Developing the “Maker Mentality”
I recently read an article by the inestimably marvellous Robert Llewellyn (henceforth referred to as @bobbyllew) about repairing a video camera. The article can be read here: http://bit.ly/6KLEEW and I urge everyone to read it.
In the article, @bobbyllew’s attitude bears the unmistakeable signs of “The maker mentality” – Put simply, the willingness to overcome trepidation, have a go, and see what happens. Developing this sort of attitude is probably the biggest obstacle that most people face when they want to start repairing technology.
Lots of people are unwilling to try their hand at fixing something because they think that a repair is going to be hopelessly complicated, and that something might go horribly wrong. It’s natural to feel afraid when you are venturing into the unknown, but as @bobbyllew himself says, “the camera was stuffed anyway”.
In the mind of a maker, the metaphorical camera is always stuffed. Once you get that flash of realisation – that you can’t break something that is already broken – then you are longer afraid to experiment. You will try to glue bits back on, and see what happens when you plug things in. Sometimes you will plug things in and they will explode, and other times they will start working properly. It’s always a gamble, but in most cases it’s a risk worth taking.
Hearing @bobbyllew talk about the “alien technology” made me smile. Even experienced engineers can look at a circuit and not know what it does. Engineers are not superhuman creatures with infinitely large brains. They often rely on the web, manufacturers handbooks and the experience of other engineers when they need to find something out. It is true that reading technical books will provide a deeper understanding of the principles involved, but the reality of repair work is a combination of experience and trial and error.
Engineers are faced with “alien technology” almost daily, and deal with it using a 3-step diagnostic routine:
1)Is it connected to the bit that is broken?
2)Does it smell, look burned, or has it exploded?
3)No? It’s probably not important then…..
Obviously, this diagnostic routine is only half serious. The real point is that engineers start looking for the big things first, ignoring anything that isn’t directly related to the broken device.
In about 80% of cases, a decent pair of eyes, a multimeter, and a soldering iron are all an engineer will need to fix something – but it does help to have some funky diagnostic tools to help out when looking for faults. Oscilloscopes and multi-meters can be useful for testing individual components and signals, and a decent selection of tools is a distinct advantage to anyone attempting more complicated repairs.
There is an old story about a blacksmith, who was asked “how do you learn to become a blacksmith?” He said “It all starts with a bag full of marbles. Everytime you have to make a tool to do an awkward job, you throw one of the marbles away. When you’ve got a workshop full of tools, and you’ve lost all of your marbles, then you’re a blacksmith”
A silly story, but it makes the point that you don’t start out with a well stocked tool chest. You buy the tools to do the job at hand, and they’re there when you need them. When you have collected enough tools to do pretty much any job, then you’re an engineer.
@bobbyllew includes some really good tips for repairing things in his article. Not everyone has a dedicated workshop, and a clean tea tray and gaffa tape strips are very useful for keeping your project all in one place. There is nothing better than gaffa tape for making sure that no tiny screws, springs and other technological ooajmabobs go flying off the table and land under the fridge.
There are other little tips that engineers use, like using a tiny bit of bluetac on the end of a screwdriver to stop non-magnetic screws falling off at an incovenient moment. An empty tuna tin with a magnet underneath is great for stopping screws falling out. A tuna tin with a metal scouring pad inside it is ideal for cleaning the tip of a soldering iron.
I think @bobbyllew really captured the hidden benefits of repairing things. It’s not just about saving money, it’s about the feeling of satisfaction you get when you repair something yourself. It’s about resurrecting something of sentimental value, and being able to say that you tried, even if you didn’t succeed.
I had a similar experience to Robert with an old Super8 cine camera. I had to resolder a spring and clean all of the clockwork to get it working. I’ve only used it about 3 times in as many years, but I feel comfortable with it, and I’m not afraid to use it because I know how it works, and that I will probably be able to fix it if it breaks.