actually, that is "taking the lord's name in vain" and is quite frowned upon by a lot of Christians. I am not Christian, but I grew up in the Bible Belt and I am aware that is deemed to be a serious form of disrespect. I swear like a sailor, but I try to not take the lord's name in vain in public because I am aware it is deeply offensive to devout Christians, more so than my general tendency to use four letter words.

I'm not sure how strong evidence those phrases are for that conclusion.

Plenty of non-christians raised in a Christianity influenced social background, but not raised by Christians, use phrases like that.

I was thinking about this the other day, and in the U.K. there are a lot of people who would say they are Christian if asked their religion, but really they are non-practicing or more likely atheists, but don’t want to admit it.

I saw a statistic once where they asked people whether it was true or false that one can only be moral if one believes in a higher power, sorted by country. The highest numbers reached more than 90%.

With this in mind, things like your point make a lot of sense.


I'm agnostic, with a heavy lean towards atheism (I figure not enough data to bother thinking about it for the most part), but "Jesus Fucking Christ" is my go-to when exasperated. For what it's worth, like the sibling comment I grew up in the bible belt, so I'm sure that has a major impact on swear preference.

So glad you brought it up! We have a really big week coming up! :-)

...so I've heard. I really am being half serious, because people should be able to talk about things that are important and interesting to them. Just because there are few assholes from pretty much every persuasion that can't sense the tone of a conversation or relationship and keep their veganism, atheism, religion, love of pineapple pizza, or whatever to themselves at appropriate times doesn't mean that everyone else should feel guilty about expressing themselves.

But really, not too recently someone thought it was so important they put it on the money and made school children say it every day. I don't think it occurs to most people just how pervasive declarations of religiosity are in America.

> an atheist

I'd imagine this only applies where atheists are in the minority

It applies to atheists who suddenly stop being a tiny minority. Those who are still in a tiny persecuted minority keep their mouths shut, and those who've been in the majority for a while don't bother talking about it.

(Sources: the bible belt, the bay area, and /r/atheism.)

That sounds about right.

I'm genuinely curious as to what would be left wing conspiracies? I don't doubt they exist but googling "Left wing conspiracy theories" quite literally brings up a list of "Right wing conspiracy theories".

Anti-corporate ones like anti-vax, or the idea that Big Pharma is keeping us sick for profit. Similar sentiments exist for Big Agri/Food, particularly with GMOs.

Back in the W Bush days there were suggestions being thrown around that homeland security types were using 9/11 as an excuse to push their pre-prepared systems of control on people, that Diebold voting machines were rigged to support Republicans.

> Back in the W Bush days there were suggestions being thrown around that homeland security types were using 9/11 as an excuse to push their pre-prepared systems of control on people,

That's not a conspiracy theory, but a verifiable fact: the systems of control overtly implemented after 9/11 justified by terrorism had largely been proposed (overtly), by many of the same people pushing them after 9/11, with other justifications (often, in the most recent prior attempt, the War on Drugs was the justification.)

There is a related conspiracy theory, though, that 9/11 was engineered (either a false-flag op or simply knowingly allowed to proceed) for the purpose of being used in that way.

The X-Files spin off “The Lone Gunmen” posited that the US government remote controlled an airliner to crash it into WTC and create popular support for wars overseas, comparing it to the (non-fictional) Operation Northwoods.

The real kicker? It aired in March 2001. That 9/11 conspiracy theory is older than the actual attacks!

>Anti-corporate ones like anti-vax, or the idea that Big Pharma is keeping us sick for profit

These are overwhelmingly right-wing conspiracies.

> Similar sentiments exist for Big Agri/Food, particularly with GMOs.

These run across the board.

Often times it's the same as right wing theories. The government is using flouride in the water to control the population. Contrails are actually chemical spraying. 9/11 was an inside job, etc. I've heard these from both friends who are both left wing or apolitical.

A favorite moment of mine was telling a flat-earther about the hollow earth theory. The look on his face was priceless.

Concave earth is hands down my favorite conspiracy theory. The completeness of the lie is astonishing. I actually spent months trying to come up with a way to disprove it on a high-school-education only-trust-your-eyes shoestring budget, and couldn't come up with much.

This is a fun read on wikipeida [1]. I'm curious as to how you could disprove it at all: there's a perfectly valid coordinate transformation that maps our "infinity" to the center of the earth, and the center of the earth to infinity. All the laws of physics become position-dependent, of course, and it's not a convenient space for calculations, but it "proves" that the concave earth is a perfectly valid way of describing the universe.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollow_Earth#Concave_Hollow_Ea...

I don't understand the difference the entry makes between the fact that you can represent the universe in a CHE model using coordinate transformations and "hypotheses". Given that you started from a concave model of the universe and the associated physical laws, you could make reasonable hypotheses and verify them through experimentation.

The most visible point I've seen is that the seasonal star constellations you know well (Orion in my case) will be seen as inverted if you change the hemisphere. The moon and sun position also change greatly. I'm not aware of any ideas that incorporate this.

It takes either time or money to see for yourself though.

The 1 percent stealing every resource from the 99% and eating babies for breakfast. I still see this kind of comments often enough.

Well, they really are hoarding as much money as possible, rewriting as many laws as they can to help themselves do it. And with rich people like Peter Thiel making comments about wanting to use blood from young people the eating babies part is getting closer.

Blood is a renewable resource so I see no problem in making it a market product, with the proper regulation in place of course.

As for hoarding money you are misunderstanding how things work. Money hoarded are usually reinvested somewhere else and does not sleep in a vault or something. Even your bank is constantly investing the money you save on the market. Thats how you can finance companies and startups in the end.

The rich are keeping that money in their own circles, thus only funding the things they themselves care about. They are big time tax dodgers, because they don't want to accidentally fund something that benefits the poor.

> they don't want to accidentally fund something that benefits the poor.

Welfare policies have been shown at multiple times to actually harm the poor in the long run, not benefit them. There are entire books written on that topic. Check out Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 from Charles Murray.

Because poor people have it so much worse in the Nordic countries compared to the US, right?

There are also entire books written about Bigfoot and the flat Earth theory.

If you put Charles Murray in the same category as flat earth fools then I dont know what your references are.

The problem is not welfare, the problem is US-style hobbled and deliberately bad welfare systems.

Fuck Charles Murray

because he actually looked aT data?

Lies, damn lies and statistics.

Is it really consciously avoiding benefiting the poor or just that they think they know better?

Gates and Zuckerberg have both given large amounts intending to benefit the poor.

They are definitely outliers.

There have been tests done which show an inverse correlation between the cost of a person's car and how likely they are to stop for pedestrians waiting at marked crossings. Just as an informal example.

It is also extremely telling that the people who litter the most are young and rich.

Rich people overwhelmingly care a lot less about people they consider to be beneath them.

It's a product that's there's already a large, regulated market for, in fact (as blood plasma specifically). It wouldn't much extra effort to only buy it from young desperate people...

Yeah today in "not actually a real problem in the physical world" we deal with the plague of really left wing people and their anti-nuclear rhetoric that is plaguing hackerspaces across the globe. Can't we just fission in peace? These monsters are insatiable.

How can we stop this epidemic before it's too late?

> A small subset of people buy shitty products (1$ bicycle lamps, lights, cheap-as-shit appliances like clocks, hoovers

This is not so surprising if you consider that both the desire to repair and the tendency to buy less expensive things can be driven by the overall drive to spend less, perhaps due to personal financial circumstances.

It's a well understood phenomenon that people bias the financial short term over the long term in quick decisions.

EDIT: In addition, many times, the higher quality option for a given type of product is many times more expensive than the "cheap" option, due to things like market segmentation. Given the lack of higher quality middle-priced option, it's pretty rational for people to choose the cheaper one.

>Sam Vimes is also renowned for his "Boots Theory of socio-economic unfairness", as posited in Men at Arms:

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money. Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes 'Boots' theory of socioeconomic unfairness. Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms


This quote gets posted over and over ad nauseum on reddit and HackerNews and always seems to just get accepted as truth, but realistically the entire theory depends on the relative numbers between the two things being compared. The theory makes no sense if good boots cost 5x as much as shitty boots but only last 2x as long.

If the cost of most things depended only on quality then I'd find it more convincing, but especially when we're talking about consumer electronics, things like brand reputation, novelty, and user perception matter a lot.

A rich person can buy the cheap option. A poor person usually cannot buy the expensive option. Of course the rule doesn't apply to everything, but it applies to "enough".

Buying a house is often much better financially than renting (in high cost of living areas, usually by a factor)

Hardwood furniture can last several generations. Plywood stuff...not so much.

Mutual funds have much lower fees if you invest a larger amount of money. Banks and credit unions give you more, cheaper services if you have more money. Borrowing money is cheaper the better off you are.

You can get a better job if you can afford to be on the market for longer.

And so on, and so forth. There are exceptions (my cheap ikea couch has lasted 10-15 years, while a fancy hardwood table we got started falling apart after just a few years), but you just have more options if you can afford more expensive stuff. Some of those options are vastly more cost-effective. Being poor is very expensive.

If the point of the quote is to say that "sometimes the more expensive option is better value" it's accurate, but also is obvious, and doesn't really mean anything.

To be clear, I don't think it's strictly wrong, just that it adds nothing of value to a conversation. It just gives a very specific example of when a rule holds.

It's kind of like if the employment statistics come out, and they show improvement, but someone comments that they just got laid off that week. They aren't wrong, but they're also not adding anything to the conversation.

> If the point of the quote is to say that "sometimes the more expensive option is better value" it's accurate, but also is obvious, and doesn't really mean anything.

That is not the point, and the comment you’re replying to gave some very real, serious examples as to why not. Cost of living alone eats an incredible amount of your budget unless you’re very well to do, so there, immediately, you’re out of “sometimes” territory. We’re already in “the majority of most people’s budget” land. Then you have payday loans, any kind of loan in general, late fees, etc: all of these are costs to low liquidity. Unexpected expenses cannot be absorbed if you have no cash nor assets to sell. Being poor is expensive; this is not a random anecdote, it’s a fundamental character flaw in our society that has been consistently identified and documented. Google “the cost of being poor” for more reading material than one could process in a lifetime.

If you’re talking about the specific example in the quote, alone: it’s an illustration, to make a complex and ugly point understandable and palatable and easy to digest. It’s not a random data point: it illustrates the mechanism by which being poor is expensive. That’s not straight forward to intuit, hence this example has merit.

> Cost of living alone eats an incredible amount of your budget unless you’re very well to do,

this has not been true for a long time by now. If it were true there would be no mass market for tourism and no budget for so many people to buy iphones every year or two. By far we all earn way more than what we strictly need to live, even in your first jobs in your twenties.

You've obviously never had to work at somewhere like Walmart

is walmart representative of 75 percent of jobs out there?

It does mean something - there's asymmetry between rich and poor people's ability to buy good and bad items. The rich can buy either but the poor can only buy cheap. So even if only a few things had this boots effect, and everything else worked backward (cheaper item has better value per dollar) that would still skew the fairness in favor of the rich.

That assumes rich people actually participate. They could also just buy cheap things over and over because they can. I like to do that so I'm not too emotionally and financially attached to possessions, which becomes a liability and a worry.

Rich people dOnt always buy premiUm products in every single category of products. This was somewhat of an insight I learned when working in the FMCG industry.

Wait that wasn't obvious for you?

No, it was not obvious to me since I have never been super rich before

If it was so obvious only poor people would shop at wal-mart. That is not the case.

Just a nitpick, but I think you meant particle board instead of plywood. High quality plywood is composed of several thin sheets of hardwood in which the grain of each runs perpendicular to it’s neighbor. This makes is stronger than pure hardwood with far less warping and cupping over time.

Yeah, As you can tell I'm no woodworker :)

>Buying a house is often much better financially than renting (in high cost of living areas, usually by a factor)

Not any more, especially in the global cities. You are better off investing your money on the stock market.

If I had the choice between no housing whatsoever and stock market, sure. Unfortunately being homeless kind of sucks so the choice is between being and renting. The former is cheaper if only because I don't have to deal with massive rent increases every year. I literally bought my place because I was about to get priced out of the city by my landlord.it took only 2 years for an equivalent unit in an equivalent location to cost me less (including mortage, taxes, maintenance, HOA) than the unit I was renting now goes for.

Sorry, can you clarify what you mean? I don't understand what you mean by "cost me less"?

I literally mean "cost me less" (the numbers below are bogus but the proportions are correct, just so people who know me don't get too much insight into my finances, haha)

When I last rented (in a very high cost of living area), my rent was 2500 and I was faced with a 300/month increase on the renewal of my lease.

I bought a place in an area that is roughly an (almost) as high in demand. Much nicer, 3 times the size. The mortgage was 2000/month. Add taxes and HoA and It's about 3000/month. There is some maintenance and I have to pay for my own repair, so my housing budget is about 3500 a month.

That was several years ago. I can look up the listing for the apartment I used to rent (large building, lots of units on the same floor with the same plan and they have a website). It hovers between 3000 and 3500/month these days.

Except I can deduct about $5000/year in taxes from my mortgage interest and the property taxes (though starting this year I won't be able to do the later anymore because of caps). And on that 3500/month I pay for housing, about $1500ish goes in principal. So effectively, the place costs me about 1500-1600/month. Add that property value is up drastically in the area over the last few years, and I'm living here somewhere between "for free" and "at a profit". That's a heck of a lot cheaper than renting.

There was the matter of the downpayment. I got pretty lucky in some of my stock investments, but the above is hard to beat (and the only reason I have so much money to invest IS because of how much cheaper my housing is now compared to what it would be). Oh, the condo association is letting me stick a solar array on the roof, which is also a fine investment even with the new tariffs. Landlord wouldn't have allowed it. If I ever need to leave or cash in, I can flip the place on the market in a day (well, plus like a month for the closing I guess). I can rent it too for a sweet added profit.

All in all, renting is expensive as hell.

Not the OP, but mortgage payments will stay fixed over time (assuming interest rates stay the same). Rents increase with demand for housing.

Having also recently bought a house, my repayments are comparable to rent, and double up as an investment.

Plywood stuff can last. particleboard on the other hand..

You raise a good point, but I'd say the problem is that determining if the more expensive one is _actually_ better is really difficult, there's lots of marketing blurring everything, even going so far as fake reviews, shill comments, etc. You thought you found a quality product but Walmart (or the brand owner, or the brand's new parent company) decided to use cheaper materials to increase margins (possibly even once per year!). The source of trustworthy reviews yesterday somehow "monetized" itself into giving outstanding 5 star reviews quoting phrases like "buy for life", "it's worth spending extra for the quality" when it's literally the same unfit for use garbage you can get unbranded for dirt cheap on a Chinese clone of Amazon. Counterfeit goods on Amazon is already a big problem.

Most likely, the person who can afford the pricier boots and tells you they last longer than yours just needs to use them less, but justifies his decision because it was actually true back in his father's day. Economic inequality is a huge issue right now, sure. But information assymetry is also doing a lot of damage. I can get a spec sheet on 2 motherboards and get about all the information I need from them for a purchasing decision. You can't do that with boots at Walmart in this scenario.

I like this suspicion, but I don't buy into anymore. I think there is a floor to quality. However, even what we call cheap quality shoes nowdays are typically above the quality of what you used to be able to get many places, period.

More, if you want shoes to last a long time, I have found nothing beats having multiple sets and not wearing the same shoes constantly. I have not empirically studies this, though. So, if anyone has, I'd be delighted to see the results. I just know that if I buy an expensive set of shoes for me, they last about 6 months if I constantly wear them. I can, of course, resole them. But they are not magically doing better than the cheaper shoes I can also buy. Rotating shoes so that I wear a different set day to day makes a huge difference in how long they last.

Fair enough, footwear is not the best example nowadays. I went from buying cheap $10 shoes at Walmart to only wearing Marine issue Vibram boots that would cost in excess of $200. Although the special forces boots are silent and more comfortable they only last a couple years. My current pair I've had for 4 years and they look identical to the day I got them. But they're not for everybody. However if we extrapolate away from footwear and think about cars I think the anecdote is more apt. Take for instance something as trivial as an oil change. Regular 5w30 will cost around $30 but it breaks down relatively quickly and needs to be changed if you're lucky every 3k miles. Full synthetic on the other hand will set you back $100 plus and will last at least 7k miles. When you change it you'll find with normal use that the oil hasn't really broken down within that span and you're really just changing it to remove combustion and minor engine particulates. Not to mention the engine with full synthetic will run smoother and more efficient, while the regular oil by nature will run noticeably sluggish when reaching its end of life. All of this is moot when making the choice to go full electric, but how much will that set someone back vs buying a good used car that in the most rare circumstances can hope to get less than a quarter of the life of an electric. An even more relevant example for this community I would think would be the concept of tech debt.

$10 Walmart shoes will ruin your legs though. They are fine if you want to sit in a chair/car all day.

'...cheap quality shoes nowdays are typically above the quality of what you used to be able to get many places, period.'

Cheap quality shoes can be better than premium brand 'quality' shoes these days.

I find that the most cost-effective clothes are usually those that you won’t find at Wal-Mart or K-Mart nor at, for example, Sack’s Off Fifth. $50 dollar Levi’s, $100 Nike running shoes, $10 tee shirts, etc seem to last way longer than the cheapest stuff and the expensive stuff. That said, I recently started learning to sew, and am starting to believe that, for example, a $10 sweatshirt from CVS plus some sewing is much more cost effective than, say, the $50 Adidas option.

Do you have recommended improvements/modifications? Sounds like fun.

I wish, but I still have no idea what I’m doing, so not really. All I’ve repaired so far is a couple pairs of Levi’s that I keep tearing on my desks at school.

I mentioned sweaters from CVS because I bought one for ~$9 and the seams are coming apart after about 8 months, but it seems like it will be easy to fix because it was made in such a simple way.

Just to save you some trouble, if it comes apart on the seams because of age and not because of shoddy sewing from the maker, it's not worth fixing - it will come apart again at a different place within the next month or so. This is especially true for jeans. At least this is my decade-long experience with fixing everything.

Thanks! That's sorta what the woman said at the shop I bought my needle/thread. The sweater is definitely just poor sewing from whatever factory it came from, the jeans a combination.

Given that you have some experience, do you have any resources you can recommend? Maybe a good book with a bunch of the fundamental skills?

Ah, no, I'm sorry. I basically never learned how to do it apart from looking at a few pictures over 15 years ago and talking about it a little (experiences of when to use a patch and when just thread is fine for example). A friend of mine taught me how to use a machine but I find that for repairs it's far better to do things by hand. Most of the things are really easy to figure out with common sense. I bet youtube can help you though. I for myself would rather put my energy into learning how to work with new material, I'm often annoyed by how often old fabric does not hold up and I'm mostly repairing old stuff anyway where a repair does not need to be pretty or long-lived.

Well, if you make any posts on the things you try, I'd be interested in reading. Good luck!

I bought a pair of Frye boots -- ostensibly hand-made and durable, $360 dollar shoes -- which completely disintegrated after a year of walking around New York city and were not actually repairable. My cheapo $60 mall boots, on the other hand, got me through 3 years.

I have found nothing beats having multiple sets and not wearing the same shoes constantly.

This, a thousand times over. Shoe trees also do wonders to extend the life of footwear. It's all about letting the shoe completely dry out between wears.

> I just know that if I buy an expensive set of shoes for me, they last about 6 months if I constantly wear them.

Generally speaking that's true, though I wear the crap out of my Birkenstocks and they still seem good.

I finally got Birkenstocks just because they are apparently bullet proof and comfortable, but after something like 18 months of wearing them non-stop (almost every day), they have completely worn through and are not usable.

After that I had a pair of Walmart flip-flops that lasted only half the time under similar use but they were 1/10th the price.

Before that I had a pair of no-name not flip-flop (i.e., velcro strap) sandals that lasted nearly 6 years of fairly continual use.

There is no particular moral or conclusion here, they are just anecdotes. I just think you can't make any general rule about "it's better to buy quality than cheap" or vice-versa: it's all situation specific and depends on the quantitative costs and lifetimes.

There are many examples of "it's expensive to be poor". There also many examples of where it's not, and how people have what would have been considered a very high standard of living in the past on minimal output. Many not poor people are also definitely not doing the boot anecdote thing posits: they aren't buying one set of boots and wearing them their entire lifetime. They aren't buying one set of hardwood furniture they use from their 20s until they die and they aren't buying a quality vehicle and running it for 20 years on synthetic oil.

So you wear out four pairs in two years?

Easily, for some types of shoes. In dry weather, I don't care. Small holes in the shoes don't really matter much. In wet, though, it is baffling how quickly I can go through shoes.

This was back when I walked about two to five miles a day. Just in the office, the same shoes can last much longer.

For that matter, most of the change has been in the wet season. I wouldn't be surprised to find the shoes flat out wear faster in that environment.

Yes, but that's fiction.

If you don't use something that often then it turns out that buying a fancy one was money wasted. When I buy power tools I usually go for the cheapskate version and figure if it breaks I'll buy a better one next time.

echo "Being able to afford good boots" | s/"good boots"/"good decisions"

I used to try and avoid the shitty products and "buy it for life". The trouble is it's often difficult to know the quality until you have lived with something for a while, even price doesn't give you a good idea. Sometimes cheap will last a long time or I might buy $1 bike lights because I don't want to worry about them being stolen.

So now I'll start with shitty and if that fails then next time I'll spend a bit more.

By the way I think the word you were looking for is conspiratorialist: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/conspiratoriali...

I've argued with a lot of friends about the "buy it for life" meme. I think it overlooks how quickly people change what they want from their things.

Maybe a more healthy meme could be: "Buy high-quality things, but never buy new". If you believe a product is durable, you should be comfortable with buying it used. If you end up not needing the thing anymore, you should be able to sell it again without any waste or loss of value.

I'd like to see a day when [where it makes sense] products are sold with a "repairability index" which might take into account several axes of repairability [mandated by some regulation]:

1. Ease. Can minor parts which break down due to environmental factors be easily swapped out (things which wear or suffer from breakdown over time)

2. The parts make sense to swap-out (sometimes new items are more efficient and are better than repairing an old inefficient item)

3. Cost. The repair may not be cost-effective.

4. Environmental impact.


Example, I've had a washing machine break down and all it was either a plastic bit that broke, another time it was one of the switches. Those two things have extended the life over 5 years. Online forums help a great deal in figuring out what might be the issue.

Great idea. I'd also like to see a tax based on environmental cost, the way some jurisdictions have "disposal fees" for certain electronics like printers.

The first thing that comes to mind are the throw away toys and gag gifts and dollar store items, but extends to anything that is poorly made or single-use, especially things where the battery is not meant to be replaced.

The burden needs to be put on manufacturer's creating more waste into the world.

I think we pretty much do this already by charging for waste removal. If you throw things away, you pay more. And certain things cost more to throw away like lithium batteries.

So the tax is on the tail end rather than front loaded.

I think it's better to front load it. At the back end people have the option to dispose of things improperly.

Also, I don't think we include enough externalities in the price if things.

Having an index could inform people when making purchasing choices.

It's one thing to charge to move the waste to a landfill, it's another to price in the long term (difficult to quantify) environmental costs (manufacturing pollution, land & water contamination, depletion of resources, etc). I'd be curious to see how much the disposal costs reflect total costs and whether some areas are subsidized.

iFixit keeps such an index for most electronics products.

iFixit is the only place that I’m aware of, but “most” might be an exaggeration unfortunately. They have the most popular products certainly, but for less mainstream devices you are entirely out of luck.

I support the idea behind iFixit, so in the future I might prefer to buy from their store. Otherwise, I’m not sure how else to expand range of devices that you can get a repair guide and repair score for.

And I know of absolutely nothing for non-computing devices, ie. washing machines, fridges, TVs. I think such information is really important, but there is no incentive for anyone to provide it.

Ifixit has plenty of repair information for non-computing devices! They host the most complete set of repair manuals for the Mercedes W123 for example.

Here’s washing machines: https://www.ifixit.com/Device/Washing_Machine

Wow, okay, not sure how I never spotted that. Taking a look, currently it seems extremely limited in practice

In software it was Gartner that popularised the TCO marking - and what you are asking here is roughly the same thing.

that we have to fight for food labelling suggests that TCO is still a long way off

these cafés attract in general "alternative" people. I've got no problem with that, but I'm a bit fed up with conspirationists, anti-nuclear, really left-wing people.

I've had the opposite experience from repair forums and such; most of those into repairing things tend to have agricultural/automotive/trades backgrounds, and seem to be more ring-wing libertarians. Lots of them are anti-EPA too, which is a bit surprising. Perhaps both extremes of the political spectrum oppose the throwaway culture...

Libertarians are the people that can show up with the hard right or the hard left to get their gas guzzler/eco-bike repaired.

Yes, that's exactly it --- one side wants repair because they are concerned about the environment, and the other side wants repair because they want "the good old days" when things were far more repairable.

Both "sides" are just the residual echoes from mainstream narratives that are used to divide and control people - red (/blue) herrings in this context. Everybody essentially just wants individual autonomy and localied sanity, primarily differing on pain points, focus, and analysis framework.

It's unsurprising that many of the people who have done the work to seek out repair cafes have also traveled far from the mainstream authoritarian narrative, and have half baked "crazy" theories filling the gaps. I don't know that much can be done to help convergence, besides tearing down that mainstream narrative so that it alienates less in the first place.

And yes, it is frustrating listen to ignorant rants. But if the flavor of ignorance substantially matters to you, then you need to examine your own assumptions.

I have found that many older folks who reminisce about the good old days when everything lasted forever and was repairable, have conveniently forgotten one little detail: cost.

For example, a bog standard plain white washing machine in 1962 would run you about $200. An equivalent no-frills washing machine today will be about $300. So yes, of course things back then lasted longer -- you were paying about ten times more for them. If there were a market for it, a manufacturer today could easily make a $2500 basic washing machine that would last 50 years with relatively little maintenance and make it inexpensive to repair if it does break.

There is a market for that - commercial washing machines intended for multiple-use like in dormatories or laundrymats.

Exactly, I know folks who shell out a lot for a Speed Queen commercial washer and dryer. Like 3x what a consumer model would cost.

Very well built, very repairable.

Actually there is an end-user brand that makes such things. Staber. When we got one, the county appliance-repair guy drought all of his buddies to check it out.

I want evidence for this- meaning, parts where costs are reduced - and the lifetime reduction they create- i want to see the correlating curves without spikes before i swallow that myth. Once we had handwoven goods- and they where expensive, and im sure the very first luddites had lots of tails, how machinery would reduce the quality of non-guild woven material.

I’ve never liked the notion that folks don’t care about the environment unless they agree with one plan to fix it.

my go-to move is to require them to put in a little effort themselves. guy brought in a crappy little kettle grill that had rusted out, said it was a shame to throw it away.

I gave him a piece of sandpaper and told him that if he sanded off the rust and paint around the holes I would fill the holes with rod and set the legs again.

it turned out not to be such a shame

At our local bike repair cafe the volunteers will not even touch your things, they will just stand next to you and make comments about what to do.

I think this applies in many parts of life. I have a customer right now who fired off a brief email asking for something that will take quite a lot of my time, I will push some of it back on them.

>These cafés attract in general "alternative" people. I've got no problem with that, but I'm a bit fed up with conspirationists, anti-nuclear, really left-wing people.

Are these cafes in libraries?

As someone who has gone to them a few times, I have a complaint about the other side. Of all the volunteers, there's always at least one who will start chiding the owners that they are not taking proper care of the appliance/tool/etc - and not in a friendly way. One volunteer started lecturing me saying I'm in this mess because I did not maintain it, etc. I told him I had no idea it required maintenance. "Well you should have read the manual!" Well forgive me for buying it for $10 at a Goodwill without a manual! Annoyed, I let him know there was no way I'd pay the $50-100 a new one would cost me just so that I can get a manual.

(I got several years out of that $10 tool, so I'm still happy).

You could download the manual from the internet, instead of buying cheap junk and the demanding people fix your stuff for free.

>You could download the manual from the internet, instead of buying cheap junk and the demanding people fix your stuff for free.

1. I did not know it came with a manual. You don't expect everything to have one. Does your non-electric toothbrush have one? Just today I bought a tool from Home Depot. No manual. The table lamp I have on my table right now? No manual.

2. I didn't demand anything. If the guy said "Sorry, this is too much of a headache to fix", I'd be fine.

3. It was not "cheap junk". It was in very good condition when I bought it, and fairly pricey brand new. In the shape it was in when I bought it, it was better than buying a cheap one brand new.

4. Buying used stuff from Goodwill is a bad idea? The whole point behind these repair cafes is that one does not waste. Buying used stuff from Goodwill is very much in the spirit of what these people are doing. If someone had said that to me in a repair cafe for this item, I would have said "You're right. Crazy idea I had to try to repair things instead of just buying another one."

5. If he had merely informed me that it had gone bad due to poor maintenance, and suggested I Google how to take care of it, I would have really appreciated it. There's a world of a difference between "I think you should learn how to take care of this tool" and "You are an irresponsible owner who refuses to read the manual. Let me guess, you threw it away as soon as you bought it, right?"

6. I know it's shocking to hear, but yes, I expect that people will not charge me when they advertise their services as being free.

It's amazing how much you can assume based on a small comment. I strongly suggest you not volunteer at such a place - these types of repair people are a disservice to the spirit of these cafes.

He is probably there volunteering because he is passionate about these things. He is most likely the kind of person who takes very good care of his stuff. In addition it can be very frustrating dealing with the general public. Maybe cut the guy a break as he is trying to help. Perhaps if you had handled the situation better instead of feeling attacked it could have been a positive experience all around.

I never buy expensive stuff, since I assume that all I am paying is marketing.

I have no time to research better, except for things I understand well and I really care about, i.e. a laptop. And even then repairability is not on my list, since laptops have so many options that finding one which satisfies my needs is already a challenge.

The problem is compounded by the fact that my criteria (big horsepower per kg and lightweight) are contrary to repairability.

You obvisly haven't compared how high street shoes / boots compare to mid market brands like loake are in terms of comfort and longevity.

Its worth paying £170 for the comfort alone

I don't believe it, I know the marketers of these companies want you to believe it but I don't (and I own an expensive pair of walking boots).

Generally I've found avoiding the bottom 10% gives you the most bang for your buck.

That's the problem: you're optimizing for bang-for-buck. Regular shoes/trainers only go up to a few hundred $, they're cheap enough that, as long as they have a median wage in a developed country, the buyer can optimize for something else like comfort without a significant financial impact.

Bang for buck optimizing is only worth it for certain cost/income combos. In other words: the value of money varies for each individual.

I think I'd argue there is no difference other than possibly as some kind of economic signal which I try and avoid.

I was away for a month and took a new pair of Chelsea boots from a bog standard high street shop with me - didn't want to look to scrufy on a v high profile project.

Walking the 1/2 mile up princess street from hotel to the office in them caused so much pain after 2 days I had to go out and buy some trainers.

Never had that with Loakes - I d agree that paying 2k plus for hand fitted shoes like the city boys wear is probably over kill.

No I haven't. The prospect of spending 200+€ in shoes, which are going to last forever, but which I am not going to use for long because they will optically deteriorate and I will anyway get tired of, is not alluring.

My criteria for shoes (except for sports) is:

1. I must be able to put them on/off in 3s, without bending. Which implies no laces (or pre-tied knots)

2. reasonably comfortable

3. light

4. cheap

Do you not use shoe Polish?

I still get tired of the shoes, they still smell, fashion keeps on changing and 10 year old shoes are not the same as new shoes, no matter how good they are.

Most shoes last for years, even cheap ones. I still put them in thr cellar after 2-3 years.

Those shoes would be good as my only shoes in a Mad Max world. Mmmm ... not even, I would prefer trekking shoes.

Well just by classic designs that have been around for decades and shoe design doesn't change much for males or females for that matter.

the "buy it for life" subreddit helps a lot here, for at least narrowing down the search space.

I"ll try that, but I am in the EU, no idea if it applies.

Marketing ROI is typically positive, so you're not really paying for marketing.

> Marketing ROI is typically positive

For the seller - yes. Otherwise it wouldn't be worth doing.

Price is often adjusted TO make marketing ROI positive..

That's not how pricing works.

Marketing is a volume play, not price.

It's neither, it's usually a consistency play. By heavily marketing, volume increases, and price gets hiked as needed. Profit may remain the same, but now it is more consistent over the quarters.

You meant "negative"?

I'm surprised that the decline of sturdy individualists in the UK. Perhaps some outreach to local pensioner's groups &c might broaden the range of people. You might recruit a few more volunteers out of their sheds as well.

# Solution for issue #1 (shitty product buyers):

I think you should charge (if you're not already) for the repairs. This is just to 1) make sure you get paid for your effort and keep it sustainable or grow, 2) that we're accounting for the value of your time/effort

Why?: This will fix the issues of effort in fixing a bike lamp. However, it is also possible that some widget is cheap and broken but the customer is willing to pay your repair fee (i.e. rational choice) because:

1. Repair parts for this item are no more made or difficult to get

2. the next best alternative is more expensive

  1. the better quality one is way too expensive or beyond their budget at least

  2. this needs to be cheap because you use it roughly (eg:workout earphones) or is likely to get lost (a toy)
3. This was given by a loved one or is a gift

Any which way, it makes sense to use the "invisible hand of the market" here because the preferences of your customer are difficult to find - let them decide.

That's OK, the people who know that there is a general conspiracy of corruption and that there are definitely conspiracies within the political and military power structure have been quite fed up with those who refer to people as "conspirationists".

Just this weekend I was reading and watching about Norman Finkelstein, the son of a Holocaust survivor and author of The Holocaust Industry. He's been kicked out of his job and banned from entering certain illegitimate countries due to his work that simply tells the truth.

People who don't want to look at what's going on in the world around them or have no interest in standing up to prosecute those who do wrong, are the problem in this world.

That's really interesting. I always assumed it was difficult to see a difference in quality.

What parts usually break in the cheap stuff?

Plastic anything. Low quality screws getting stripped. Flimsy wiring. (I'm not the OP, but I'm speaking from my experience.)

In the old days the plastic bits were often sturdier and held together by long screws. You had about a 75% chance of getting them all out without stripping them, if you had a long skinny screwdriver.

Thirty more years of practice with injection molding and the addition of better stabilizers means the pieces are thinner.

But sometimes they glue the pieces together. Or they use snaps to simplify the assembly line and reduce the plastic further. They squirt in a bead of silicon to prevent vibration or shorting damage.

And part of me suspect that in The Old Days they used to repair products at the factory. Manufacturing processed have changed substantially starting in the late 70’s to favor more and more detection of problems during the assembly process (see Toyota).

If the defect rate is high you repair things to keep your boss’s boss happy. If defects drop and manual labor prices go up then it’s less of a payoff. Or none at all.

How can you spot low quality screws? I thought you'd have to stress test them.

What do you mean by flimsy wiring?

I design a lot of consumer electronics. You obviously notice the way they strip obviously, but you can run them against a file to see how hard they are if you’re trying to choose parts/suppliers. There are other things to look for, like how precise the slot is or how smooth the outer edges are, but that’s not as important. IMO stress (shear, stretchy) tests are almost totally irrelevant for consumer products that have plastic or soft metal enclosures which will deform far before a fastener will break.

Let's say you are given a product, which you can disassemble as you like. can you give a reasonable estimate of lifetime this way ? or does it require prolonged stress tests ?

And if estimation is possible, how does one learn how to do it on their own ?

This is more of an experience thing, but it is usually very obvious if something is poor quality. A good thing to look at is typically the plastic parts. Look for signs the mold was in poor condition or cheap such as excess flashing or surface roughness. Another thing to examine is how thin the parts are, and presence or lack of reinforcing ribs. For comparison, take apart something like a Milwaukee cordless tool vs. a cheap no-name equivalent. AvE on YouTube does these kinds of teardowns, and does a decent job of explaining design decisions, but is definitely NSFW.

Stress testing screws would be pointless for what you want to achieve, but like the other commenter said you can look at them too find signs they are poor quality (irregular heads, bad plating, etc).

+1 for AvE[1]. He's NSFW compared to bible school due to cussing and occasionally dirty jokes, but he uses language that pretty much any manual laborer in the country encounters daily. His analysis of how things are designed have taught me all sorts of things about how tools are made.


I would also recommend this guy's youtube channel, he disassembles and examines both normally priced and suspiciously-cheap-from-china consumer electronics:


cheap consumer electronics can be assembled in a method with screws intended to be used once into a plastic cylindrical receiving part (injection molded usually). The screws have a certain sort of spiral to them that you don't see with screws intended to be repeatedly installed and removed. On the cheapest stuff, removing the screw once and then reinstalling it can result in the clamshell assembly of the upper and lower injection molded parts becoming permanently loose... One example would be a "modern" humidifier such as you can buy at Target that is never intended to be repaired or disassembled.

Those are self-tapping screws.

In the old days, items of wood would suffer from the same issue when disassembled, although it was then much easier to fill the hole with putty and redrill.

With plastic, I suppose you could use epoxy to fill the hole.

Those all seem like things you could fix

Yes, but there's a certain futility in spending 30 minutes repairing a $5 widget when the $8 widget wouldn't have broken in the first place.

sometimes there isn't enough plastic. but for slightly higher quality goods the threaded standoffs will often have enough material to take a wider machine thread, and enough strength to keep them for several cycles.

How many kids ? I often wonder how they would like seeing how stuff work instead of just using them. Also linking with future physics/math education.

Oh no your anti-corporate organization is being visited by left wing people...

"When this case happens, I explain in good term that they should buy a slightly better quality next time;"

1. I guarantee 99% of the comsumers out there don't know quality, from junk.

That whole, "You get what you pay for just doesn't equate to this last two decades." I'm taking comsumer goods mainly. I could give example, after example, but just too tired.

I'll give a couple examples.

Vechicles--the buyer has no clue, or real way to find out which vechicles are engineered well. And that's the reason we have movie stars still pitching products.

Laptops--I just happened to have a 2000 Dell Laptop brochure on my desk. I was going to recycle it, but grew melancholy when looking at the quality of the laptops. They were built to last. As opposed to what we are offered today.

"these cafés attract in general "alternative" people. I've got no problem with that, but I'm a bit fed up with conspirationists, anti-nuclear, really left-wing people."

Give me an "alternative" mind over a conformist, corporate stooge any day. Those quirkey people bring change. They question the status quo. Again too tired to list examples. Almost every new invention was though of by a "alternative person". The rich boys usually had the resources enough to capitalize on it though.

Also, we should praise companies that actually encourage and support repairing behavior.

Case in point: Baratza coffee grinders. They establish repairing as one of the companies top priorities and part of their mission.[0]

They sell almost every part necessary for fixing their grinders[1]. They deliberately make them easy do disassemble and reassemble and provide lots of instructions on how to fix most problems, both in print and in video.[2] They also have a program of buying used grinders to resell them refurbished. Whenever a model is upgraded they also sell the upgrading kit for owners of old models.

[0] https://www.baratza.com/social-responsibility/

[1] https://www.baratza.com/product-category/parts/

[2] https://www.baratza.com/troubleshooting/

I've had a Briggs and Riley[0] suitcase for about 10 years.

It came with a "lifetime guarantee" and so on. About 3 years ago it suffered some damage in handling, the normal abuse by Celebi[1] and I would definitely not consider it a manufacturing defect. But the promise was that it could take anything the airlines and their zombie hordes[1] could dish out, so I sent it back for repairs.

They repaired it within a weak and returned it at their cost, and I've been traveling with the same suitcase ever since. Had they not offered the repairs I probably would have bought a new suitcase.

[0]: https://www.briggs-riley.com/

[1]: http://www.celebiaviation.com/en/yazi.php?id=75

That's definitely a great benefit of higher end luggage. Other brands with similar service are Rimowa and Tumi. With Rimowa I had a case where someone cut the into the luggage with a knife all around the zipper and they repaired it.

In a slightly similar way, Nudie Jeans [1] have free repairs for life in their many repair shops around the world. They also have some posts on DIY repairs [2]. It's not that their jeans are low-quality either, that they offer this. I've had jeans repaired in Australia, UK, and Norwray.

[1] https://www.nudiejeans.com/ [2] https://www.nudiejeans.com/blog/28-friday-january-25-2013

Another company which is similar in coffee space is Technivorm, you can buy / replace all the parts, and I actually bought a 10+ years old machine which works flawless after replacing a few minor parts.

Sennheiser sells lots of replacement parts for their headphones. In fact, it looks like I could nearly rebuild my entire pair of headphones from their spare parts:


Beyerdynamic does that too for their studio equipment. Premium products for the professional market are always being treated differently by manufacturers. Except by Apple, but that's another story.

Assos (cycling clothes) are good at repairing too. They not only last long, but they offer repair services.

Had a crash wearing 5 year bibs. Emailed them just in case.. Long story short, I had to pay for shipping one way only. Came back a week later, good as new.

Recently I almost threw away our stove because one of the burners melted. I was about 2 seconds away from submitting an order online for a new stove when my wife asked how we were going to dispose of the current one. Suddenly, I realized how tragic it is to throw something so massive. I got my screw driver out and tinkered behind the stove for 20 minutes, ordered a couple parts, soldered a little here and there, and had the whole thing 100% operational with a total output of about 2 hours. I honestly could hardly believe it myself. I did the same thing with a broken chainsaw too. And it’s so rewarding to actually fix something.

If you’re even remotely handy it’s remarkable how easy it is to fix things that you might otherwise just throw away and replace.

Even if you can't fix it, there is value in tinkering with it. Over the years I've gotten to the point where I understand my limits, when I might be able to stretch those limits, and when to call in the professionals or just chuck it and buy a new one. Even when I can't fix it myself, I have a general idea of what's wrong so I can be much more confident in my decision to replace it; and if I end up calling in a professional, I can be confident I won't be getting ripped off.

The internet has also helped a lot. Specifically, a lot of howto videos show common gotchas, which in the past are the things that have usually caused me to either give up or to turn a $10 repair into a $500 replacement by making things worse...

Lemme second this comment. Everything you say is good.

One thing to keep in mind is that you need to understand when things can be dangerous. Like old tube-based equipment.

I still have a screwdriver that has divots scarred into it from discharging a couple of 500V can capacitors in an old (solid-state) stereo. Now, that's a great lesson... discharge caps if you're not sure about them, and I am glad I learned it.

I'm also quite glad that I did that on purpose with a screwdriver and not on accident with my finger.

I'm even more glad that I did some basic research to know that giant caps ougtta at least be thought about if you're gonna peek around in that kind of stuff.

Completely agree. You need to be careful about capacitors. Generally, a YouTube video will warn you about a part/product you need to look out for. I replaced the run capacitor on my central air unit for $10 and saved hundreds of dollars in repair costs. It's been years and the thing is still running. Just had to watch instructions on how to properly discharge the capacitor.

Having been shocked enough to have a mini PTSD episode when seeing a flyback transformer, did anyone actually die from a normal cap discharge? Unless it's a large subwoofer capacitor, the stored energy is not enough to do deadly damage, even if it's in the thousands of volts, in my experience...

Apparently the charge in computer power supplies can kill :/


I think that in most cases the electricity run across the finger or the arm and not through the heart.

I agree with this sentiment.

One thing that has been a godsend for me was a scan tool for my car. Not a lot goes wrong with my car, even though it's 10 years old, but being able to ask the car what's wrong when the check engine light comes on is a good way to save some money.

The first time the check engine light came on the car was still under warranty, so I let the dealer take care of it. I didn't own a scan tool at this time.

The second time it happened, many years later, my scan tool told me that it was an oxygen sensor. I know that is beyond my skill level, so off it goes to a mechanic. Since the scan tool told me what was wrong, I knew what to expect and could tell if they were trying to screw me over.

The third time it happened my scan tool told me that the battery voltage was low. That made a lot of sense for a 10 year old car, that had been sitting outside in -27C weather for a while, that still had the factory battery. Fixing that involved a trip to Costco and 15 minutes tinkering in the driveway. I'm sure a mechanic would have marked up the battery and charged an hour of labour, so the scan tool probably paid for itself with this one use.

Youtube is a fantastic resource for any repairs, even if I'm comfortable with doing something I'll often watch a couple of videos first to spot common gotchas.

In 2001 I was living with a bunch of people in a rundown old house. We did not have a washer and dryer but we did have the hook-ups for them. But we are all poor and coming up with the cash to buy a set wasn't happening. We just used the laundromat. And yes, I know that it is cheaper to use your own. But a few bucks here and there at the laundromat was easier to deal with.

We had a casual relationship with our neighbors and one day they they were having a garage sale. They had a washer and dryer set for sale. They wanted a hundred for the set and I jokingly said I would give them ten. They said if I manned the garage sale for them for a few hours while they got lunch I could have the set. Bingo!

They worked great for about a year and then one of the wheels that holds the tub in the dryer had a bearing blow out. There was about a two inch gap in the bottom of the tub and it was swallowing bras. Apparently this had gone on for a while and nobody noticed. So I pull the back off the dryer to take a look and see what had happened.

I figured I was screwed since the dryer was older than I was. But I called Sears and they had the part. They actually had a repair kit for our dryer. For 25 bucks we got three rollers, belt, and new heating element. It took about a hour to install all the new stuff and I still have the dryer and it works great.

And really, we were so lucky, it had sucked in a lot of clothes. They were piled up around the heating element. Could have easily caught fire.

So that's where all the socks go...

"It's already broken, you can't break it any more" are words to live by.

Not necessarily. Think of someone not familiar with computers having some persisting issue and thinking - well it's already broken - this website just popped up saying I have a virus, so might as well try following their solution.

Or of someone misdiagnosing a trivial problem like a blown fuse and breaking parts while disassembling an appliance which is completely fine.

This staggers me. My entire career can be traced back to fixing computer problems in much the way you describe. Is that not a very common experience? People tinker with things, sometimes those things are destroyed in the process. That's how people learn.

I feel like kid playing with old appliance (or PC) in the garage is a cliche hacker origin story. I know it is mine.

Maybe the lack of easy communication and scams made it easier? You could still install bonsai buddy and stuff, but there wasn't a chance to get ransomware...

Also people didn't depend that much on computers. How much would you really destroy at the time by wiping everything? How much damage would that do on a family computer these days?

I think a lot of people actually depend on the contents of their hard drive a lot less these days than, say, ten years ago, because so much is stored in the cloud - photos in particular.

lovely story! i think there are two factors at play that dont get mentioned enough:

youtube and the internet at large has made diagnosing and fixing lots of problems much simpler and quicker.

amazon, ebay, and 3d printing and other cheap ways of making things have created lots of cheap, decent replacement parts that can arrive at your house in 2 days.

these two factors make repairing things yourself a couple orders of magnitude easier than 20 years ago, say. i cannot believe its only now really coming to the fore

Some home improvement stores in the US, like Home Depot and Lowe's, will gladly take your old equipment upon delivery of new one, as long as it's of the same type. At least this has been my experience.

I ride a 48 year old Honda motorcycle. This baffles some people who didn't know a vehicle of that age could still be on the road.

It's not mint or original but it's nice. Everything works fine. The valves need to be adjusted soon. The transmission isn't silky but it shifts, probably a bent shift fork from abusive riding some time in the last 5 decades.

Everything about it is designed to be maintained by the average person. With a little mechanical knowledge and some patience anything on that bike can be fixed. It even comes with a tool kit.

There are a couple of repair shops in town that rent out spaces to work on bikes like this. They keep a mechanic on staff to provide help and even supply tools. I rent a garage from a friend and a few of us keep our old bikes going there.

Not all old things were built like this but this bike is a shining example of how well made things can last lifetimes.

I just got a 20 year old Land Rover and, after having attempted to repair consumer electronics and modern vehicles, I am stunned at how easy they are to repair.

Firstly, it is an entirely mechanical car, which makes everything much simpler. But the truly stunning bit is the documentation and community.

All of the workshop manuals are available online. That is good enough for most tasks, but if something particularly complex needs diagnosing, there are forums with all the information you need.

When you need to get parts, an exploded diagram of the entire car is available online with part numbers. Both the original manufacturer and several third parties still make parts. Somebody has even made a price comparison website.[0]

I wish all the things I owned worked like this. I understand the economics often don’t work out for smaller, cheaper things, and there is no incentive for the original manufacturer to provide these things, but surely there is enough of a community to support common repairs in a similar way.

[0] https://www.landroverworkshop.com

One major hurdle that I face regularly when something is broken is getting the tools I need to fix it. Buying tools that I may not need for another 5 years and won't likely be used anywhere else just does not make any sense to my mind even though replacing the device will be likelier more expensive. Also, there aren't guides to repair all devices/equipment online. If I open it, I am afraid I won't be able to put it back together. I love the idea of Repair cafe and would likely make a few visits if there is one nearby. (Any repair cafes in NYC?)

A lot of specialised tools can be replaced by elbow grease and ingenuity. In fact, that's half the fun and victory if you manage to fix something. Usually a set of appropriately sized screwdrivers and various pliers is all you need.

> If I open it, I am afraid I won't be able to put it back together.

That happens, but: the thing was broken anyway, and, now it's twice broken and disassembled, so you can throw it away in good conscience, hopefully having figured out how to approach it correctly the next time, so it's not even a waste of time.

> A lot of specialised tools can be replaced by elbow grease and ingenuity.

This. A long time ago I remember making a custom screwdriver head to open a video game cartridge by softening a bic pen cap over a candle, then pressing it over the cap for 10 seconds. Let it cool, and voila.

I've also found the same approach indispensable for doing simple carpentry without all the specialized tools of a wood shop.

I remember using that exact trick to open up a GameCube! Though I read about it online, wasn't clever enough to think of it myself :)

I think I read about it it in a gaming mag, so can't take credit myself

That's true, and there's something to be said for ingenuity. But in many cases, having the right tool turns a 1-hour PITA task into a 5-minute easy task.

Having the right tools for the job is nice. By now I always try to get them somewhere. Luckily the bigger things are usually rented out.

You also have to store all those tools somewhere. That's the bigger issue for me.

It's about 5 screwdrivers for a laptop/smartphone/TV (of course, that makes it 15 for all three) and around 10 screwdrivers/spanners for home appliances. You can fit all that in a purse :D

That's the thing I don't like about Apple products. I swapped the HDD for a SSD in my father's Mac Mini and had to order a kit with all the right special screwdrivers and special tools just for that.

Fixing is not their goal, and I'm OK with that. I really dislike Apple for a lot of reasons but their hardware is not one of them.

If you look at some of the breakdowns on ifixit, there might be an area where they needed 4 screws. In another laptop, they would have been identical screws, but in the Apple they are all different sizes. Each one is specific to the area it's holding so they could cram in more components. It may not be as easily repairable but it is good engineering.

Similar thoughts on Apple products here. Looking at the iFixit guide for the current iMacs kills all my wishes for owning one (I considered it, but not after seeing the teardown...). And it's so unnecessary! They could have easily made it much more upgrade- and repairable without compromising the visual design.

I agree it’s annoying they are different, but I’m yet to buy an HD or replacement part that didn’t ship with the screw drivers for free or almost free. Now I have loads of them and I can’t bring myself to throw away screw drivers.

Tools generally don't depreciate very much. You can resell them years later and still get most of your money back. With inflation as bad as it is you might even sell them for more than you bought them. A garage full of tools is like gold in a vault, except this gold is useful.

You might be interested in seeing if you have a local Tool Library. They allow their patrons to borrow tools for a membership fee. A quick Google search shows quite a few in NYC.

Personally, I don't find it all that bad. The digitizer on our tablet our tablet crapped out a few months back. I found a YouTube video on how to replace it. The tools cost like $7 off of Amazon and the digitizer was about $20. A few minutes of fooling around and viola working touchscreen again. Overtime basic electronics tools are very cheap.

There's the Fixer's Collective[0] that meets in Brooklyn and Manhattan on alternating weeks.

[0]: https://www.facebook.com/fixerscollective/

I've fixed 3 out of 4 dead 27" LCD monitors and 2 of 2 dead 47" TVs by opening them up, finding the power board, and replacing all of the large capacitors. No diagnosis or testing at all.

That used to be a good recipe for fixing radios back in the 1960s/70s as well! Used to just unsolder one lead and check the resistance of the capacitor. Quick kick then fall back to infinity good/swing over to low bad

The increasing reliance on ICs seems to put a really big wrench in the system.

Seeing a relative, that loved working on cars, swearing over a broken wiper because the engine is just fine but the IC studded control board clearly is not doing its job, is disheartening.

Seeing a relative, that loved working on cars, swearing over a broken wiper because the engine is just fine but the IC studded control board clearly is not doing its job, is disheartening.

If it's windscreen wipers you're talking about, one solution would be to replace all the excessive electronics with something simple like a switch and relay.

In my experience IC's are really reliable, and the last place I look. As other have said, electrolytic capacitors and connectors are the biggest problem. The other reply is a good one, substitute a switch and a relay if you want!

>Quick kick then fall back to infinity good/swing over to low bad

What does all that mean?

Quick kick = apply some voltage?

So with a capacitor you are looking for infinite resistance (no current flow) as a sign that it’s good, or some current flow (low resistance) as a sign it’s bad? Did I get that right?

Not OP but yes that is correct, capacitors work by building potential. A functioning capacitor starts at 0 and moves to ∞.

You apply a multimeter on resistance mode. Generally if the cap grows in resistance it's good, if resistance goes down or stays steady it's bad.

That's not really reliable, imo. Thankfully, capacitance multimeters are cheap these days.

I bought an as-is* TV card for my PC for about three dollars off eBay years ago. When it arrived, I saw a handful of capacitors had been snapped off. Replaced them, and it worked fine.

*Read: Seller knows it is broken but doesn't want to say it is broken.

I recently had a similar experience with an LG G watch. Bought on craigslist for $5 'as-is' (I wanted it for parts), but turns out that the only thing wrong was the OS had been corrupted on it somehow. I was able to flash Android on it and it works perfectly!

My fridge went out several years ago. It was one that we got when we bought our house from the previous homeowners. We made an agreement when we put in a bid. When it went out I was like man, we are going to have to pay to have this repaired. I called some companies and the estimations were in the $500-600 range. Being in a hard time I decided to just tinker, for the first time in my life. About 4 hours later of research and testing I determined I just needed a fuse. I went to a shop about 30 minutes away and bought a fuse for $5. Put it in and saved the fridge, and thank goodness for the dry ice tip that saved all my food in the freezer.

Tinkering is now my go-to for anything that breaks. I hope that it rubs off on my son as I think I missed out on life not knowing how to tinker as much as I should have. It is really refreshing to fix something that is important to you.

Yeah some repair companies will quote the maximum amount they may actually need to charge (replacing the compressor and regassing, for example), and then actually charge that even if they replaced a simple fuse :/

There is no such thing as 'throwaway culture' instead there is economics. In developed countries it simply is cheaper for the consumer to purchase a new LCD monitor than simply pay for a skilled engineer's labour which would arrive at the same price in addition to the uncertainty and time this takes.

In less economically developed countries, it is exactly the other way around, electronics are rarely being thrown away, in this case the repair engineer's time is significantly lower than the price of most western electronic products.

The economics you are describing create throwaway culture. The problem with this is that economics cannot override ecology.

> economics cannot override ecology

The annoyance is that economics should reflect ecology.

We have an environmental levy on electronics that supposedly covers the cost of recycling the product. However, I have never seen any reports on whether it truly covers the recycling cost or if it has improved landfill diversion.

"Recycling" electronics means shipping them to Africa where they're first dumped and then burned to recover some of the metals. The results are as disastrous as you would imagine, both for the environment and the people. This is what it looks like: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/feb/27/...

Yes, perhaps, but there is no reason to expect that they will without heavy intervention to make it so.

empirically, no. people are absolutely not efficient about this. its because they dont know that there are tons of things that are 5 minutes on youtube and a screwdriver away from being fixed. that is the culture that you might call "throwaway culture". if our culture changed and everyone knew about how to fix stuff, and how to go about learning how to fix stuff, they would all do it. to me you sound silly because i have dozens of real life counter examples that undermine your claim. im not exaggerating, there are countless "broken" things that you can repair by googling for 2 minutes, buying the replacement part on amazon or ebay, and then using a screwdriver to install in 1 minute.

Maybe some are like that, but doing work like darning socks is really time-consuming and there is little incentive to do so if you can pay ten dollars for a pack of several pairs of socks.

I don't think it's even about repair, I wouldn't be surprised if most TVs being thrown out in the west are in working order.

This is more about ecology than economy. But anyway, too many people think "meh, might as well buy a new one" and throw away something that could've been easily fixed for a fraction of the cost.


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