About Things We Build and Fix

When I was last night again fixing old Nokia N73 cellular phone (needed a touch of soldering iron to make volume button to work again) I remember this article I saw few days ago.

Are engineers early adopters? article claims that engineers aren’t early adopters of the latest technology. They are more like past the peak of the adoption curve. It’s not because engineers don’t like technology, instead it’s because engineers know how to keep older technology running longer than the general population. We fix and upgrade older technology when others simply replace it.

Me doing some small fixes to my smarphone, PC and some more electronics, is for sure keeping older technology running longer.

One Are engineers early adopters? article comment says: “Engineers are early adopters of truly new technology, but are not early adopters of trendy marketing or technology that is not a significant improvement over technology that already exists.”

I am curious by nature, so new technologies/products are first reviewed on-line, tested in the store, looked at on social networks for word of mouth/experiences then purchased if all checks out. I want to know the pros and cons of the new technology. Usually only the pros get marketed to the end consumer through reviews.

Another interesting article mentioned at Why We Love Things We Build Ourselves Slashdot posting mentions article Unfolding the IKEA Effect: Why We Love the Things We Build. The IKEA Effect refers to the tendency for people to value things they have created/built themselves more than if made by someone else. Research suggests that by asking consumers to do a little legwork, you can increase their belief in the value of the product they have created, even if it would have been better constructed by professionals. Study demonstrates that this sense of personal accomplishment is powerful on its own, without any social influence.

Would the IKEA effect hold in more complex situations? Is this the reason that open source software proponents are so “enthusiastic” about their products while the general market resists them? The proponents of them had a hand in developing them. All interesting questions for future research!


  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    This Isn’t Your Mother’s Iron

    I remember the days when mom and dad would say, “Things aren’t built like they used to be.” That was more than 40 years ago. Now it’s me telling my kids the same thing. I was too young to really appreciate the high level of build quality back then.

    If price is a reflection of quality, we are now buying good irons. However, these are so poorly engineered that replacement is inevitable. In fact, we regularly save the receipts and boxes to return them as they fail. Sometimes the product lasts a month, and sometimes it lasts six months, but invariably they all fail.

    I’ve replaced or repaired the cords on these new models a few times. But these are different from my mom’s iron; these were not really intended to continue on after a cord replacement. Just opening these irons is a challenge.

    Yet all this cord business is usually irrelevant — the iron fails before the cord needs replacing.

  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The joys of tinkering

    With tinkering and observation comes design instinct and applied knowledge that’s hard to get any other way.

    We know that many of our best students grow up tinkering but many more arrive at college lacking practical know-how. But put a soldering iron in their hands and the magic begins. In freshman practicum, students solder small elements to a printed circuit board to build, say, an AM radio receiver or audio oscillator. We’ve found the female students to be more dexterous and get the soldering job done faster than their male counterparts. Suddenly the women feel like they belong to the “club.” It’s fun to see their confidence build. Once students get a taste of electrical engineering, they have a reason to study core subjects like circuits, calculus, and physics.

    But one big obstacle remains at RIT and other engineering campuses.

    Each of those lab courses requires students to have ready access to a fully equipped electronic laboratory. I’ve often thought, “If we could only provide a way to let them tinker more on their own.”

    However, I am now evaluating a small electronic module about the size of a deck of cards that could significantly impact the way we deliver practical lab-based content. The Analog Discovery module from Digilent Inc. and Analog Devices Inc. is intended to substitute for the typical $5,000 instrument cluster of oscilloscope, signal generator, and power supply in university labs and provide users with their own “electronic sandbox” to tinker and observe

    Some of my colleagues are rightfully concerned about the teaching effectiveness of this new online delivery method. However, the reality is that most of the world’s prospective engineering students are still waiting for the opportunity to gain access to engineering courses. It’s sad that only the privileged few have a chance to attend top-flight engineering schools. Why shouldn’t all creative minds in the world benefit? It’s going to happen. I choose to participate.

  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    6 famous people you may not know are engineers

    Take a look at six well-known, even famous, people who have an engineer’s mind and skills, but who have been acclaimed for talents other than engineering.

  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    But many people enjoy creating things in and of itself.

    The whole idea of “why build when I can buy” is why people are so much worse at making things that mostly work, fully work than they used to be. Building things is fun. If it’s also significantly cheaper, and nearly as good, why not learn something on the way?

    Source: http://tech.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3871255&cid=44022289

  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    We Need a Fixer (Not Just a Maker) Movement

    The spectacle of dead goods coming back to life isn’t just useful — for the locals, it’s transformative. “I was a totally different person after they fixed my laptop,” says Nicole DeLuca, a filmmaker who had her MacBook repaired last year. “It made me realize I didn’t need to buy new every time something breaks.”

    You’ve heard about the “maker movement,” the geeks who’ve been rebooting America’s craft tradition. It’s a grassroots success story, refueling interest in engineering and giving kids practical skills with tools. But now we need something new. We need to apply those maker skills to what we already own, giving broken devices a new lease on life.

    We need, in short, a fixer movement. This would be a huge cultural shift. In the 20th century, U.S. firms aggressively promoted planned obsolescence, designing things to break. Buying new was our patriotic duty: “We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace,” marketer Victor Lebow wrote in 1955.

    Today e-waste has become one of the fastest-growing categories of refuse. We chucked out 2.4 million tons of it in 2010 and recycled just 27 percent. And “recycling” often means shipping electronics overseas, where the toxic parts pollute developing countries. It’s a mess. A fixer movement could break this century-old system.

  6. Tomi Engdahl says:

    These Do-It-Yourself Robots Make Life Easier
    Examining three homemade robots built by hobbyists

    You don’t have to live in a Jettsonian’s retrofuture to enjoy the luxury of robot servitude; plenty of DIY robotics projects exist to take over the more burdensome aspects of your life. These DIYers created their own robots to fulfill a range of functions, from shoveling snow in –40°C weather to monitoring the home via a mobile platform.

  7. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Will DIY trend “Spark-Fun” back into Heathkit

    Today, there is a growing trend today in DIY as evidenced by the ten of thousands attending the 2013 Maker Faire in the Bay Area last month. “The Faire draws tinkerers, inventors, artists, engineers, Burners — and those who love to see their work. A knot of traffic surrounded the fairgrounds stretching out to the freeway as an estimated 100,000 attended the two-day event2. Why all this “hullabaloo” on DIY?”

    Will this DIY trend spark life from bankruptcy into Heath Kit?

  8. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Bigshot do-it-yourself camera hits the market

    When you buy a Bigshot camera, be prepared to go to work. These cameras, specifically designed for kids, come in a kit of all of the necessary parts to build your own simple digital camera. So if you have young kids who might be interested, be prepared to do it yourself to help them.

    The Bigshot camera dates back to early 2010, when we blogged about how prototypes of the kit had been sent out to kids in New York, Bengaluru, India, and Vung Tao, Vietnam. Now, following years of testing and tweaking the design based on feedback, the camera has finally hit the market.

    Developed by Shree Nayar, chairman of Columbia University’s computer science department and director of the Computer Vision Laboratory, Bigshots were created in order to educate children on how cameras work, and what exactly comprises them.

    “It’s about getting kids’ hands dirty,” Bigshot’s creator, Prof Shree Nayar, told the BBC News Network. “In an age when software rules I want kids to know how to build hardware.”

    Personally, I think the concept of the Bigshot is refreshing.

  9. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Top 10 Essential DIY Skills That Aren’t as Hard as You Think

    Thankfully, there are quite a few DIY skills out there that are much easier to learn than you think. Here are our 10 favorites.

    10. Coding
    9. Working with Electronics
    8. Sewing
    7. Auto Maintenance
    6. Home Repair
    5. Cooking
    4. Photo Editing
    3. Building a Computer from Scratch
    2. Jailbreaking/Rooting Your Phone
    1. Emergency Preparedness

  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Wackadoo DIYers scissor-kick beatboxer
    Oxford English Dictionary in linguistic death spiral?

    On the roster of almost 900 new words, new subentries and new senses we find that “beatboxer” “bestie”, “chugger”, “DIYer”, “honky-tonker”, “Old Etonian” “toilet attendant” and “scimitar oryx” have now gained sufficient linguistic weight to merit a nod.

  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    iFixit boss: Apple has ‘done everything it can to put repair guys out of business’
    New plan to make fixing iOS gadgets easier and rewarding

    Fixing and upgrading iOS devices can be a rewarding business opportunity, so long as you don’t mind having to fight Apple every step of the way.

    So says the founder of iFixit, who spoke at the MacWorld Expo in San Francisco on Thursday. The repair outfit’s CEO Kyle Wiens said there is little or no information for servicing the handheld gizmos: everything his company does, from its famous tear downs of new hardware to the manuals and how-to guides it publishes, are put together without any more access to Apple than is enjoyed by the average person on the street.

    He said that not only does Apple make fixing its fiddly electronics extremely difficult, but doing so with the blessing of the company is practically impossible: Apple’s authorized technician certification apparently only applies to Mac computers, rather than iThings, and even that qualification is becoming more difficult to obtain.

    “They [Apple] have done everything they can to put these guys [third party repairers] out of business,” claimed Wiens.

  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Rebuilding a Custom IC Saves HP Pulse Generator

    The HP chip was a relatively simple design, so simple that he was able to reverse engineer the entire schematic from the die images.

    he built a drop in replacement on a two layer PCB. This time he used discrete transistors and resistors to replicate the ECL logic

  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Customisation is BAD for the economy, say Oz productivity wonks
    Bakers today, modders and makers tomorrow

    Australia’s Productivity Commission is complaining that high-value, highly-customised – artesan, in fact – products are a drag on national productivity.

    In its latest productivity report, the nation’s flint-eyed economists have decided that the best thing for the economy is for every possible product to sink into an identical low-cost, indistinguishable grey goo, apparently, like the generic “food” from the 1984 cult classic Repo Man.

    Even worse, it’s really difficult to come up with any way to measure the economic value of product quality: “the higher quality of some of the output produced with these additional inputs may not be fully reflected in the measures of real value added growth for the subsector”.

  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Amateur radio experiences DIY renaissance

    When amateurs began experimenting with radio more than a century ago, they had no choice but to build everything they needed. Some went on to become successful entrepreneurs, selling their creations to fellow hobbyists who were more interested in operating radios than in constructing them. Others built their own receivers and transmitters either from economic necessity or for the fun and satisfaction of being able to say, “I did it myself.”

    After World War II, the market was flooded with surplus electronic components that could be bought in bulk for less than the cost of manufacture.

    Step-by-step instructions virtually eliminated the risk of failure. No one embraced Heathkits more enthusiastically than the amateur-radio community.

    The advent of solid-state devices, printed circuit boards, and automatic parts insertion removed the price advantage that kits enjoyed. By the time the Heath Company closed its doors in 1992, most amateur-radio equipment was being manufactured in Japan.

    But Heathkit’s demise did not spell the end of home construction in amateur radio. Anyone who has ever made a two-way radio contact with simple equipment they built on their own workbench or kitchen table will tell you that it’s a thrilling experience. One of the many thriving subcultures in amateur radio is the QRP community, named for the international Morse code signal for “decrease power.”

    Today, the fruits of a kit-builder’s labors can be slipped into a backpack, along with a battery and a roll of wire for a day of hiking, with space left over for lunch.

    You might (or might not, depending on where you are) be able to get a signal on your smartphone, but it is truly liberating to be able to communicate using equipment you’ve built yourself — using just the natural phenomenon of radio-wave propagation and without a trillion dollars’ worth of telecommunications infrastructure.

    Society relies ever more heavily on a fragile telecommunications infrastructure that is susceptible to overload and outright failure. We can’t substitute for all that infrastructure. But we can communicate, no matter what.

  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    It’s official: You can now legally carrier-unlock your mobile in the US
    Tomorrow belongs to us, says iFixit boss

    “Our right to modify and repair our products has been under attack for decades,” he said. “This is a pivotal moment: the first time that Congress and the President have publicly recognized that a consumer’s right to modify their own electronics trumps the interests of big corporations.”

  16. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Hamfests & Electronic Flea Markets: What’s Not to Love?

    Isn’t it amazing how one thing leads to another? But I fear we’re in danger of wandering off into the weeds. The reason for this column is that I recently attended the 2014 Huntsville Hamfest, and I made off like a bandit with all sorts of goodies.

    One of the items on my to-do list was to grab as many antique analog meters as I could find (and afford). I’ve started to use these in all sorts of projects, because they look so amazingly cool.

  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Welcome to the Old School: Restoring Antique Radios

    Before the second world war Radio was a revolution in mass-communication much like the internet today. Fortunes were made and lost, empires built, epic patent battles ensued, all of which resulted in the world being more connected than ever before

    In the early days radios were very expensive consumer devices costing as much or more than an automobile or a house in some cases. For this reason many listeners resorted to building their own.

    Danger, Danger, High Voltage!

    Be very careful when working with old radio equipment. Yes, these radios have very high voltage potentials inside. Many even tie the hot end of the line directly to their metal chassis (known as Hot Chassis radios), notably most of the post-war table top radios.

    Antique radios can be functional statement pieces, showing both your appreciation for the old styles and your ability to repair just about anything. This hobby is well within the reach of anyone with basic electronics skills.

  18. Tomi Engdahl says:

    World Maker Faire: engineering, creativity, and inspiration

    If you need evidence that engineering is changing, that new doors to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are opening to the masses, and that companies that have been the foundation of innovation for decades are revising their approach, go to a Maker Faire.


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