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INTEG 121 Refuse Off Of The Streets

Exercise: Repaired, Off Of The Streets

"There is a growing recognition that influencing consumer behaviour is key for achieving the goals of sustainable development. Twenty-five percent of vacuum cleaners, 60 percent of stereos and 90 percent of computers still function when people dispose of them."
-- Evan Hinte, Eternally Yours: Visions on Product Endurance

Why Repair Things?

If you want to make something new, you've got to understand the prior art, its function and its flaws. To do that, we're going to dismantle and repair something that's been cast away.

This exercise is fairly simple: salvage some electrical, mechanical or electro-mechanical device1 to study, disassemble, repair, reassemble and perhaps donate.

Find out when garbage day is in your area and begin prowling. Check out thrift stores and surplus shops. Browse the final sales table at Home Depot, Home Hardware or Rona. If you find more than one good thing, offer it to a classmate, or repair it yourself for additional practice and learning.

Once you've got something, figure out:

  • what the device is supposed to do2
  • in what way it is failing3
  • how the device is put together, and how it comes apart4
  • what's wrong with it5
  • how that may have happened6
  • what it needs7

Then, prepare a concise TWiki page including a description of your salvaged item, a diagnosis of its problem, a sketch or two of some crucial component, and suggestions for its repair or improvement.

And if you get the thing working again -- tada! -- you've got something you can use, or something you can pass along to someone else.


1 Make certain it's of a size that allows you to bring it to class for consultation, and of a simplicity that allows you to understand it.

  • A lamp is a simple electrical device.
  • A broom is a simple mechanical device.
  • A vacuum cleaner is a simple electro-mechanical device.
  • A combination microwave/DVD/text-to-speech drinks-blender is none of the above.
  • And while a washing machine is a fairly simple electro-mechanical device, it's hard to get on a bike or bus.

2 Seriously, if you can't describe what it's supposed to do, how can you tell it's not working?

3 Why has it been thrown away, surplussed or sold off?

4 Is it clipped, glued, nailed, tied, screwed, bolted, strapped, molded, grown, assembled in a clean room or a vacuum?

5 Is something missing, broken, bent, frozen, stiff, sloppy, out-of-place, out-of-gas?

6 Was it dropped, soaked, worn down, caked up, neglected, abused or loved to death?

7 Are we talking about parts, glue, grease, a good cleaning?