2011-11-10

The lost art of mending.

A couple of years ago one of my Alesis M1 speakers stopped working.  These are powered studio monitors, which means they have a PSU in each speaker and an embedded amplifier.  This is a known issue for these speakers.  The problem is a 2 watt resistor that is mounted too close to an electrolytic capacitor, so the resistor heats up and over time ends up frying the capacitor.

At the time when this happened I didn't bother googling it, so I just noted the problem and dropped the speaker off at a company that my local dealer of sound equipment recommended.

It took them a couple of weeks to fix and the bill was for about $500-600.  The guy had just thrown out the PSU, ordered a brand new one and put it in.

Of course, the other PSU failed shortly after.

Not wanting to spend another chunk of cash, this time I researched the issue a bit.  All in all it took me 3 minutes of googling to figure out what was wrong.  At the time I didn't have a selection of components lying around, so I had to spend 3-4 minutes online finding and ordering the components.  They arrived 2 days later and then it took me all of 10 minutes to get set up, replace the components (with somewhat uprated components) and verify that the repair worked.

Total component cost was something in the area of $2-3 and then I had nine spare sets of components, so if the problem returns I can fix it easily.  Any idiot can fix it.

What depresses me is that people don't know how to fix things.  The dude in the shop apparently had no useful skills.  Because if he did he could have saved himself the hassle of ordering (and waiting for) a new part, and he could have saved me a huge bill and perhaps seen some return business.

I see the same thing with my car.  Every spring and every fall I switch to or from winter wheels and I stored the other set at this company.  The last time I picked up my car, one of the wheel nuts was missing and about 4-5 of the remaining wheel nuts had been over-torqued thus destroying them.  You would think that when you pay someone to do this, and they do this for a living, they would be able to do a better job.  Even I know that you can't apply arbitrary amounts of torque to the wheel nuts, and I am not a mechanic -- I don't do wheel changes for a living.

About once per year I go to the local landfill to get rid of things I don't need.  Thankfully, they have various recycling stations there so I can at least hope that some of the things I get rid of there actually are recycled responsibly.  But I am still depressed when I drive home.  So much STUFF.  And most of it still usable -- and a lot of the stuff that is broken should be easily fixable.

If you care about the environment you should care about the fixability of your gadgets.  You can buy carbon offsets or take part in all manner of feelgood environmental nonsense,  but the fact is that the device you are using to read this blog posting will end up in a landfill when it breaks or when you get a new gadget.  Because you are not going to fix it, and I am pretty sure you do not know of anyone capable, willing or qualified to fix it either.  It might end up in some third world country where some kid is going to set fire to it to get the metals out of it -- releasing noxious gases.

If you have kids or you want a hobby: lots of gadgets have cool components that you can scavenge. Rather than throwing away that useless printer, rip it apart and have a look inside.  There's lots of fun stuff inside that you can build interesting toys from.  And it isn't hard.  You don't have to be a genius to play with these things.  Get an Arduino and learn.

I think we need to make it cool to know how to fix stuff again.

7 comments:

  1. In many parts of the world (China, India, South America ..) people still fix things.

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  2. @Mammux indeed, and I have an aunt in south america who owns a garage -- and if you are a mechanic in Paraguay you have to know how to manufacture, improvise or redesign car parts yourself. But I fear that as more and more of the world becomes more prosperous, they are going to adopt our wasteful ways as well.

    I actually asked the people at the landfill if it was okay if I dropped by to scavenge parts. Of course they wouldn't let me -- which means that rather than grabbing four Nema 17 stepper motors I saw there I ordered three of them from China. Which is a depressingly stupid waste of resources.

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  3. @Borud they have to say no. But, if you explain it to them, they normally (err, or at least once in a while) agree to "look somewhere else for 2-3 minutes" ;)

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  4. Amen. I have an old Rotel 980bx amplifier that's developed a 50Hz hum. The shop's approach is to exchange the entire contents with an (in essence) new amplifier. For a corresponding cost, of course. I wouldn't think it would be hat much to fix. Got any tips on where to find resources for doing that?

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  5. @henrik yes, and I guess it is in part because of liability concerns and in part perhaps because they have vendors downstream that "extract value" from the junk. (though I would like to know what guarantees there are for the rubbish not ending up in third world countries).

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  6. @glaserud I'm no electronics expert so I would first look google a bit for that particular problem with that particular amplifier and then possibly broaden the search to "amplifier" and "50hz hum".

    If I were to guess, it sounds like the PSU either has a broken filtering capacitor or that a recitifier diode has gone dicky? I'd check an electronics forum for tips on diagnosing the problem.

    (Also, I'd check for obvious visual cues. For instance, if components are visibly damaged from heat. Also turn the circuit board over and see if you can spot burnt spots. All three of the circuit boards in my M1 speakers had two brown spots because of components that got hot. One of the hot spots being exactly where the 2 watt resistor fried the capacitor)

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  7. @Borud @glaserud I bet my two cents on the filter cap. If the bridge rectifier died, I suspect it would black out completely or blow a fuse (depending on the failure mode)

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