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Consumers Starting To Realize Gadgets Can Be Fixed 270

An anonymous reader writes "Consumers seem to be paying more attention to the possibility of fixing gadgets instead of sending them to the landfill. It may be because 10gb in your iPod is more than enough for any normal person, it may be a deep, abiding love for the environment or it may just be the price. A New York Times article explores how new sites like FixYa and old standbys like Macintouch can aid the average user in restoring their 'slightly used' gear. Practically every gadget has their own website devoted to helping owners help each other deal with problems that arise. I personally like AVS Forum for my living room needs. From the article: 'Most other gadgets come with batteries that are easy to replace without custom tools. Replacement batteries for cellphones are often marked up by the devices' manufacturers, while third-party replacements are often available for 60 percent to 80 percent less. Companies offering replacement batteries for iPods often offer better batteries with higher capacities and longer lifetimes., for instance, sells a 1,200-milliamp-hour battery that will replace the 600-milliamp-hour battery that shipped with a fourth-generation iPod -- an improvement that lets the Web site claim that the repaired iPod will "last 100 percent longer."'"
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Consumers Starting To Realize Gadgets Can Be Fixed

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  • Go PS2! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:19PM (#21287263) Homepage Journal
    I'm fixed my PS2 several times when it's stopped reading discs thanks to online guides.

    Bought the thing used in 2003 for under 100 bucks and she's still holding together thanks to the great fix-it communities. (And I'm generally horrible at hardware)
    • Re:Go PS2! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Mursk ( 928595 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:45PM (#21287569)
      Yep, the PS2 is a good example of something that is not too hard to open up and troubleshoot a little. Also comes in handy when/if you want to modify it to use Swap Magic (which I've done both with an older fat PS2 and a newer slim one) or, I suppose, install a mod chip (haven't done this since Swap Magic seemed easier/cheaper/less risky).

      One of the things keeping me from buying a PS3 is the fact that I feel like I'll be less comfortable taking a look under the hood. I'm a ME, not and EE, and I've learned that it's REALLY important to limit the dollar-amount of damage I can do when it comes to the more complex gadgets. I can never figure out how to get the magic smoke back in those little chips...

  • Welcome back! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:19PM (#21287275)
    Fixing stuff is nothing new. Until the 80s or so fixng everything was common. A lot of the problems are due to one of two things: people want an upgrade anyway, and something breaking is a good excuse; massive integration makes it harder, if not impossible, to service some devices.
    • with less integrated stuff, fix-it-yourself was more of an option. I don't know how I'd go about trying to "fix" something where some resistor or cap on the board had gone bad.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AuMatar ( 183847 )
        Replace that single board, keeping the rest of the parts. If you have 9 failed ipods, 3 with bad batteries, 3 with dead hard drives, 3 with bad mainboards and can identify which parts work on each, you can repair 6 of the units. Only the dead mainboards are a real problem.
      • >I don't know how I'd go about trying to "fix" something where some resistor or cap on the board had gone bad.

        Uh, by grabbing a soldering iron and replacing said resistor or cap? Discrete components like that are pretty standardized, and generally dirt cheap.

        Now if the failed component is a specialized ASIC or contains proprietary firmware, you might be out of luck if the OEM won't sell you the part you need...
        • surface mount chips can be another problem - tiny connections requiring special equipment to fix.

          The biggest problem is that stuff off a manufacturing line is cheaper than one installed by hand -

          Especially when the manufacturing labor is in China and the repair labor is in the USA.
          • The problem is people refuse to buy the proper equipment. When electronics came out, we started using soldering irons instead of wrenches. Why would it be any different nowadays? A nice thin soldering iron isn't that expensive, and neither is an SMT rework station. Reworking SMT might require a little more care and possibly a mangnifying glass, but it's nowhere near impossible, at least for non-BGA packages. Once you get to BGA and beyond, you do need some more expensive equipment, but as usual the window w
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by billdar ( 595311 ) *
              Back at my old company, we used to re-mound BGA chips using a heat gun. Sure it'd warp the cheap FR4 boards a little, but it would work 80% of the time.

              The trick was to tin the pads on the PCB first, then apply a thin smear of flux. We had this cool pine-tar type flux, that if exposed to air would get a little sticky.

              The BGA chip (3-com network I believe) was oriented and "stuck" in position with the flux. The heat gun was applied to the under side of the board for ~45 seconds.

              Common problems asso

    • Re:Welcome back! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gonarat ( 177568 ) * on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:42PM (#21287539)

      Until the late '70s / early '80s, things were designed to be fixable. I remember going to the store with my Dad to get a cord for my Mom's clothes iron. The iron was designed so it could be opened up so that the old cord could be replaced. The power cord would fray from use over time and need to be replaced, but the iron itself was designed to last for years.

      Now the iron is designed to be disposable. There is no way to replace the cord even if the iron would last longer than the cord. Forget the waste -- it is more profitable to make you buy a whole new (cheap) iron instead of a cord. The extra waste in the landfill is not the corporation's problem.

      Rinse and repeat for most consumer products today -- most products are designed with to be replaces after x amount of time instead of lasting for years so that people with be forced to throw away the old and buy the new. I hope this will change, but I am not holding my breath.

      • Re:Welcome back! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Bluesman ( 104513 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:11PM (#21287871) Homepage
        While I'm not positive this is the case, I'd bet it's more profitable to sell you a replacement cord that costs 10 cents to produce and sells for a couple of bucks than it is to sell you a $10 iron.

        But then you open yourself up to a barrage of lawsuits when people try to replace the cord on their iron without unplugging it first, replace it incorrectly, etc. Not to mention that it's not fashionable to be competent enough to be able to fix things, and a new iron is so cheap that it's hardly worth anyone's time to do so to save the six bucks, so people able to fix these are less inclined to do so, so that replacement cord taking up space on the shelves costs stores money.

        The good news is that you can find discarded stuff that you can easily fix without too much trouble if you're so inclined, and that landfill space is not in short supply. In the event that landfill space should become in short supply, you'd see disposal costs rise through the roof, and everyone would fix everything again.

        How cool is that?

        • Re:Welcome back! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by akadruid ( 606405 ) <slashdot@thedrui ... k minus language> on Friday November 09, 2007 @09:45AM (#21293647) Homepage
          Disposal costs don't work like that. You cannot make it undesirable to send things to landfills by increasing the cost. We've got this problem already in the UK - landfill is becoming increasingly non viable as political pressure over locations rises. UK gov. have recently made it possible for local authorities to pilot so called 'pay as you throw' systems to penalize heavy users of landfill waste. Since the removal of domestic waste is a public good, you would be penalising their neighbours too. This makes me think about how householders will react to this.

          1. Recycle more - a bit maybe, but a big change seems unlikely. Recycling rates are already very high for the recyclable portion of the waste.
          2. Buy less - again, unlikely. Biggest outputters of waste are those with low incomes anyway, especially larger families. Discarded non-essentials aren't a big % of waste anyhow, most waste is food and non-recyclable packaging, or things like disposable nappies (which already slightly more expensive than reusable ones).
          3. Pay the extra tax - see 2.
          4. Dump the waste somewhere else - flytipping, contaminating recyclable waste, into neighbours bins (with or without their knowledge) or delivering it to local authority tip sites - all of which are more damaging than kerbside collection, and don't reduce landfill waste.
      • Re:Welcome back! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:29PM (#21288065) Homepage
        Yep. I opened up an old transistor radio a year or two ago. It came from Radio Shack in the late 70s or early 80s. I was floored to see, stuck to the inside of the back case, a full schematic of how the radio worked. That kind of thing (even if it only showed the ICs and not their functions) is basically unthinkable today.
        • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @10:00PM (#21289527) Homepage
          The owner's manual for most pieces of stereo equipment used to have a schematic diagram at the very least, and perhaps a detailed "theory of operation" description and parts list. Nowadays, you don't even get that level of detail in the factory SERVICE manual that you have to pay $40 to get!

          At least into the '80s, GE television sets used to have a condensed service manual (schematic and alignment instructions) stashed in a small compartment on the back of the set. Unfortunately, GE sets were some of the least reliable on the market at the time, so that service data was the least the factory could do to apologize for them. :)

          About the only products that still seem to include wiring diagrams nowadays are major appliances. Washers and dryers usually have a large diagram pasted inside the back cover.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by rts008 ( 812749 )
            Firethorn, Genarat, Bluesman, MBCook, and you all raise valid points here.
            I think the big change has been the whole 'guarded proprietary/closed source gaurd so called 'Intellectual Property' mentality that started becoming prevalent in the so called Computer Age in the late 1980's.

            IMHO, IP is a vacuous and shady concept, but that's just me. As far as I'm concerned it is just another GenX marketdroid concept trying to be passed off as real goods. (yeah, I know...flame wars have been started for less, but tha
      • by plover ( 150551 ) *
        A consumer item that really made me mad in this regard was a Sonicare rechargeable toothbrush. Once the battery stopped holding a charge long enough to brush my teeth, I decided to replace it. Looking at the manual I found very clear detailed instructions on how to twist or cut off the rubber seals, break the plastic carrier, and pull out the plastic-bound rechargeable cell module for recycling. The entire process is specifically designed to destroy a working product, preventing the end user from replaci
        • cut off the rubber seals, break the plastic carrier, and pull out the plastic-bound rechargeable cell
          Sounds like you need some duct tape.
      • Re:Welcome back! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by GwaihirBW ( 1155487 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @09:30PM (#21289275)
        While planned obsolescence is more widespread than ever these days, it's nothing new - Companies have always realized the benefits of forcing buyers to come back on as frequent a schedule as the market will bear, and have pushed consumers down that road whenever possible.

        My father has a few pairs of socks that he got 40-ish years ago that he wears regularly - they're comfortable and haven't stretched or worn out at all . . . for fairly obvious reasons, the company that made them no longer exists. Or, for a more entertaining example, look to the 1952 movie The Man in the White Suit [] - guy invents perfect, invincible fabric and attempts to sell idea to clothing companies. Clothing companies see the writing on the wall and turn to desperate measures . . . so even way back in 1952 the concept of planned obsolescence was thought about enough to generate a movie.

        As technology moves forward, more and more items become commodities or at least lend themselves to planned obsolescence. Nowadays, modern manufacturing processes have brought the prices of most electronic gadgets down to the point where consumers will stand for being forced to replace regularly, and it's often more profitable to sell an upgrade cycle than it is to sell service/repair contracts (plus the sheeple really like being told how many wonderful new features they're getting when they replace broken version 12 with ever-so-(temporarily)-shiny version 13). Companies only have an incentive to serve their customers well enough to keep them coming back to spend - anything more is wasted and too much quality might shut off that revenue stream entirely!

        Also, I have to make the obligatory and oft-harped-upon point that open source software is one of the very few examples of a product that is immune to this unfortunate market force - software companies are strongly incented to steer their customers toward application designs that will require regular upgrades/patches, because a stable and perfected application can only be sold once. Some compnaies have figured out that if they do enough interface changing with every major upgrade, they can even tack on a new "training" revenue stream, a side benefit to the quest for lock-in . . . [/rant]
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by flyingfsck ( 986395 )
        Yes, but devices also did not last long. TV sets failed after 6 months to 2 years. Even cars were rusted out after only 3 years. A VW Beetle exhaust pipe lasted 9 months - not even a whole year! So if you wanted anything to last more than a year or two, then you had to repair it regularly. Since manufacturers figured out how to make consumer devices that last 10 years or more, repair became optional.
    • Integration is actually a good thing. It's not often that that 100+ BGA chip is what fails. When you're dealing with failure rate, dropping the component count by a factor of 100 (or more) is a very, very good thing.

      Most modern electronics are sufficiently reliable that the principle failures are either dead battery, or physical damage. Look at cell phones - they're perhaps the most disposable of our electronics, and of all of my circle of friends, I think that every failure I've heard of can be attribut
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PitaBred ( 632671 )
        Re-solder the connector on, put a bit of epoxy around it, and it'll hold much better. The board will come apart before the connector does :)
    • by mikael ( 484 )
      I've repaired my laptops and desktops on several occasions now - The first time I tried gettin a laptop reapir, I tried taking it down to the "Computer Repair Shops", but they only dealt with things like computer viruses and corrupt registry settings in Windows. Fixing something like a fried LCD invertor was well beyond their expertise. So, I had nothing to lose in buying a set of jewelers screwdrivers and the odd TORX screwdriver (some manufacturers seemed to decided to use patented screws to make their ha
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:32PM (#21288087)
      The reason why people are suddenly more interested in the possibility of fixing their gadgets instead of throwing away old/broken items and buying new stuff is because the economy is tanking big-time right now.

      The high rising price of gasoline is one of the biggest key factors. Next is the rising basic cost of living. All around me I know people who now can barely afford to buy food plus pay the rent/mortgage plus pay their utilities after filling up their cars every week so they can drive to work. Buying new clothes or new gadgets? Ha, they wish they could, but just can't anymore. Luxury stuff like cable TV, and a landline plus cellphone went away for them a few months ago. Their $14.95/month basic DSL internet line will have to go by January, and they'll just do without internet, or go to the public library.

      Salaries / wages are not keeping up with inflation and increased cost of living either.

      The higher-paid technogeeks like me aren't hurting nearly as much, but some of the people I know can no longer make ends meet and it's starting to get ugly among the blue collar working stiffs out there.

      No wonder people are fixing stuff instead of buying new stuff lately.


      Go ahead and mod me down as flamebait. I'm angry as hell right now and need to vent.

      One of my blue collar buddies, who's brother just got blown up in Iraq last week, is having to charge his trip to Arlington Cemetery to attend the funeral on his almost maxed-out credit card (maxed out due to unexpected medical expenses for his kids, not because of bad spending habits), since the military offered him a "discounted" military/bereavement airline ticket at nearly $600 when he was able to find his own on Expedia for only $350. I offered to buy his ticket and hotel but he is too proud and refused to accept. Me and the rest of his friends will gang up on him when he returns and we'll fill his kitchen full of groceries for a couple months or something that he won't be able to refuse to help him out.
      • by vranash ( 594439 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:46PM (#21288269)
        I'll give you a great example of what's bleeding non-corp types dry: Health Insurance.

        If you're keeping yourself insured and don't have a nice big company backing you, it's EXPENSIVE.
        As an example, I've got about 220 dollars per month in combined gas/insurance costs.

        Health insurance for that same period is 278 dollars/mo, and getting dropped end of this month.

        Combine that with minimum wage, and well you can see why I wouldn't be living on my own.
        Only other option is to sell out and pick a 'career' job, assuming you can find somewhere that'll hire you on full-time, and provide health care benefits (last job wouldn't either way, and given that it paid a buck and a half less than my prior job, it wasn't worth it!)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by JimBobJoe ( 2758 )
        The reason why people are suddenly more interested in the possibility of fixing their gadgets instead of throwing away old/broken items and buying new stuff is because the economy is tanking big-time right now.

        I don't agree with this. I think it's the internet--which has allowed people with little or no experience to find easy fix it solutions to a variety of problems--or find secondary vendors who can fix things cheaper than the manufacturer/replacement.

        As much as it's an iffy economy, consumer spending is
      • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Friday November 09, 2007 @03:09AM (#21291621) Homepage Journal
        I was telling my sister and brother-in-law about how I was planning on doing a repair to my dad's fridge. They were almost outraged that I wasn't going to just replace it, kept cutting me off, wouldn't even let me speak "just buy a NEW one." Almost disgusted at me.

        I personally see it as almost immoral, given the current state of things, to throw out a huge appliance that barely gets used anyway and buy a new one because it needs a simple fix.

        The idea of repairing something almost offends them. I was staying at their house and their dishwasher quit, it was 2 years old but out of warranty. They were going to buy a new one and were bitching about it, I hired a guy to replace a faulty switch for $100 and my sister acted like it was a strange novelty. She had to hide the fact it had been repaired from her husband, he'd be pissed.

        I have the same attitude as my dad, the sort of environmentalism of the depression era - waste not, want not. Simple as that. I don't keep garbage, but unlike my sister and brother-in-law I don't buy a new PC every six months rather than just keeping it clean of malware, putting in a new HD, memory, etc.

        Part of that is because I have to live off of disability... but still, these people who are consumer droids buying a new cell phone for every kid in the household every six months... that's just fucked up.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sydbarrett74 ( 74307 )

        the economy is tanking big-time right now

        Buying things largely on era of amazing new devices and technologies...globalisation....hyperproduction/hypoconsumption...corporate profits not trickling down to Joe I describing the Here and Now? Nope, I'm describing the Roaring Twenties. Dubya and his lackeys won't admit it, but the Great Depression can happen again. It's amazing how uncannily similar Dubya is to Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, who stuck their heads in the sand and thought the Good Times(tm) would last...

    • There's also the problem of difference between generations of hardware.

      Most of the gadgets we have today started appearing during the late 90s / early 00s.

      Back at the beginning, after a year or two, technology had moved a lot and the previous gadget was completely deprecated.
      Either because characteristics went up 1000%, making it more usable.
      Or the technology to exchange data with it has changed making the old one useless (proprietary connector to parallel port to serial port).
      Or the technology used by the
    • Mass integration is part of the ordeal. But from a design point of view, manufacturers sure don't seem to want people to fix things either.

      For example, the rechargeable battery on my Norelco cordless electric razor gave out not too long ago. I looked online and found a few dealers selling replacement battery packs. I assumed that the battery swap would be very simple, involving nothing more than removing a few screws, pulling apart the casing, and swapping the battery pack with a new one.

      When I opened th
  • by blueZ3 ( 744446 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:22PM (#21287301) Homepage
    but let's face it, this is almost certainly the result of economics, rather than some magical new sensitivity for the environment.

    Call me when people start putting effort into recycling or repairing their $25 gizmo, instead of when they decide to shell out $100 for the repair of a $300 item.

    The title of this article should probably be something like "expensive gadgets not such a commodity item for middle class Americans, after all"
    • by thynk ( 653762 ) <> on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:34PM (#21287457) Homepage Journal
      I put effort into repairing a lot of items, regardless of the cost. What true geek ever throws something away?

      I usually try to fix it... either fix it or get frustrated and buy the upgrade I really wanted anyway and put the broken one in a box for "parts". Never know when a scrap of wire or micro switch might come in handy down the road. Or I let the kids play with it, never hurts to expand their minds - and I'd rather have them taking apart the broken PS2 controller than the working Xbox 360 :-)

    • There's also the factor that sometimes, the new stuff just isn't as good!
      My old mp3-player from around 1998-1999 was great and every time it broke I went looking for a new one, found them to be crap and fixed my old one instead.
      A year ago it broke beyond my repairing skills, and now I have to make do with the crappy player in my "Walkman"-phone.
      Still looking for a good replacement, but I still can't find a good mp3-player anywhere. =(
      • My old mp3-player from around 1998-1999 was great and every time it broke I went looking for a new one, found them to be crap and fixed my old one instead.

        Uh.... weren't the MP3 players from around that time (a) around the 32MB mark and (b) Connected via the horribly slow serial/parallel ports? (Yes, I know USB was around then, but it wasn't really supported on the PC for another couple of years).

        I remember seeing reviews of them; they were expensive, and took ages to fill with a meagre hour's worth of music. They struck me as pointless geek toys; you'd have been better off with a CD- or even cassette- Walkman.

  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:23PM (#21287307)
    I think this may have more to do with the abilityto upgrade computers. Due to the original IBM PC architecture, it was easy to make your computer run better - some simple screws, plug-in cards, simple electrical connections. Lots of folks who would never dream of opening up their VCR - still flashing 12:00 - have upgraded memory or a hard drive.

    Now those same folks who have cut their teeth on PC's look at broken electronic gadgetry and think:
    1) How hard can it be?
    2) If I screw it up, no big deal - it's a loss now as it is.
    • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:50PM (#21287617)
      I have seen so many otherwise workable items about to be thrown out because of a minor, easily fixed issue (sometimes even just needing some superglue!)

      I have a collection of about 6 DVD players, a few audio tape players, VCR's, etc that people have handed me when I said "it's probably an easy fix"; their response was "if you can get it working it's yours." Invariably the repair was simple, in the case of the DVD players just needed a lens cleaning (not one of those crappy sale unit lens cleaners, a real opening up and swabbing with some rubbing alcohol).

      Basic principles of home electronics:
      NOTHING is all that complicated. If it were that complicated, it would cost $20,000 or more. Even a DVD recorder sold 5 years ago for $1000 is still frighteningly similar to the one you got for $30 last week, and probably even easier to trace loose connections and items since it's not been subjected to 5 years of component consolidation and micro-sizing.

      VCR repair, DVD repair, most anything else is just a matter of having a few basic tools. Well, that and using the grey matter between your ears. You can tell if there's a broken belt, you can visually tell if a capacitor has blown, you can smell if something has shorted out and you can usually see the scorch. Sometimes it's repairable, sometimes you just learn more about the standard innards (and if you think Company #1's VCR or DVD player is that much different from Company #2's or Company #3's, you're delusional).

      You wouldn't believe how many times a "dead" PS2 can be revived just by cleaning the firking lens.

      And if you kill it... parent point #2 is dead-on correct. You have nothing to lose opening up something that's long out of warranty and broken; the worst that can happen is that it's still broken when you're done with it.

      Of course, when I've mentioned this to some of the people out there, they're terrified of the "warning, voltage" and "warranty void if removed" stickers plastered all over their stuff. We really need to teach people that they can do this stuff safely and without a lot of worry; I'm starting to be convinced most of these "warnings" are just there to scare people into not getting perfectly serviceable products repaired.
      • by ACDChook ( 665413 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:00PM (#21287737)
        Reminds me of the time I got a free laser printer because a local business was closing. A friend of mine had worked there, and they gave it to him and said it didn't work. I found it sitting in the corner at his place a year or so later, and he hadn't touched it, so gave it to me to have a look at. When I plugged it in and turned it on, a red light came on.

        I put some paper in it, the red light went off, and it's worked fine ever since. :D
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by greed ( 112493 )

          Heh. Reminds me of the second hard disk I ever owned; it was a 33 MB RLL drive with "NFG" in big black marker scrawled over the top case.

          It was $20 at the surplus store, and I thought, cool, motors and magnets and I can do something silly with the platters, that's easily $20 of fun.

          On a lark, I plugged it in to my Amiga 2000... and it spun up. So I crimped together the right signal cables for a second ST-506 drive and hooked up the lines. And the controller was able to get the heads to track zero...

        • I took home one of the notorious top-loading HP LaserJets from work this summer - it "didn't work", and had been sitting in a back office for years. Bought a repair kit for $20, and now it works like a charm.

          Even more interesting, I had a bunch of toner cartridges for the LaserJet 5L, but this printer was an 1100, and while the cartridges looked identical, the 5L ones simply wouldn't fit into the 1100. After a while, I noticed a small plastic nub inside the printer that seemed to serve no other purpose tha

      • by hurfy ( 735314 )
        "Even a DVD recorder sold 5 years ago for $1000 is still frighteningly similar to the one you got for $30 last week"

        I don't know about that, the $30 one i just bought 2 days to replace one i broke weighs in at 3 lbs in the shipping carton. When you take out the cords and batteries and remote and cardboard and foam you are left with basically a chip and a plastic tray with a motor, not much to work with :( Damn thing is so light you can't press the buttons without shoving the whole unit back into the enterta
      • "Of course, when I've mentioned this to some of the people out there, they're terrified of the "warning, voltage" and "warranty void if removed" stickers plastered all over their stuff."

        Those warnings actually mean something when it comes to CRT's and some amplifiers. Please don't tell your mom to open up her TV and fiddle with the capacitors inside.

        Unless she sucks and has good life insurance, and you're an only child. Then tell her to have at it.
      • the worst that can happen is that it's still broken when you're done with it.

        Not always. Do a Google search of videos for counterfit nokia explosion. They test the failure of genuine Nokia batteries and 2 cheap knock-offs. []

        The worst that can happen is you can be injured.
  • by User 956 ( 568564 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:24PM (#21287319) Homepage
    From the article: 'Most other gadgets come with batteries that are easy to replace without custom tools.

    When i'm working on a piece of electronic equipment and I see "custom tools", my brain responds with "hammer". But then, that might be part of the problem in the first place.
  • Printer manufacturers should also encourage inkjet cartridge refilling as opposed to making people throw these away. Some manufacturers even resort to embedding chips in their cartridges to prevent these from being refilled by 3rd party companies or the by the user.
    • by veganboyjosh ( 896761 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:57PM (#21287683)
      I work in print production. We have some inkjets and some laser machines. All the printers we use (and I'm guessing lots of others) have at least one part which has a chip that's designed to stop working before the life of the part is used up. It drives us nuts here. My boss has taken to pulling the old chips off old broken parts, for use in other parts with "used up" chips.

      We've since been switching our inkjet machines to use ink resevoirs, which are these big tanks that sit outside the body of the printer, and can be refilled while the thing is printing. They're clear plastic (lexan, maybe?) so you can see how low they are.

      Planned obsolescence should be punishable by some sort of recursive punishment.
    • Personal experience here: Inkjet refill ink is not as good as OEM ink. The colors weren't as bright and it gave off a different, but somewhat worse smell when printing. I don't think it ever clogged my jets, but it wasn't really worth my time to have substandard printouts. Many times I would print pictures from my camera and the difference was noticeable.
      • If refill ink wasn't forced to fly under the radar so much, perhaps it would have better product?
  • My Experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by immcintosh ( 1089551 ) <slashdot.ianmcintosh@org> on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:26PM (#21287359) Homepage
    Ah, the perfect thread to brag about an accomplishment about which I am (perhaps even unduly so) proud. You see, I have a Netgear combination ADSL modem/router, and after about 3 years of use it started to sporadically malfunction. The connection would drop, sometimes not coming back until the next day, only to quickly drop again. After a painful call to SBC (now ATT) tech support, I was able to determine that it was not a line problem. Being that the router wasn't exactly cheap (150ish?), I hated to buy a new one, so I went searching online...

    Interestingly, I eventually discovered that I had been the unwitting casualty of industrial espionage! Apparently, a capacitor company, wanting to do things on the cheap, had tried to steal the recipe that a rival company used to manufacture capacitors. Apparently, however, the rival company got wind of this and planted a FAKE recipe for the ne'erdowell to find. The eventual fallout was that a little while down the road, this company's faulty capacitors started malfunction en masse.

    Long story short, my modem used one such capacitor, and apparently a great many users were reporting similar problems. So, out come my trusty soldering iron and jeweler's screwdrivers, and the modem is quickly disassembled. Lo and behold, there is indeed a bulging capacitor. A quick trip to radio shack and a little painstaking soldering work later, I had a DSL modem working good as new. That was about two years ago, and I'm still using the same modem.

    I'm still pretty damn proud of myself :P (I could be described, when it comes to electronics, as at BEST a very inexperienced hobbyist)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Fixing a bad cap is worth a merit badge on your nerd uniform.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by toadlife ( 301863 )
      Those damn budging capacitors screwed over millions of products, from modems like yours to a number of different motherboards shipped in PCs by large vendors like Gateway and Dell.
    • Re:My Experience (Score:5, Informative)

      by PlusFiveTroll ( 754249 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:35PM (#21287481) Homepage [] I've repaired about 20 motherboards with blown capacitors since reading that site. I cannot tell you how much money and time that has saved me. It's a hell of a lot easier (for me at least) to spend 20 minutes replacing 5 to 15 bad caps, then to put a new board in and trying to get windows working and praying that you don't have to reactivate the product over the phone. [] has a lot of information.
    • The industrial espionage thingy that happened only affected a certain number of caps over a limitted amount of time... yet caps continue to fail, and perhaps even more often than before.

      It's not that the caps are bad, it's that they're just under-specced. Electrolytics only have a certain lifetime, and temperature rise plays a TREMENDOUS part in that. Low-ESR caps which can handle more ripple without heating as much cost nickels (or even dimes!) more than cheap capacitors. And since they'll still probabl
    • by geekoid ( 135745 )
      your bragging accomplishment is that you changed a cap?
      well done.

      I fault net gear. They didn't do proper testing of the unit, and it sounds like they didn't do any random sampling on the line.

      A bad mixture can be detected.

      The cap makers are to blame. Both the one stealing it, and the one who put consumer at risk. There are far better ways to deal with espinoge of this nature.
  • (Score:3, Informative)

    by SLOviper ( 763177 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:28PM (#21287383) [] is a great resource for everthing Mac mobile. (iPods and lappys)
  • Batteries (Score:4, Funny)

    by badasscat ( 563442 ) <basscadet75@yahF ... m minus language> on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:28PM (#21287385)
    Replacement batteries for cellphones are often marked up by the devices' manufacturers, while third-party replacements are often available for 60 percent to 80 percent less.

    Ummmm... You sure you want to recommend that []?
    • Name-brand manufacturers went all-out to convince the public that it's ONLY the cheap 3rd party rip-off batteries that burst into flames. It's bullshit though. There have been numerous reported cases where known-name-brand batteries have ignited, and stats say it's not uncommon at all. Most of the time, those cheaper "3rd party" batteries are the exact same batteries the manufacturer sells you, just without being rebranded.

      The same is true for lots of other equipment. You can buy a nice shortwave radio
  • by Bluesman ( 104513 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:29PM (#21287391) Homepage
    LA LA LA *fingers in the ears*

    Oh no this just isn't happening! Hardware is so cheap and replaceable now that we're all going to be paying for software that comes with its own FREE hardware in just a few years! Welcome to our brave new electronic commodity frontier!

  • by kalpol ( 714519 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:34PM (#21287463)
    The Internet caused a real breakthrough in fixing stuff for me - before, I'd have to find someone who knew more than I did, or hit the library, or just figure it out myself. Now I can find parts for my old Mercedes and my Fiat, repair the lawn mower, put a new power supply in my old LaserJet, recap my Marantz amplifier, refoam my Bose woofers - repair all nice old stuff that probably would have been tossed out without the ability to easily search for repair hints and sources of parts.
    • That's why I got interested in computers years ago. Their "killer app" for me was finding tech info.

      The internet also makes it profitable to produce many parts for old gear, because the parts maker can reach far more customers than in the days when you had to use dead tree media to find other dead tree media to (maybe) find a shop to call or write for info.
  • 10gb iPod? (Score:3, Funny)

    by faloi ( 738831 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:48PM (#21287591)
    I didn't know we were measuring capacity based on the weight of the bits these days. Are more poignant songs heavier?
  • I have recurring ink jet printer and fax machine problems. And thank God Epson et al are continually replacing models with newer incompatible ones that require new ink and often new software installed.

    But that's nothing compared to my Sharp fax machine which has got to use the most expensive black ink carts on the planet and they regularly fail or randomly dry out.

    If fixing helps those pesky problem than hell yeah.
  • Yawn... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @06:52PM (#21287641) Homepage Journal
    ..seriously, I've been fixing my stuff and others' since I was 9. Cash registers, toasters, guns, cameras, sheesh, I dunno, it's probably the Yankee in me. I used to save stuff. never know when a power cord would come in handy. Or the strain relief from one. I bought a finished Heathkit color TV and solved the various adjustment and bad solder problems. Cheap TV. And my first three CD players, last two stereo systems, and my Minidisc recorder.

    My first 'real' job outside the Air Force was fixing office calculators, dictating machines, typewriters, mimeographs/duplicators, sorters, folders, you name it. I moved up the food chain a bit to IBM stuff like Selectrics, Mag Cards, Electronics, OS/6, and DisplayWriters. And those damned 6:5 things. I finally bought a turbo XT and learned to fix computers.

    Now I amaze my wife with little and big things I fix. All except for the digital camera she sat on. But I know which of the 3 little plastic fingers she broke, and if I had them, I could indeed fix it. lately, I've been on a jag fixing anything but iPods, especially those Toshiba Gigabeats. Damn, those are easy to fix.

    Yeah, I hate throwing something out just cause it's got a weak battery, or laptops with broken screen hinges, stuff that fails intermittantly just cause of a connection. With a decent selection of soldering irons, good epoxy, small screwdrivers, and patience, you can fix a lot. Sometimes, the hammer works best...

    We do need to be less of a throwaway society. But the way consumer electronics are made today, the economics of repair parts is terrible. I dread buying an HDTV, knowing that I probably won't be able to fix much in it. And it won't last 20+years, like that old Heathkit. But hey, the picture makes it all worthwhile, right?


  • Ever since I was a kid I had a fascination with taking things apart just to see what's inside and made them tick (no, not animals!), but I learnt something that most people can't or don't think they can do - put it back together without breaking it or even end up fixing it.

    The upside is you can make your gadgets last longer through fixing them or enhance them beyond their original design, for example one of my 2 iRiver H140's is made up from 3 broken units I bought off eBay, it works perfectly and it cost
    • by discord5 ( 798235 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @08:09PM (#21288501)

      just to see what's inside and made them tick (no, not animals!)

      Just so we're absolutely clear about this, animals in general don't tick. If they do you might want to go looking for your wristwatch. ;)

    • There is a downside to being able to fix your own gadgets, all your bloody friends at some time or another ask "my xyz stopped working, can you fix it?"
      The proper response to that is "Depends. Can you make or buy me a nice dinner/case of beer?"
  • I am sure I could play the Ric Romero card right!

    Things can be fixed - I'm Shocked - Shocked!

    I suppose the truth is though that a major percentage of the consumer brigade won't be soldering iron-wielding, ebay-scavenging, have-a-go types.

    I've fixed many an item in the past - I suppose the best to date was an HP laptop where the screen was cracked and I managed to get an identical model with working screen, but duff motherboard, on ebay for £20!

    Mind you - the replacement fuser for a Brother
  • by Rorschach1 ( 174480 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:01PM (#21287741) Homepage
    Yeah, they can be repaired... it's just not always practical.

    My girlfriend's expensive iPod speaker system got its volume stuck at full, and it fell to me to repair it. Actually, her remedy was just to pile pillows on top of it, but we don't really have enough pillows to get a decent volume control range, and it took up a lot of space.

    I didn't have too much trouble tracking down the faulty volume control IC, but it helped that I have a workshop with several thousand dollars of test and rework equipment. Honestly, it could have been done with a cheap voltmeter or logic probe and some patience.

    I knew exactly what chip to replace, but there are NO distributors of that part in North America. Minimum order from Taiwan was something like 10,000. No equivalents available, either. I managed to talk the company into sending a couple of engineering samples - 'free' parts that only cost me $70 in FedEx charges. (Ah, the things us geeks do for love.) Installing the part was again not a big deal, but only because I have a hot air rework station designed for the task.

    Component availability problems can be overcome, but the bigger problem is lack of information. Without at least a schematic it can be very tough to troubleshoot modern electronics, and good luck getting that sort of information out of a manufacturer.

    Still, I suppose it's worth pointing out that 3 of the last 4 cellphones used in my house have had their lives extended significantly through repair. 90% of the time the problems there are related to mechanical and interconnect parts - charging connectors, flex cables in hinges, speaker contacts, and so on, and it doesn't take a genius to spot and fix those problems. The last phone I fixed turned out to have a failed connection where some foam had worn out. The fix was to jam a piece of paper in its place.

    Forty years ago my dad had a TV and general electronics repair shop, and customers could bring in any random gadget and reasonably expect that there was a good chance he'd be able to fix it, or at least tell them what was wrong with it and why it wasn't worth fixing. Those days are long gone, at least in the realm of consumer electronics. Yeah, you can specialize in XBox repairs, or iPods, or some limited scope like that, and folks like me will make their best attempt at fixing devices for their friends and family, but doing general repairs commercially? Your success rate is going to be too low, and the chances of breaking things further is too great. And the situation is only going to get worse as integration increases. Just wait until all of our electronics are made in 3D fabricators, with each IC die and passive component buried in a solid block of material and no possibility of access to ANY discrete part.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geekoid ( 135745 )
      Couple of thing:
      When I repair something, and I need a part I go to the company that made it. Usually I get the part and some schematice for free or a nominal charge. Granted, the last time was 4 years ago.

      TV's are EASY to repair and get parts for. Expensive to pay for someone to fix for you. Nobody is going to pay 300 dollars to get a 300 dollar TV fixed.
      I used to work in TV repaird about 23 years ago, or so. People would come in, drop of the TV. we would determine the problem, tell the customer the pr
    • How I temporarily fixed the flickering screen of my Thinkpad. []

      Yes, that is indeed a pen cap you see sticking out of the laptop. It worked long enough for me to finish the paper.

  • My Sony DVD player kept freezing up and turning off, refusing to even eject the disc. I researched it online and roughly half the posts mentioned the same issue and some had called Sony. I called Sony and they not only denied ever hearing of the problem, and refused to let me send them any information, but they wanted me to pat something like $269 just to LOOK at the player, plus parts, labor and shipping.

    Instead, I made a sandwich of multiple layers of tinfoil and silver paste to make the main processor
    • by Knara ( 9377 )

      Probably because Sony left out some parts in order to try making their PS3 production quota.

  • by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:04PM (#21287795)

    TFA should be entitled, "Today's younger generations are discovering that some stuff can be fixed... if it's the right stuff and I don't have a six figure income." My father was more than happy to pull out a screwdriver and tinker with the record player, and would sometimes spend days tinkering with gadgets to get them to function correctly. Of course, most of the stuff that he used was electromechanical, with components large enough to replace by hand.

    Dad often took the time to point out how things worked, because he honestly believed his understanding of "how things work" would be of immense value to me. Unfortunately, it wasn't. I was a child of the 8-bit microprocessor revolution; my childhood environment was filled with mysterious digital circuitry, and no manner of traditional tinkering could repair a blown Commodore 6581 SID chip. Things have gotten worse with time: The introduction of surface-mount components and multi-function chipsets means that there are genuinely few "user serviceable" parts inside consumer goods.

    Millions of PDAs, handheld computers, digital cameras, phones and mp3 players flooded the marketplace in the 1990s. It didn't make sense to try to fix them if they broke, because something 10x better was always just around the corner. Fast forward a decade, and the rate of development has slowed. My 3-year-old iPod is like an old friend, and it's technically "good enough" for everyday use. If the battery or screen needs replacing, it's worth it (from an economic and time standpoint).

    Unfortunately, lots of modern tech gear isn't designed to be fixed. It's designed to be cheap to produce. That translates to mp3 players with shoddy connectors that pop of the circuit board, or DVD playback mechanisms with poor quality plastic drive gears. Thist stuff can be fixed, but it's usually more trouble than its worth. As far as electronic repairs go, the easiest solution is often a board swap, because replacing SMD parts requires considerable skill and patience in addition to excellent troubleshooting skills. All is not lost, though -- things will change quickly if the economy continues to nosedive, for the simple reason that asian-made electronics will cost more to purchase and real incomes in the US will drop. Paradoxically, poverty breeds creativity and determination for geeks.

    • by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @08:04PM (#21288453) Journal

      The introduction of surface-mount components and multi-function chipsets means that there are genuinely few "user serviceable" parts inside consumer goods.

      There are "few" indeed, which makes it simpler to find the problem, and repair it, since failures are very rarely due to a chip that burned out.

      Since the end of socket 7 motherboards, I haven't had one chipset fail on me. Now it's just a question of whether it's worth the effort to replace the bulging capacitor. The prices at Radioshack might make it futile, but saving cheap failed equipment for just a few years has given me better selection of parts, and nearly free. So for me, the answer is usually "yes" and I've repaired numerous failed motherboards, PSUs, etc.

      And what's the main cause of failure in most electronic devices? In my experience, it's very, very often just a weak solder connection that gave-up. 1 minute to look around for damaged joints, and another minute to fix it, and save $100... No more blowing on your Nintendo cartridges, or sacrificing a lamb before plugging in your controller from a 45 degree angle, and hoping it works. No more pushing hard on a marginal volume control knob, or putting just the right amount of pressure on a headphone jack, just spend 5 minutes and fix the damn things, instead of buying a new one.

      Unfortunately, lots of modern tech gear isn't designed to be fixed. It's designed to be cheap to produce.

      Equipment was almost never designed to be fixed. These days, it may be a hassle, but a great many things can still be fixed. Stuff just doesn't fail nearly as often, and it's reasonably cheap, so it's not entirely an economic necessity to fix it, and most people just don't ever try to learn how.

      That translates to mp3 players with shoddy connectors that pop of the circuit board, or DVD playback mechanisms with poor quality plastic drive gears.

      Connectors can be re-soldered. I've never seen plastic gears destroyed. But you should really look at buying stuff that ISN'T crap.

      In fact, the economics of computers has changed in interesting ways over the past few years. The "quality" components with nice long warranties are now (usually) just as cheap as the junk. When I need to replace some motherboard, I look at pricewatch and one of the cheapest 3 or so results is an MSI board. Looking for hard drives, often a Seagate is the cheapest, or very close to it. For optical drives, Samsung and Pioneer seem to always be the cheapest, yet they're the rock solid, much better than the rebranded Lite-On drives that most sell. It seems the industry is less of a free-for-all than it used-to be, and the handful of companies that can produce reliable equipment the cheapest are completely taking over.

      things will change quickly if the economy continues to nosedive, for the simple reason that asian-made electronics will cost more to purchase and real incomes in the US will drop.

      The US dollar is tightly coupled to the value of the Chinese Yuan. Until that changes, Chinese-made goods will stay exactly as relatively inexpensive, no matter how far the US economy nose-dives.
  • While we're on the subject of repairing gadgets, hopefully someone will know the answer to this. I have a Mac G4 Powerbook that has gotten into the habit of displaying vertical stripes of color on the screen. For instance, one whole column of cyan pixels might light up, or pink... It's in the same general part of the screen, but not always the same pixels, they might flicker and be fine for a while, or I might have two color stripes instead of one.

    Anyone know if this could be something as simple as a lo

  • When my iPod mini went tits up, I tried a few things but they didn't work. So in the end I decided to take it apart for shits and giggles. Lo and behold, I found a funny looking drive inside. Funny looking, but also familiar looking. And lo and behold, it turned out that it could be stuck into a compact flash reader. So a trip to the local computer store later, I had a odd looking 4GB drive that I could stick into the back of my 360 and use it to play my albums off.
  • Sell your broken junk on E-Bay or Craigslist. As previous posters have pointed out, it's very difficult to find parts for today's modern day electronics, and buying a broken device on the cheap is better than paying expensive shipping costs to get a replacement piece of plastic from Taiwan.
  • This may be old hat for many here, but always check for swollen capacitors before tossing electronics of any meaningful worth. I recently fixed my broken DLP HDTV for a couple of bucks.
  • by Grendel Drago ( 41496 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @07:54PM (#21288339) Homepage
    Generally speaking, it takes more labor to build a device than it does to fix it. Therefore, one would think, it would be cheaper to fix than to replace a broken device. But when device-construction labor is done halfway across the globe by slave laborers, and device-repair work is done by locals who have to pay the same cost of living that the device's owner does, then that assumption breaks down.

    It's a distortion of the market brought on by capital being far more mobile than labor, that's all.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bluesman ( 104513 )
      It's not only slave labor, but automation. You can make thousands of copies of an item in the time it would take a human to diagnose and repair one.
  • My parents can remember the great depression and my father is handy w/ things. The assumption when I was growing up was that you always fix things and keep them going, and if you see something thrown away grab it and fix that too. At worst you figure out how the thing works and have spares for other units. It kept us in cars, TVs etc when times were tough.

    I've never lost that habit, and generally build my own stuff (computers, projectors, telescopes, motion stages, CNC machines) so when they break it's just
  • by JohnAllison ( 838880 ) <> on Thursday November 08, 2007 @09:09PM (#21289079)
    On Christmas day, my 3+ year old powerbook G4 met my mother-in-law's cat. Upon meeting, the cat evacuated on the keyboard. Flash forward 3 hours when I discovered that my powered laptop was dripping yellow. Powered electronics + ionic solution equal crusties everywhere. The backlight was out, but I could still see OS X on the LCD. I get back home and take the machine apart. With my trusty bottle of alcohol and cotton swabs, I start cleaning off the crusties. I could not save the inverter card but with a CFL placed behind the stripped LCD I found that the rest of the computer still functioned normally. While waiting for my card to arrive I had the wireless antenna drag across the main board while the laptop was powered. Flash, Pow, Smoke. Looked like a surface mount diode exploded. The diodes purpose? It was part of the battery charging circuitry. So I now had a laptop that could not charge, and requires a CFL placed behind the screen. For a week I toted this frankenstein machine to law school. Professors perplexed with a bare light bulb propped up in class. I figured out the part I blew by matching the writing that had survived the explosion with that of other diodes on the board. Then I searched google for those markers, and found the part for sale from Digikey. I ordered 5 parts for $0.50 + $8 shipping and handling. 5 because I knew I would probably lose one, burn one, and didn't want to be left with the perverbial 1 match in the matchbox scenario. Besides the main expense was shipping, not the $0.09 for the part. I did lose the first one. Once received, I soldered this tiny diode, received the backlight inverter board from Ebay, put it all together and finished the semester. I still can't believe that I fixed that thing. It was awesome.
  • iPods (Score:3, Informative)

    by macemoneta ( 154740 ) on Thursday November 08, 2007 @09:10PM (#21289089) Homepage
    I just revived two 4th gen iPods with "dead" hard drives. It seems that the firmware in the iPods can't perform sector reallocation if a sector goes bad. The iTunes software won't re-init the drives in that case, and getting the drives into disk mode to diagnostics may not be possible.

    What I found is that if I connect the Firewire cable to an un-powered connector (6-pin unpowered, like a daisy chain, or via a 4 to 6 pin adapter), I can get the drive into disk mode. It must take a different path through the firmware in that case.

    Once in disk mode, I used dd_rescue (retry forever) on Linux to copy /dev/zero to the drive until full. After that, iTunes was able to re-init the drives. They've been working fine ever since (fully loaded). The first time I thought it was just a lucky coincidence. When the process worked a second time, it seemed downright odd.

    Why would Apple not have proper sectore reallocation software, especially in a mobile device? It's not like their customers would just buy another, or pay an (expensive) out of warranty repair. Oh, wait...
  • Tv's too (Score:3, Interesting)

    by scharkalvin ( 72228 ) on Friday November 09, 2007 @02:44PM (#21298505) Homepage
    Years ago my wife's Panasonic 13" tv died. It started to 'smoke' and then went black.
    Normally not worth fixing, but she liked the set. So I opened it up and discovered a
    fried flyback transformer. Just so happened that a local parts outlet listed a replacement
    on their website in a cross reference to the orig. part number. And it was cheap. So
    I picked up a new part and installed it (simple unsolder/solder job on the main pc board).
    This didn't fix the set, but I then noticed a burnt out power resistor. Tracing the circuit
    it also showed me a suspect horizontal output transistor as well. So I went back to the
    jober and got a replacement power resistor and transistor for a few bucks more.
    I installed these parts and the tv came back to life. Next I had to re-adjust the crt
    setup pots and align the color convergence. These I did by eye (ok, I ALSO ordered a service
    manual for the set, which it being a major brand was available).
    Total out of pocket cost for parts and the manual was under $50. "My Hero" look in wife's eyes
    was priceless. We still have that tv today, and it still works fine.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle