BitFIXit General

Forging ahead into the future

We hope you have all had a great Christmas and a happy new year. With the BitFIXit project running community workshops and engaging with events run by other groups for over 16 years now, we feel that now is a good time to set out how we can move the BitFIXit project forwards, going into the future.

  • Encourage reuse, repair and repurpose

As new and upcoming iterations of computers and mobile devices are becoming increasingly locked down in terms of specs and repairability, and the business models of ingrained planned obsolescence on the part of manufacturers become evermore unsustainable, we believe that being able to reuse, repair and repurpose IT equipment and hardware components are more important than ever before.

While reusing and repurposing computers, mobile devices and other IT equipment goes a long way in reducing the amount of e-waste we produce, we feel that we can further reduce e-waste by finding other different (and creative!) ways of reusing and repurposing individual parts that make up the equipment. We already shared some repurpose and reuse ideas here on this site, but we are interested in being more ambitious and creative with reuse and repurpose by working on various different projects, based on ideas we discussed during recent workshop sessions (and of course, finally giving Gareth a good reason to make use of all the laptop batteries he has been hoarding all that time!)

The overall gist of promoting reuse, repair and repurpose is to encourage people to be more resourceful by maximising the useful life of technological products through refurbishment, upgrades and optimisation. And where those items could no longer be used for their original purpose, their individual components can still become parts of other useful items, instead of just becoming e-waste.

  • Collaborate with other community groups

Collaboration is going to be important going forward, as we are better able to promote sustainability by working together. We understood that this can be done as demonstrated in March 2019, when the fine folks at Repair Sheffield and People’s Kitchen Pitsmoor came together with us for the relaunch of Green City Action’s Community Tool Bank at Abbeyfield Park House. What is in the pipeline right now, is for collaborative events to take place around every three months.

We currently work alongside Repair Sheffield at their repair cafe sessions at Heeley City Farm and Strip The Willow, and we will be working alongside them more frequently at Abbeyfield Park House. We’re starting regular Repair Sheffield sessions every month, on the first Saturday of the month. Combining our IT-oriented workshops with their more generalised repair cafes will result in a more unified community repairs hub that is capable of fixing a broad range of everyday items and sharing advice, tips and ideas.

We would be especially interested in collaborating with other community groups and repair cafes from further afield. What would also be great is to be able to work with the folks at Access Space again; we regrettably haven’t been able to maintain contact with them since they were unable to keep repair cafes going there last year.

  • Reach out to the wider public

We do have a lot of people from within the local community come to our Saturday workshops since we first started, but attracting interest in folks from further afield is something we believe can only help in the long term.

At present, Gareth and myself have been running the community repair workshops as mostly a two-person operation, with a few other people dropping by to help us out from time to time. What this means is that we can only do so much ourselves in the 3-4 hour workshop sessions while also taking on full-time work commitments elsewhere. And so going forward, we want to encourage more people to join us and help out at our workshops in Abbeyfield Park House, as well as repair cafe sessions held by Repair Sheffield at Heeley City Farm and Strip The Willow.

To attract interest in what we do at our workshops, we will aim to work with organisations such as Voluntary Action Sheffield, the Doit.Foundation and the Sheffield Students Union to advertise volunteering opportunities, as well as make better use of social media platforms to spread the word about what we do at our workshops. We will also aim to spread the word out to local communities and advertise the volunteering opportunities at our community workshops at Abbeyfield Park House, and at repair cafes run by other groups we are working with at present.

  • Evolve the repairs workshops

At present, we focus primarily on diagnostics, repairs and clean-ups of desktop PCs and laptops, along with some work on phones and tablets. The potential is there, though, to diversify the pop-up workshops and make it into more than simply a computer repair cafe; as well as developing it into an inclusive community repairs hub where anyone can come in and learn how to fix their tired and clapped-out everyday items, why not offer a pop-up internet cafe for example?

Internet cafes were once quite popular in the days before tablets and smartphones became ubiquitous; you could have a coffee and a bite to eat while watching online videos, catching up on the latest news or applying for jobs in the local area. Nowadays, people find that they could simply do just that on their phones, tablets or laptops in a typical chain coffee shop, which meant that over recent years, internet cafes have been gradually dying out across the country.

We believe internet cafes still have a place in local communities, where there are people who can’t afford access to home or mobile broadband services.

These are just a few different ways we can take to develop the repair workshops and inspire local communities to fix their items and help others do the same.

BitFIXit General

Why we install Linux on older computers

There is a broad diversity of computers that are continually released to enterprise and the public, ranging from huge workstations that incorporate powerful hardware aimed at intensive, productive tasks, to tiny ultra small form factor PCs with more modest specifications that can be mounted to the back of monitors or TVs for an all-in-one solution, even to laptops that can be carried around in bags for productivity wherever people go.

Unfortunately, computers are typically supported by OEMs only for a few years at most before they are deemed to be “end of life”, where OEMs basically eschew support for those older machines in favour of their most recent range of products. This can lead to situations where drivers for hardware that worked on older operating systems no longer work all of a sudden when users decide to try upgrading to the newest releases of their favoured operating system. These factors in particular can seem to conspire to encourage users to throw away otherwise perfectly useful working computers, simply because OEMs, hardware and software vendors deem it no longer profitable to continue supporting their older hardware and software products.

So here at BitFIXit, where computers that came with versions of Windows that are no longer supported, but can still be serviceable and useful for their users’ needs, we can extend those computers’ useful service life by replacing the obsolete versions of Windows installed on them with Linux distributions. Our Linux distribution of choice is Linux Mint, which is a distribution that is aimed at accommodating novice users by making it easy to install and update software. We chose Linux Mint, because by virtue of being an easy to use operating system, it is ideal for our regular visitors to our community workshops. Recent releases of Linux Mint are based on long-term term releases of Ubuntu, which means that they receive extended support and in turn, means extended useful life of computers.

Where we come across computers that come with CPUs that do not support 64-bit operating systems, we install the most recent 32-bit version of Linux Mint we have available. This way, even computers with legacy CPUs can benefit from receiving software updates and support. Maintainers have started to cease offering 32-bit versions of mainstream Linux distributions so, while we can eventually go only so far in extending the usefulness of these computers, the extra service time offered by opting for a Linux distribution over continuing on with an obsolete and increasingly insecure release of Windows means less electronic wastage in the long term.

BitFIXit General

Less clutter, more inspiration!

It’s been a while since we last talked out how we are going to resolve the ongoing “junk” problem we have, and we have some good news on that front! We recently managed to free up valuable space in our store room by giving away several old desktop computers and a monitor to a couple of clients who wanted to use them as part of an art project of theirs for a local community group. The room looks a bit less cluttered now, though we still have some ways to go before it is fully decluttered!

During this weekend’s community IT workshops, we had a client for whom we set up and subsequently gave away a Toshiba laptop, and he gave us a pair of artful plates in return.

I have to say that they do look pretty snazzy and can particularly come in useful as coasters for when we get the kettle on more frequently as winter draws near!

Speaking of decluttering the store room, Gareth and I have been thinking of various practical (and wacky) ways of making use of the old computers, spare parts and other bits and bobs lying around in there, as well as our cupboard lately. We tried our hand at turning a very old hard drive into a clock, complete with dedicated clock arms and mechanisms, and one of the original hard drive platters as the face of the clock! That would be something that is worth pursuing, and we do have other ideas in the pipeline for turning old computer parts and IT equipment into more useful things, so please feel free to check back on our website to see what interesting things we have come up with.

BitFIXit General

Beginning to fix our “junk” problem

Several weeks ago, I explained how our community clinics workshops at Abbeyfield Park House have developed a “junk” problem, in which we kept a wide range of IT equipment and other random things in the upstairs store room. We have now started in earnest to trawl through the store room during this weekend’s workshop sessions to sort through our stuff to determine what we will retain, and what we will have recycled. To that end, we dedicated a space just by the window for which to place the items that will be destined for recycling.

I myself started to go through the flat screen monitors in the room to check over which of those were in working order; two of the monitors were brought into the community room for a quick test, both of which worked fine but one of them had a dodgy VGA cable attached to it, so we found another working cable for the monitor in question. Later in the session, we determined that it would be quicker to select a few monitors that we find interesting and would be worth keeping, and send out the others for recycling. Another monitor had some tape attached to the screen, which could be an indicator of hardware damage, so that was kept among the pile of items for recycling. We also had two CRT monitors that we earmarked for recycling, as we felt that they would be too old for use

There were two desktop PC chassis that we decided to retain, because with an overhaul of the internal hardware components through replacing the old parts with more modern components, they can be brought back into good use. The other desktop PCs we did look at would not have good enough thermal performance without any scope for installing chassis fans to accommodate a modern system build, or were complete systems that were too old to plausibly use parts from them as spares. For instance, there were several small form factor Dell Optiplex GX240s that were kept in a couple of places within the store room; I opened up one of the Optiplex GX240s and discovered that the installed RAM modules were actually SDRAM modules that preceded the first generation of DDR RAM modules. Of course, a quick look on Wikipedia led to me noticing that the Dell Optiplex GX240 was released back in 2001, and so they were clearly too old even to extract parts from the machines to use for spare parts.

We also opted to earmark a few laptops kept in storage for recycling, including a couple of laptops with faulty parts, a Samsung laptop with a damaged chassis, and a vintage laptop that would have been reliant on PCMCIA cards for the use of USB devices, due to a lack of native USB functionality on the laptop itself.

In the upcoming weekend community clinics workshop sessions, we will continue to sort through the IT equipment, computer parts and other items in order to consider whether to retain or send away for recycling, and also to check if they are still in working order.

BitFIXit General

Resolving our own “junk” problem…

During our weekly community clinics workshops, we have collected various items that were donated to us by the local community; these included computers, laptops, IT equipment, hardware components, peripherals and accessories. However, this has the side effect of the equipment we receive taking up valuable storage space and gathering dust in the storage areas we currently use for keeping items and equipment, that could be freed up and put to better use.

For instance, the silver cabinet next to the door going into the community room was getting full with the cables, laptops, peripherals and accessories, computer components and other loose stuff that end up in the cabinet. We generally use it as storage for our most frequently used equipment and computers that are to be worked on, so this would be a good place to begin the housekeeping.

Upstairs in Abbeyfield Park House, one of the rooms is used as additional storage for keeping a wide plethora of items, as well as spare chairs that are kept there among the IT equipment.

As you can see in the above photos, the room is rather cluttered with all kinds of unused IT equipment, hardware components and other stuff that were simply stored in the room. Because more items are stored away in the cupboards, as well as the stuff being laid down on the floor in the room itself, it will take some time to gradually go through all of the items kept here as storage.

Going forward, now would be a good time to get our own house in order by going through all of the stuff in the storage spaces, and test each of the components, equipment, computers and other stuff to check which of those are working, and send out those that don’t work for recycling, alongside the usual computer repair work.