Category Archives: BCM310

How to fix e-waste: a repair manual?

What happens to your old electronics once you’re finished with them? Most of us don’t really like to think about it.

We know it’s not pretty. We know ‘recycling’ is probably not exactly what happens.

If you watch the news, you may have heard of Agbogbloshie, or any of the many other e-waste dumps around the world.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution, because this is what ‘recycling’ really means:

Even when a phone is recycled through more ‘official’ means, up to 40% of the metals are lost during the smelting process. So recycling is hardly the solution.

So what is the solution? Well, there are so many problems on so many levels of the entire international electronics industry it’s overwhelming. But the most practical initiative I’ve found so far is iFixit.

iFixit’s purpose is to help people repair their electronics, rather than throwing them away. If you visit their website, you’ll find that they have lots of facts on figures about e-waste, but also lots of manuals on how to repair various electronic devices yourself. They believe that repairing and reusing/passing on electronics is not only sustainable, it’s cheaper and creates jobs. They believe recycling should be a ‘last resort’.

And when you think about it, this actually makes a lot of sense. Planned obsolescence is a problem not just with electronics, but a problem with lots of consumer products. So if we know how to repair/make our products last longer, isn’t this a good thing?

I would say ‘yes’.

Unfortunately, companies like Apple (surprise, surprise) disagree.

Take this example: iFixit publishes many manuals detailing how to repair various Apple products. However, in 2011, Apple began releasing products with brand new ‘pentalobe’ screws, which, naturally, could not be unscrewed using traditional screwdrivers.

In effect, they were purposefully making it difficult for people to repair their products, encouraging them to instead buy a brand new product when their original one could just have needed a part swap. Some companies have even gone so far as to sue and shutdown small businesses and individuals that offer repair manuals

Typical.

Lots of companies believe that repair information is ‘proprietry’ and therefore owned by the company.

This type of mindset is just unsustainable. It should not be more expensive for me to buy new ink than replace the printer altogether!

This is not ok!

Ultimately, if a company sets up an affordable, convenient parts replacement and repair system, doesn’t it mean increased chance of loyalty to the brand over a longer period of time? Companies like Dell and Lenovo are already on board.

But in the end, it’s really up to us. 

So next time your laptop starts to run a little slow, maybe take it to a repair shop, or have a look online for repair tips. It’s cheaper for you, and better for the environment.

It’s only baby steps, but it’s a start.

What Makes a Good Princess

Recently, I’ve become interested in the debate surrounding whether Disney is seriously impacting the self-esteem and self-image of young girls. (The Trouble with Disney’s Teeny Tiny Princesses, Merida from ‘Brave’ Gets an Unnecessary Makeover).

When I was little, all I ever wanted in life was to become a princess. I wanted to be beautiful and have beautiful dresses and live in an enormous castle and have everything I ever wanted.

Was this dream heavily inspired by Disney princesses?

Yes.

Did I grow up into a perfectly normal human being with reasonable levels of self-esteem.

Also yes.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a little imagination, but is it ok to be telling millions of little girls around the world that they should want to be princesses?

Well I don’t think it’s fair to dump Disney with the sole perpetuation of gender stereotypes, particularly with their most recent releases of Frozen and Princess and the Frog, which both put a different twist on what it means to be a ‘princess’.

But even in the earlier, perhaps more ‘sexist’ Disney princess films, I would argue that many, whilst restricted to the gender norms of the times, promote bravery, courage and initiative as ‘princess’ qualities to aspire to.

But let’s take a look at some other strong female characters inspiring children these days.

Astrid (How to Train Your Dragon– aka my favourite movie ever)

Astrid is the ultimate viking: strong, brave and tiny bit bloodthirsty. She wears skulls on her belt and wields an axe which is easily heavier than anything I could lift. She’s also smart, regularly outwitting the boys. A role model? I think so.

Merida (Brave)

She’s Scottish, rides a horse, is awesome with a bow and arrow and refuses to marry any of the hopeless fellows offered to her, instead ‘claiming her own hand in marriage’.

Rapunzel (Tangled)

Not only does she chop off her traditional, princessy ‘long blonde hair’ at the end of the movie, she also proposes to her man, rather than the other way round. Gender stereotypes mashed up? I think so.

Now, I want to make it clear that I don’t think all the Disney films are perfect. There’s definitely still a loooonnnnggg way to go. The fact of the matter is, all the characters are still very disproportionate, with large eyes and tiny waists (see ‘if Disney Princesses had realistic waistlines).

But I don’t think anyone can reasonably blame Disney alone for poisoning young girls’ perceptions of what it means to be female. Disney, as we have seen, is trying very hard to keep up with the times by trying to empower young girls whilst still maintaining that ‘princess mystique’ that’s been capturing audiences for decades.

Let’s not forget that gender stereotypes come from all sorts of places.

There’s still plenty wrong with how media portrays women, but I think we have definitely come a long way from Snow White cleaning up after seven dwarves with the help of magical woodland creatures.

A 5 Step Guide on Piracy for Media Corporations Everywhere

So if you’re Australian, and you illegally downloaded the film Dallas Buyers Club, you could be feeling pretty worried right about now. That’s because Dallas Buyers Club just won a case against iiNet and some other smaller providers, forcing them to give the personal details of people who were caught downloading their film. This Guardian article gives a good summary of the situation.

I have a few issues with this case, such as:

How is it fair for a multinational company to go after smaller Australian providers like iiNet? Obviously the bigger company will have superior legal advice. They quite purposefully didn’t target Telstra or Optus.

And following that, targeting individuals who did download the film, regardless of personal circumstances, also seems more than a little dodgy.

FBI's priorities (GIF from The Simpsons S25E09 Steal This Episode) - Imgur
FBI’s priorities (GIF from The Simpsons S25E09 Steal This Episode) – Imgur

Australia is well known for its piracy rates. But it is also well known that there are so many barriers to access in this country that its hard to count them. For example, geoblocking, price discrimination, staggered release and just generally being downright unavailable for legal purchase.

Now, I’m not saying that everything should be free. I’m more than happy to pay a reasonable price for a good product. That’s not the issue. The issue is that downloading illegally is just much more convenient and user-oriented than pretty much anything else available at the moment.

About now is probably when you’re asking “what about Netflix? Didn’t it just get released in Australia?

Why yes, yes it did. 

But there’s a few problems with it as well, such as a significantly smaller catalogue.

Of course, there are plenty of Australians using a VPN to use and pay for the far-superior American Netflix. But an email leaked by WikiLeaks revealed that Sony tried to lobby Netflix into cracking down on these users. Apparently Australians are not paying for the material using the desired method. How ironic.

Truly, the lengths these industries go to never ceases to amaze me!
They are presented with an enormous opportunity (the arrival of a way to spread their products all around the world at minimal cost ie the internet), and they get bogged down with unproductive law suits and rights bargaining?

It seems a little bit childish and just a tiny bit greedy.

So, if I could get all the heads of these corporations in one room and try and talk some sense into them, this is what I’d say:

1. This is a compliment! People all around the world love your product so much that they are willing to go out of their way to view it. You have something that people want.

2. Accept the arrival of the internet. Seriously, it’s here, it’s not going away. There will always be ways for people to get your material without paying: that’s just the nature of the internet. The old methods of distribution just don’t cut it anymore. And if you don’t keep up (which you haven’t) then people will continue on without you (which they have).

3. If you provide something that’s better than illegally downloading, people will go for it. It’s not that we want everything for free, we just don’t appreciate being treated as second-rate customers. Why should we pay higher prices for things provided for us later than the rest of the world for something we may only watch once? Pirating has its issues too (viruses, mis-named material). Give us something better!

Credit: Bizmac Flickr

4. Stop giving Netflix (and the other up-and-coming streaming sites) such a hard time. They’re out there trying to save the industry and undermining them by refusing to provide rights will only hurt everyone in the end. This is the future! Embrace it! Just imagine if you made a dollar off every Australian for every Game of Thrones episode they would have otherwise pirated? That’s a lot of money.

5. Please, please, stop treating the whole situation like it’s just ‘those darn young people breaking the law again’. It’s not. It’s an access problem and always has been. The sooner you recognise the problem for what it is, the sooner you can set about rectifying it.

So, in a nutshell, we are at a turning point. If we keep going down this road of prosecuting the little guys, a whole industry is at risk. I’ve talked about this plenty of times before (I’ll list the links at the bottom), there’s not a lot of independent research out there on why people pirate. Isn’t it about time we do some?

This whole situation is quickly spiralling out of control, and we will all be watching with bated breath to see how the next few months progress.

Past blog links (for those interested)

Baby Steps for the Music Industry

An Outdated Way of Thinking

Web of Lies

Learning the language

You may or may not have seen Black Fish, a documentary that looks at the serious issues surrounding training killer whales at Sea World.

If you haven’t, you should.

In a nutshell, the documentary follows the tragic life story of Tilikum, a whale captive since youth, all the way to the point where he killed a trainer.

Interestingly, the documentary does not label Tilikum as inherently dangerous, but rather warped by years in tough, constrained environments. It is equally interesting that the trainers are depicted as caring, and having deep emotional connections with their whales. This is not a documentary about placing blame, but about giving facts, even when not everyone wants them to be spread about.

Two killer whales jump above the sea surface, showing their black, white and grey coloration. The closer whale is upright and viewed from the side, while the other whale is arching backward to display its underside.
Killer whales jumping

I agree with the message of the documentary; keeping such large animals captive in those conditions is detrimental to everyone involved. As we see, multiple trainers have been injured or killed and the pods from which the whales are taken mourn the loss of their young ones.The whales themselves suffer because we still do not understand them completely.

This is the aspect I’m most interested in: understanding the whales.

In one part, the documentary talks about how each whale pod uses an entirely separate language to communicate with others in the pod. It also speculates that this might be the reason whales in captivity do not get along so well, often physically harming one another. If they cannot understand each other, they cannot get along.

I tried to do my own research on killer whales, and to my surprise, there isn’t actually a whole lot to be found. They are still relatively unknown creatures, particularly in the wild. So how could it ever be assumed safe to take such a large, mysterious animal out of its natural environment and put it under high amounts of stress?

Unfortunately, our lack of understanding of animals is not restricted to killer whales. If you look hard enough, almost all our interactions with animals are plagued with incidences of harm caused by our inability to understand them, even though we think we are showing care. Examples include race-horse whipping and poorly equipped zoos with good intentions.

What’s the solution?

More research. Lots and lots of research. The more we know, the better we can interact. As much as Black Fish shows us a terrible situation, it does also represent progress. Our understanding is ever increasing. We have higher standards for abattoirs, an emphasis on free-range foods and wildlife parks whose emphasis is solely on conservation and research. Much of the world is against whaling.

The more we understand, the better we can treat the animals in our world. And the fact that we are starting to realise that is a very good sign.