-Tom Lidikay

California lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require technology manufacturers to provide repair guides, schematics, and other plans, as well as repair parts and components to customers. It would allow for people who own hardware to either repair it themselves, or take it to a technician who can.

I am generally in favor of this, and a tiny bit dismayed that it had to be legislated, but that doesn’t surprise me all that much.

If you would like to read more about the bill itself, there are online resources.

But I would like to take a moment to discuss why I am in favor of this, and how I came to form this opinion.

The Backend of most IT is more troublesome to maintain than you thought

The year is 2018, and the face of technology is a sleek one. Whether it is a thin new laptop, a glossy, clean datacenter, or a tidy assemblage of cables, it would appear we have things under control. But just beneath the surface, all of that was once hastily cobbled together in a mish mash fashion. We are truly “standing upon the shoulders of giants” when it comes to modern technology. Even some of the most seemingly polished technology.
The unveiling of the iphone was more high tech theater than anything

I am intimately familiar with the philosophy of “just make it work” from my own experience. I recall a time when we had a server built up with a demo of a software product, that needed to be shipped out the next day. The actual vendor shall remain nameless, but we ended up with a brand new server chassis, straight off the assembly line and shipped to us. It was their latest iteration of server hardware, and had many bells and whistles in the form of a fancy new BIOS, and we quickly began to put our OS and software packages on it. But we ran into a major hold up. Our application required amazingly fast solid state hard disks, and we had sourced our own, outside of the companies line up of drives. When it had come time to install our 6 drives, we realized the company had only sent two trays to hold them in the chassis.

The trays in a server are incredibly important, when the drives are held in a hot-swappable position. They need to be able to carry the drive as it is slid into the server, and mate it with the SATA port in the back of the slot just so, and hold it there so there is no risk of it falling out. You can’t just fake that, there are no interface cables, its just drive to board.

When we asked the vendor about this, they happily informed us no spare parts had been even manufactured for this model of server, it was too new. Only enough were made for the initial production run. Even if they had, odds were pretty slim a local distributor would even have them.

With a requirement that this box be on a plane out of country the next morning, we had to come up with something. So, that is when I, the junior tech with a crown vic trunks worth of tools, ran downstairs, grabbed my drill and a dremel, and set about modifying the blanks that the server had shipped with.

The slot blanks were never intended to perform this purpose. But I carefully measured, cut, glued, and ground down plastic until it would reasonably hold a drive in place to be inserted into the machine. It looked ugly as hell with it out of the machine, but when installed, it looked great! We shipped the machine like that. It performed the demo with reasonable efficiency, and was shipped back in country. Some months later we finally received the proper trays.

Ask any IT person around, and they can probably come up with a story of similar caliber, when circumstances forced them to “make it work”. Keeping the organization running is often of highest priority, manufacturer recommendations be damned. That being said, none of us like situations like this. We stay extra hours, and implement less than ideal solutions we would rather not have. Having the parts and resources matters.

So yes, anything that puts hardware back in technicians hands, I am all in favor of. The demise of electronics stores across the country has been something of a concern to myself, as it puts a solution that much farther out of immediate reach.
Radioshack is almost entirely gone

Most of the small electronics shops near me here in los angeles have folded up, or suffered from shelf rot. Some cling on to shelves of aging components, which while interesting, are not exactly going to be keeping an enterprise running anytime soon. My local bestbuy hardly stocks any PC components these days, with most of its massive floor space devoted to consumer electronics, phone cases, and cheap stereo systems.

Granting people a right to repair is a good thing. Perhaps it is a conversation for another day, but we also need to grant them the ability to repair, as well.