Fixing your PC with a hairdryer

“I look at clouds from both sides now” Joni Mitchell

The thing about my generation is we expect things to last for years, if not decades. My 12-year-old laptop, for example, has recently gone to a good home for a parcel of bunyas (more about that later). The new laptop, meanwhile, bosses me about, telling me to back up data in the cloud, wherever that is. The why of that appears to be based on the need to keep a retrievable copy of all your irreplaceable photos, videos, and music in the likely event your cheap new laptop, tablet or PC blows a fuse. Most of the computer-savvy people I know buy a portable hard drive from the Post Office and back up their own data. Then they will spend countless hours tweaking, customising, and nursing their computers along into the old age they were never designed to have. The wastemakers have been at this game for a long time, and the constantly evolving world of computers and consumer goods has delivered a highly profitable new generation of planned obsolescence.
So no surprise to learn I’m patiently waiting for the next Fixit Café (a fortnightly community effort in our village), to yet again repair our ancient lawn mower. This time it needs a perished fuel line replaced (I paid $3 for the part). Last time a Fixit Cafe volunteer replaced the mower’s broken starter cord ($4 for a length of cord). The time before that the front wheels fell off. I took the mower to a repair shop. The bloke looked at me like I was an impractical folk musician with long fingernails. “Mate,’ he said. “It’s not worth fixing.” I looked up petrol mowers on Google and decided I didn’t need to pay $700 to mow a garage-sized piece of lawn every three weeks or so. I tied the front wheels on with fencing wire and carried on regardless. It reminded me of the time I took the then new-ish mower in for a service in Brisbane. The mechanic looked in the oil reservoir then looked at me as if I had just played the first two bars of Duelling Banjos: “Mate, there’s no oil in here! It’s a wonder it was working at all.”
Dear old mower, with your fist-sized rust holes, wired-up wheels and blue smoke. I’m sure the friendly folk at the Fixit Café will do the right thing by you.
The Fixit Café is a concept started in Amsterdam, with the primary aim of making things last longer and sending less garbage to landfill. We go along to the Community Centre every second Thursday with our broken stuff, pay $5 and wait for a volunteer to fix it.
Around the same time as the mower cord broke, I was having this weird problem with my desktop computer. The bloody thing is only six years old! Most mornings it would not power up (although the green power light on the back was flashing). I found the solution on an HP support site.
The best way to fix this problem, they said, was to get a hair dryer and blow warm air into the power vent for a few minutes. (It may not work for you, but it worked for me). The only issue was when She Who Reads Newspapers wanted to use the hairdryer.
Eventually I accepted that I would have to replace the desktop with something more reliable. The local computer shop had a new laptop for $849. My first laptop (the one mentioned at the outset), cost $3360 in 2002. The $849 version has 8GB of RAM, a 2GB video card, 750GB of hard drive storage, card readers and other stuff that no-one understands except Geek Boys (and girls).
IT equipment and accessories are now very cheap, but don’t expect anything to last. They are being assembled at warp speed in offshore sweatshops by poor people earning $1 an hour. The young guy in the computer shop told me that while laptops are getting cheaper all the time, they don’t last. He seemed genuinely amazed that my old laptop was still working (on Windows XP). The battery died, so I kept it plugged in all the time. The keyboard was also dead so I used a $20 USB keyboard. The fan no longer worked so I bought one of those USB fan bases for $20 and no longer got the message that the cooling system had failed and to shut down the machine and return it to the authorised dealer. Whatever.
So I bought the $849 laptop, stapled the receipt to the 12-month warranty and retired the old desktop PC to the music studio (it just needed a new power supply unit). Then I decided to let go of the XP laptop, which happily coincided with a local LETS (Local Energy Transfer System) market. LETS is a local, not-for-profit community enterprise that records transactions of members exchanging goods and services by using LETS Credits (known as ‘bunyas’ in The Village). So the 2002 laptop went to a good home for 50 bunyas, which I plan to “spend” by employing a young person to mow my lawns (using the old mower, soon to be resurrected by the Fixit Café).
This will give me time to confront the daunting nature of Windows 7 (“at least you didn’t get Windows 8”) I hear you say. Times have moved on since Windows 98 and XP. Computer users are encouraged to trust people they don’t know who live who knows where to store all of their confidential files, contact lists, photos, videos, audio files and so on in anonymous data banks located, well, somewhere.
Many of us do this already without realising. Like on Facebook, where we post photos, videos, audio clips and inane or inflammatory comments that are stored off-site for what may end up being a very long time. Far too many of us have our confidential banking details stored in the cloud. If the recent hacking of Ebay was not a warning sign I don’t know what is.
Like it or not, we are all enslaved to this brilliantly flawed technology – its makers rolling out new versions and updates so fast it makes planned obsolescence seem obsolete. I’ll bet that when the late Vance Packard wrote The Waste Makers in 1960 he was probably not thinking it would still be around 54 years later – in paperback and ebook!
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