Monday, April 01, 2013

Repair, Never Replace

When the next generation of video game consoles come out I will be switching from XBox to Playstation.


Because I am now on my 5th (yes, that's right) FIFTH X Box 360.

The reason is simple.  I am heavily invested in games I like and thus, because I have so much invested in the software, I need the console that plays that format.  So when I got the Red Ring of Death for the 4th time, I started to prepare to shell out more money for the video game industry's biggest design flaw.

However, I caught myself this time.  And when I say, "I caught myself" I mean I STOPPED an automated thought process that has cost me plenty in terms of money and lost self-teaching.  Namely, I decided to REPAIR my XBox 360 and NOT pay somebody to do it for me nor buy a replacement XBox altogether.  And after catching myself I realized this is a VERY important lesson for all of us to learn.

Understand our brains are predisposed to be put on rote rehearsal or automatic pilot for efficiency's sake.  This is NOT a disadvantage, but rather an advantage for the MAJORITY of instances.  For example when the new dual joysticks came out it took every 20 something man about 10 hours of play to learn the "right stick controls vision, left stick controls movement" layout of all modern day FPS's. This is no different than when we first learned to walk when we had to develop the motor skills to do so.  And you can ask any beginning ballroom dance student the frustration of forcing his/her feet to do what the brain wants it to do.

But after a while you develop a muscle memory which (more specifically) is your brain stem developing a repetitive memorization of certain muscle movements that no longer require the input of the frontal lobes allowing you to (in the case of dancing) keep your footwork going while soothsaying your dance partner into bed.  But while we think of PHYSICAL movements as an example of this, repetitive MENTAL actions, AKA "habits" also fall under this category as well.  And these unconscious habits are hard to break, thus, why I want to point out this one.

YOu, me, and everybody else have been mentally conditioned to look for the easiest route out.  When this comes to the maintenance and repair of our physical goods, the answer is usually one of "dispose and replace."  The problem with this approach is two fold.  One, it costs more to replace an item that is repairable and two, we lose the opportunity to LEARN how to repair things that IF LEARNED AT A VERY EARLY AGE CAN SAVE YOU HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS over the course of a life time.  And thus if we can recondition our brains out of the consumerist mentality of "toss and replace" we can not only save ourselves some money, but improve ourselves in terms of skills.

Now you may say, "But I like the convenience of outsourcing repair" or you may say, "But I'm not good at fixing things."  But allow me a little bit of economics.

First, there is the obvious savings you will realize if you learn to repair things at an early age as opposed to constantly outsourcing it.

Second, with progressive taxation, regulation, and socialism, the "division of labor" is being undermined, meaning, as people specialize and trade their skills via money and labor, they are taxed more.  Therefore, if you can learn to be a "do it yourselfer" you not only save the money it would cost you to outsource the repair of your various items, but you don't have to pay the "sales tax" on it.  Heck, you may even be so bold to barter which would avoid taxation altogether.

Third, what?  Like there's jobs out there for you anyway?  Even if you did specialize in a particular field, get a degree, or get certified, in the end there are no jobs which makes learning to fix your own assets a very profitable investment of your time.  In short you have nothing better to do with your time so you might as well learn to repair things.

In the end, I roughly estimate with my SAEG (TM) you will save yourself over the course of a lifetime EASILY $250,000 in repairs, maintenance and outsourced expenses learning to fix, build and repair your own stuff than paying somebody to do it for you (and that quarter million is at least worth a house).

So, how do you do this?

How do you become so skilled and experienced in so many aspects of maintenance and repair life?

Well, I hate to say this, the answer is obvious.


I had a buddy who was an ornery computer guy.  I was interested in computers and how to network and repair them.  But when I asked him simple, elementary questions, he got pissed off at me and would lecture me.

"You stupid idiot!!!???  What's wrong with you!!???  Don't you know anything about DRAM!!!???"

In short, he was human and was thusly, flawed, and therefore an asshole.

Youtube, thankfully, is not.

"We didn't have Youtube in our day" but you do.  And there is practically every imaginable "do it yourself video" out there.

How to change oil.

How to network a computer.

How to cook souffle.

How to clean a carburetor.

How to roof a house.   

You name it, youtube has it.  It's practically replaced your dad.  And if you want to save yourself the pain and agony of a friend berating you for "not knowing the difference between RAM and DRAM" you just go to the Youtube. 

Now this may seem cute or quaint, but as the inevitabilities and realities of the US economy takes its toll, learning how to maintain, repair and fix your own stuff is going to prove to pay larger dividends than most college degrees.  Matter of fact, I would contend, self-teaching yourself how to repair cars, computers and other devices liberal arts majors love to use, but fear to understand will prove to be a MUCH better investment than the $75,000 most liberal arts students spend on their worthless degrees.  So while they charge you $7 for a "grande latte" with their Masters in English, you can charge them $750 to fix their Prius with your "self-taught Youtube video on how to repair a Prius." The only difference is you spent 30 hours of your life downloading youtube videos on "Prius repair" while they spent $75,000 and 6 years of their lives on "French, Gay, Lesbian, Latina, 15th Century Poetry."

In short, I believe people are VERY MUCH underestimating the value of Youtube and other "self help" and "DIY" sites.  Even if your dad was inept at mechanics and was absentee, that doesn't mean you can't find a surrogate father in Youtube and benefit to the tune of hundreds of thousands.

However, truth be told, most people are intimidated by cracking open a computer case or knocking out a wall of sheet rock.  So allow me to impart the self-taught wisdom I've gain to make (hopefully) millions of younger people's lives better.

1.  CRACK OPEN THAT COMPUTER CASE and DESTROY THE COMPUTER.  CHANGE YOUR OWN OIL (and in the process) DESTROY YOUR OWN CAR.  KNOCK OUT THAT SHEET ROCK and just make a mess of everything.  One of the biggest hurdles I ever had in self repair was that I would make things WORSE than when I started.

And yes you will.  BUT, it's better to learn that NOW at the age of 20 than at the age of 70.  YOu WILL get better and more proficient.  But you WON"T ever achieve a level of proficiency unless you make your mistakes and get dirty.

2.  Just accept you WILL destroy things as you go along and MOST IMPORTANTLY no matter how much you destroy TODAY, those costs will pay off more in the future.  So drop the money and make the mistakes.  They're worth it.  Have no fear.


   a.  a computer/electronics repair kit
   b.  a full tool set for cars and home repair

I wish I had somebody buy this for me as a 17th birthday gift, but most of my family was anti-repair and pro-replace.  Ideally, somebody will buy you this at the age of 10, ensuring you will be ready to repair anything as you enter the real world at 18.  But if anything dropping the money on those two items is a better investment than college itself, so buy those things yourself.

4.  There will be points in your life you will be unemployed and pinching every penny will become vital.  In times of economic recession where you DO NOT HAVE THE OPTION OF MAKING MORE MONEY having the ability to SAVE MONEY will become key to your survival, happiness, and standard of living.  A man who can fix anything can enjoy a higher standard of living earning $30,000 per year than a man who can't fix nothing and makes $70,000 per year.  I've seen it and it is true.  Being skilled in repair, maintenance and construction/building is a great insurance against poverty no matter what is going on in the economy.

So if you're an unemployed or underemployed 20 something, a bachelor or bachelorette looking for a new hobby or endeavor, or you got a lot of time on your hands and are looking for an intellectually stimulating project, go on the Youtube, buy yourself some tools and teach yourself to repair and never replace.


Colin said...

Interesting to note whence came the Red Ring of Death. This hardware failure, which has cost Microsoft over $1 billion in returns and repairs (and who knows how much in good will) was preventable.
Most RRoD failures come from microfractures in the solder under the Xbox GPU. This does not occur with standard solder. Euroweenie requirements for lead-free solder in electronics induced MS to use the inferior crap on all their units. Thus the millions of failures.

Colin said...

Interesting to note whence came the Red Ring of Death. This hardware failure, which has cost Microsoft over $1 billion in returns and repairs (and who knows how much in good will) was preventable.
Most RRoD failures come from microfractures in the solder under the Xbox GPU. This does not occur with standard solder. Euroweenie requirements for lead-free solder in electronics induced MS to use the inferior crap on all their units. Thus the millions of failures.

Colin said...

Interesting to note whence came the Red Ring of Death. This hardware failure, which has cost Microsoft over $1 billion in returns and repairs (and who knows how much in good will) was preventable.
Most RRoD failures come from microfractures in the solder under the Xbox GPU. This does not occur with standard solder. Euroweenie requirements for lead-free solder in electronics induced MS to use the inferior crap on all their units. Thus the millions of failures.

Elijah said...

This site takes it a step further:
Screw buying shit. Build your own!

Reprobus said...

My '85 Mercedes has 1,570,000km on the clock. My shoes are 12 years old. I've roofed a house entirely on the strength of youtube videos.

The stuff you fix has to be worth fixing, and a lot of stuff isn't.

Going with the theory that cheap money leads to overproduction, and at the same time inflation pushes down prices and quality, I've long been buying older stuff and fixing it. When I do buy new stuff, it has to be top quality. It saves me a lot of money, and when overproduction leads inevitably to no production, I won't be SOL because my $10 toaster quit.

Unknown said...

If I ever need more memory for my computer, I will go out and buy that tool kit you recommended here! Who needs to really buy a whole other computer when with enough ingenuity and persistence, I could probably be smart enough to learn some of this stuff on my own too!

Hell, if I'm already a successfully self-taught artist and an economics enthusiast, then why not? I also type between 90-100 WPM without looking at the keyboard, so there's a lot of muscle memory going on there due to a lot of practice I had when I was still in middle school and about 11 or 12 years old.

I have no idea when my own college classes are going to start because I haven't canceled the other application yet or sent in my transcripts and materials to this college, but here's their summer schedule. They are luckily still accepting applications and I have a high enough GPA to get in, so I'm good there. I'm just happy that I was able to reach a good compromise between my parents and finally am getting some degree of independence without being too far from home and still would be able to automatically transfer to Georgia Tech like I wanted to.

I have also convinced my mother that I want to stay in Georgia for my education rather than bothering to move to a whole other state and waste time trying to qualify for less financial aid there. I also try not to worry too much about the past, but I still get this nagging feeling that I should have known much more about this place last November, but there was still that foreclosure going on and my parents were trying to deal with that and find somewhere else to live, so although I might have been able to go for the Spring semester then, it wouldn't have been a much rougher transition. In the long term, I doubt employers are going to really give a flying crap if I graduate in 2016 or 2017 and my school counselor should have done a much better job at making people realize that they don't need to rush into college.

I realize that the recession has caused my mother to sort of give up employment wise and that's part of the reason why she became so desperate with me. It was still wrong of her, but I've been able to forgive her with all these recent developments and breakthroughs.

Bill said...

Wise advice and good suggestions, mon Captaine. Many of us have been doing as much for many years.

Repair and refurbish skills are also useful should the economy go for major dump and replacements become very scarce or impossible to buy. Ditto for natural disasters such as quakes when do-it-yourself skills are very good to have.

In the same vein, keep an eye your local "used" goods website. Necessary replacements and items worth cannibalizing are to be found there.

Those with guns: keep your spent brass.

jso said...

how did you manage to get a hold of five obsolete 360s? they don't even make them with the red LED anymore.

sth_txs said...

Overall, I agree with your sentiment Captain. A few years ago I taught myself computers by buying a couple of used ones from a surplus sale where I worked and installed DOS and whatever else I had and after that I was no longer afraid to do stuff on my only real working computer at that time. Now friends sometimes come to me for help.

I've tried my hand at small engine repair and some carpentry, but there some things I will never do well. I do remember as graduate engineering student spending a few afternoons doing stuff on my old Chevy since I more time than money.

Anonymous said...

Amazing Article. Such an important lesson and put so clearly. This should go in "Top Shelf: Part Two".

Joe Bar said...

Taught my (now adult) daughters to repair their cars, and gave them full tool sets for graduation. Oldest daughter now repairs computers for her friends. Youngest is building a motorcycle from parts.

Spitty said...

I wholeheartedly agree with this. It boggles my mind how many people just junk shit that is perfectly repairable. Even better than youtube is if you manage to snag a job in the military in either a mechanical or technical field, like I did.

After four years in the Air Force as a radio technician I was able to repair my computer's sound system with nothing but basic electronics theory and a piece of wire, saving a couple of hundred bucks. I also repaired a failing power unit inside my computer monitor for the price of two small capacitors. I spent about 30 cents on them and now my almost 8-year-old monitor works like a champ again.

About the only thing that I haven't yet mastered is smartphone repair. I am able to break them down to the circuit card but the damned chips are so tiny that I'd need specialized equipment to repair them. So for now their repair is uneconomical. For similar reasons I still prefer desktop computers over laptops. Much easier to repair and maintain.

Andrew said...

Join the glorious PC gaming master race!

Seriously I'l help you build a low buck rig that WILL outperform the consoles and you can still use the 360 controller on it.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I've diagnosed/repaired d so many things around the house using Youtube as a guide. Saved so much $$ it's not even funny. Even better than the financial savings is the tremendous amount of knowledge, satisfaction, and confidence you get for a job well done.

bluto said...

So very true! One of the most valuable things I learned from my dad was getting over the fear of damaging things when attempting a repair (in the pre youtube days).

Youtube is also outstanding for learning how to make things from scratch (I was just learning how to do wire inlays in wood).

Unknown said...

I've built computers from scratch and repaired cars. It's not all that hard. And I've saved a lot of money.

Anonymous said...

Yes and no Captain,

I am in agreement with you, but depending on the task, hiring out may be more cost/time effective.

Certain tasks/repairs, can be done much faster & better by experienced people.

My rule of thumb is if it's messy and complex and a one-time thing, hire it out, otherwise buy the good (not the cheap or the perfect) tool(s) ) and have at it. Accept the first time you do it it you will probably be much slower and not quite as nice as having a pro do it.

Generally the price of the tools will pay for themselves within one or two iterations.

I'm laying a wood floor right now,(Staple-nailer and aircompressor - not cheap, but I have several rooms to do in the next 10 years) it's not rocket science, and I'm sure I am about 17x as slow as a pro. Oh well, I'll save no money one the first room.

The important thing is to not get in over your head.

Hot Sam said...

One caveat - if it involves electricity, natural gas, or raw sewage, you might want a professional.

There are certainly electrical jobs you can do yourself, but the bigger the job, the bigger the risk.

Tim Z said...

Right on!
Nailed it!

Southern Man said...

Absolutely. YouTube and search engines are great time savers and great ways to, if not learn new stuff, at least how to get something done.

Now, here's what we all should do. Pick something you're good at. Search it out on YouTube. If the videos you find do it better than you did, you just improved a skill. If not, make and post your own video and help others improve their skills.

Dalrock said...

This is something I've been thinking about just the past few days. As you point out the tax system and poor economy each create incentives to do less than pure specialization. Add to this the wealth of information easily available on the internet and you have a very disruptive force. You mention Youtube, but the other excellent source for anything you want to learn is forums. Whatever you want to learn, there is a whole community of people who figured it all out and are willing to walk you through it if you are halfway serious.

On repairing PCs, my advice would be to try building your next PC (using forums and youtube to learn). You can't beat bargain basement pre built PCs for cost, especially if you want Windows. However, when you build your own you can pick and choose not just the specs but the sources/warranties of the components. Most PCs have a 1 year warranty, but most ram you purchase has a lifetime warranty and most CPUs have a 3 year warranty. Plus if it breaks you already know what is inside so it isn't a mystery to troubleshoot.

Anonymous said...

Along the same lines, be willing to pay extra for a well made product. $10 boots will have to be patched and repaired almost upon purchase. $100 boots (where the extra money goes into the quality of the product, rather than a brand name) can last years with minimal care.

FSK said...

Have you considered playing older consoles in emulators?

Dreamer said...

In regard to fixing xbox-es, my brother did that solder and heatsink thing. It bought it a few more weeks and died again. In the end, we just bought a new one. The big difference is we're only on the second one. Also the first one we got it free (Bing once did a point promotion system and if we got enough, you can spend it on things like an Xbox), but that's beside the point.

The ability to fix your own stuff is a useful skill. I rely on Youtube quite a number of times to look up stuff to build and/or fix things. Written instructions just don't cut it.

That said, my view that the important thing is knowing how to do it. There are moments that spending the money is better. A few months ago, my car needed an oil change. Being a novice, it would take me forever and I was on a time crunch. Then there's the fact its friggin 10 degrees and windy outside. I threw my hands and went to Valvoline and was out in 10 minutes.

I don't regret it.

Scotty Terror said...

My dad would always say "you can't hurt sh*t", meaning "it is already broken, so what do you have to lose".

And YouTube is EXCELLENT for showing one how to do stuff.

Anonymous said...

Bought my 14-year-old son an $8 original Nintendo the other day. He followed the youtube videos to open it up and clean it up and get it working.

He sold it for $60 and we split the profits, since it was his second original Nintendo.

Lessons in repair and economics there.

aerodawg said...

My attitude has always been, what exactly do you have to lose repairing something yourself. stuff is already broke, what you gonna do, make it broker?

B said...

I was always taught the phrase:

"Worst thing you can do is break it worse."

Many times I had a broken item that was scrap, and when I was finished with it, it was still scrap.

But I learned a lot in the process.

And the attempt cost me nothing but time.

Of course, sith some things you can kill yourself, so a little bit of knowledge is a good thing, but as you say, YouTube. Forums too, can help.

B said...

I was always taught the phrase:

"Worst thing you can do is break it worse."

Many times I had a broken item that was scrap, and when I was finished with it, it was still scrap.

But I learned a lot in the process.

And the attempt cost me nothing but time.

Of course, sith some things you can kill yourself, so a little bit of knowledge is a good thing, but as you say, YouTube. Forums too, can help.

Unknown said...

I've had the same pair of shoes for the last 20 years. Allen Edmonds. Cost a lot of money, but when they wear out the company will rebuild them. It's not free, but it's a lot cheaper than a new good pair of shoes. Theoretically you could only buy one pair of shoes and wear them your entire life.

Anonymous said...

It is highly unlikely you will destroy your engine by changing your own oil. The worst thing you can do is cross-thread and strip the drain plug boss in the pan. Guess what? There are kits to rethread the boss to a bigger size and insert a threaded steel liner so you're out of pocket maybe $100 but you will learn how to repair stripped threads. I guarantee you will never strip another thread after this lesson.
Always use heavy-duty jackstands or ramps and make sure the parking brake is set and the rear wheels chocked, unless you can bench press a Chevy. Never use a power tool to install anything!!

The best thing you can do for a young boy is buy him an old dirt bike that doesn't run, tools and a manual. Stand back and offer advice only if he's totally stuck. Extra points if you sabotage the ignition system so he has to learn basic electronics as well. He will learn to read and comprehend technical manuals and troubleshoot systems which are valuable skills. Second he will learn that work earns rewards.

Biggest tip for the do it yourself mechanic. Always bring cash to the junkyard. The last BMW alternator I bought was offered to me for $75 cash, no receipt or $100 + sales tax and a receipt if I paid by debit card, my choice.


Anonymous said...

Agree and have done it virtually my entire life. Every time you do something you learn what not to do, what to do and various ways of doing it, some good, some better.

Oddly enough, when my coworkers have troubles with appliances and cars, they come my way - it's almost as if I'm the Al Borland of the department.

Before the days of the internet, I used to buy books and still buy some. I have a building construction book which covers everything starting with use of tools, then from preparing a building site to doing drywall, a finish carpentry and cabinet-making book that takes over from there and an electrician's book.

I still have a complete set of factory service manuals for a car that I no longer have - that was absolutely wonderful in explaining diagnostics and how things actually works - that applies to more than just that make and model of car.

Having friends with complementary skills (and tools) is also very helpful. Renting some of the low use, high cost tools is becoming more popular and available.

I think doing it yourself is a big win.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I need something, the first thought that crosses my mind is: "I wonder if I could build that myself." I have done it many times, from home repair, to auto repair, to computer repair, to just building shit I need. I only call a repairman as a LAST resort.

I bought my sons full tool sets for their 18th birthdays, and insisted they learn how to fix a toilet, hang drywall, change the oil in their car, etc. I'm just a good dad that way.


A lawyer is having a huge party at his home on a holiday weekend, and his toilet stops up. He calls the plumber to fix it, who advises him that he can come to do the repair, but the price will include a markup for the holiday and the weekend. The plumber arrives, fixes the toilet, and hands the lawyer the bill. The lawyer sees the charge, chokes, and sputters: "I don't charge that much, and I'm a lawyer." The plumber replies: "Yeah, I didn't charge that much when I was a lawyer, either."

Anonymous said...

Alas, in my older age I've had to be a bit more selective in the manly arts of do-it-yourself.

I no longer can do roofing and have quit doing heavy construction work that requires a lot of strength and stamina due to congestive heart disease.

Unfortunately, as time goes on, I'm doing less and less DIY and relying on contractors. Sigh.

BTW - It's not just fixing stuff, when my kids were in 4-H, I think I learned more about raising animals (pigs, chickens and rabbits) than the kids did. When the world as we know it collapses, I think a small flock of chickens and a few pigs might be a good thing to raise.

lelnet said...

Not knowing the difference between RAM and DRAM won't break your computer. Indeed, as long as reasonable care (along the lines of "don't drop things") is taken, and you take care to ground yourself against static buildup before handling the guts (if you live in a place with humidity so low that this is a problem), the worst plausible outcome of trying to fix it yourself is that it fails to get any better than it already was. Likewise changing oil.

I mean, you can break stuff through malice, or outright stupidity...but most goods are pretty resilient against plain old garden variety "I haven't learned this yet" ignorance.

Max said...

Funny you should bring this up - I recently had a failure on a piece of equipment I love: specifically, one of the heads on my Grand National cracked from the exhaust valve of the number 3 cylinder. Theoretically, I could learn to repair this by attempting to weld the seam. However, after spending hours tearing the engine down to the block, I think I'll just order pocket ported heads and some new go-fast bits . . . When you work 70 hours a week, there are limits to the things you can do on your own . . .

Blinding Buddha said...

i grew up with a father who was and still is a DIY. he taught me and my brothers how to lay cement, put up sheet rock, lay wood flooring, change the oil, change a flat tire, change headlights and signal lights as well as changing a cars cooling fan. Even some plumbing and electrical work. And now i work and fix computers as a trade.

It always surprises me on how people will not take the time to learn how things work. most would take it to someone like me and pay through the nose. I cannot tell you how many times people sell their desktops or laptops for nothing because they think it does not work. Most of these i get for free and most of the time i'm able to figure out the problem and bring it back to life. At times reselling them again on the internet.

You Tube is the best thing since the internet started. I cannot tell you how many times i ran into a problem with a computer i could not figure out. You tube will show you how to fix it step by step. I also Google the problem and hit the computer forums and read. If its a problem i can guarantee you someone already published a solution on Google.

Learn to properly use tools! Use your brain for something other than filling it up with bullshit. The way the economy is going you gotta learn how to make things last longer. If you can do this then you are already way ahead of the game.

Anonymous said...

Youtube is da best when it comes to building and modifying AR's and 1911's.
They're much easier to work on than cars.

Apollo said...

Dude, what the Hell are you doing to your XBoxes to break so many?

Ive owned one since release day and use it pretty much daily (watching videos as well as playing games) and Im only on XBox number 2. And a large part of getting number 2 (other than the red ring of death on no 1) was to get a new controller, bigger hard drive and HDMi on the newer model.

But, apart from that.. Yes valid point about learning how to fix things.

Sithicus said...

Followed your advice. Printer broke last Sunday. Printer head died. New printer head 100$, new printer 150$.
Bought another broken printer on E-bay for 4$, 20$ for fuel and 3 hours driving to pick up the printer from some guy in sheep-shagger village.
2 minutes to change printer heads and everything works just fine.
As a bonus set of almost full original ink cartridges worth about 45$
And feeling of manliness and accomplishment - priceless ;)