Repair is the act of fixing something that is broken.


Philosophy of Repair


In the modern world where everything has been commoditized, the notion of repair has (bizarrely) become a radical action. This is most visible within the "Right to Repair" movement, where people are trying to fight back (with legislation) against large corporations like Apple and John Deere who artificially make their products difficult (or impossible) to repair, forcing people to buy new items when they break. In some cases, these companies can even prematurely decommission otherwise functioning goods.


However, even beyond cartoon-villian examples of corporate overreach, the idea of repair in the broader culture has been dampened by the widespread notion of disposability, especially the proliferation of single (or few) use plastic objects. When the majority of the things we use are designed to be unwrapped, used, and then tossed in the trash, how do we maintain our collective skills for repair? By practicing intentional repair, we can overcome the cultural default of disposability, and ask more of the objects in our lives.


Through yet another lens, we can see repair as a radical worldview that asks us to look beyond the abstraction of a commodity, and see the objects in our lives as a collection of integrated parts. We don't just have "computer" and "car" and "desk chair" that either "work" or are "broken", but these objects are all made up of many different materials and components, and are designed and assembled with intention, and it's possible for us to understand those parts and (most importantly) to change or fix them. We can look beyond the fake dis-integrated image of the world that was designed to make it easier to sell things to us, and begin to see the nuance and complexity of the integrated environments around us.


Finally, embracing a worldview centered on repair gives us back our agency in a world that tries its hardest to take it away. When we build up the skill of identifying problems and fixing them, we start to realize that we can think, reason, understand, and act on our own, and that we don't have to wait for others to make the changes we want to see.

See Also

/repair Stream

November 17, 2023

/stream /repair /bicycle /fixie

The intention for the /fixie was always that it would be deeply refurbished and modifed over the winter. After a few months of riding it around and getting a feel for it, it was finally time to take the first step of a full disassembly, followed by a cleaning and a paint job.

The frame and fork of a sky blue bicycle, with the headset and drop areas accented with silver. It is sitting on sunlit pavement, surrounded by sandpaper and many of the parts that were removed.

When I bought the bike, it already had a pretty poorly applied two-tone spray-paint job, so I had always intended to sand it down and repaint it properly. I removed everything except the headset and bottom bracket, masked those off, and painted the bike a "British Racing Green" using spray.bike.

A bicycle frame and fork freshly painted british racing green, resting against a cinder block on top of long grass and fallen leaves.

Since it's already mid-November here in Vermont, I was racing against the clock to get the bike painted before the temperature got too cold for the paint to be effective. I wish I had taken a bit more time to be more detailed in my sanding work and take the painting process slowly, but it was looking like I only had one last chance for the weather to cooperate the day I painted. Overall, it came out nicely, with only a few minor patches where previous paint/rust spots had not been fully smoothed out.

November 8, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-2007

Disassembled the /MacBook (2007) today to give a proper internal dusting and a fresh application of thermal paste. Even after all the work done on the /MacBook Pro (2006), I still find myself using the /MacBook (2007) as my daily driver now, because it's smaller, lighter, and the plastic doesn't burn my legs as much as the metal case on the Pro. However, I've noticed that the CPU still seems to get quite hot, and I figured the 16 year old thermal paste wasn't helping much.

After the application, I noticed that peak thermals were much lower: ~68C as opposed to the ~80C I was seeing before when doing something like compiling a rust binary. The stable idle temperature during a work session hasn't changed much (~58C), but it takes much longer to reach that temperature (about 20 minutes of working), and temperature recovery back to baseline after a spike is also noticably better.

Hopefully this preventative maintenance extends the life of this computer even further than it was on track to go.

September 25, 2023

/stream /bicycle /repair /rad-runner

Last night I went to install a front rack on the /RadRunner Plus and had to reroute my front brake cable. By taking it out, it loosened a frayed part of the cable which then got jammed inside the cable housing, rendering the brake useless. I had never replaced a brake cable before, but a quick search told me it should be pretty straightforward. Today I was able to get a replacement cable from a local bike shop for $3 and swap it out in about 5 minutes.

The special notes were that brake cables are pretty standardized but are different than shifting cables, and that you have to match the "head" of the new brake cable with the one used in the brake lever. I was able to remove (and replace) my cable from the brake lever without tools by just aligning the slots in the barrel adjusters and pulling the cable through. I reused the existing rigid cable housing, and threaded the new cable through it. I was also able to re-use the cable-end cap from the old brake cable by sliding it off with needle-nose pliers, and then crimping it back onto the new cable. Finally, I used those same pliers to cut the new cable to length.

September 15, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-pro-2006

After coming to the conclusion that GRUB2 was the only way to boot, my only remaining option to get the GPU working on /MacBook Pro (2006) was to go through the process of extracting the firmware from a BIOS boot, and then patching the radeon kernel module to manually load that firmware from a file. I tried for a long time to make a BIOS-bootable USB drive of an old Ubuntu 10 live CD, but the computer refused to boot from it. From what others had written online, it seemed like booting from a DVD was the easiest path forward, so I hunted down a blank DVD and burned that 32bit Ubuntu 10 image to it.

Unfortunately, when trying to boot from the DVD I came to the conclusion that the DVD drive was broken. My /MacBook (2007) easily booted from the DVD, but the /MacBook Pro (2006) did not. My solution: open up both machines, hook up the working drive from the MacBook to the MacBook Pro, boot into Ubuntu and extract the firmware, and put everything back together. To make a long story short: it worked, miraculously. After a long morning of open-heart surgery, I still had two working laptops and a "vbios.bin" file that would be the key to a working GPU.

I spent a little time after the firmware extraction looking into patching the kernel, but didn't make it too far.

September 8, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-pro-2006

After a bit of a break, I came back to the project of getting the /MacBook Pro (2006) GPU functional in arch linux again. With the time away, I'd had more time to think about what the problem was, and to come up with new approaches. Essentially, I understood that the GPU driver needed to be able to see the GPU firmware, which was only exposed during certain boot conditions. I came to the conclusion that if I could boot directly into an EFISTUB that the firmware would be visible, and so I made it my goal to try and do that.

Unfortunately, the main problem with this machine is that it has two oddities with its EFI: it uses 32bit EFI hardware to boot into a 64bit CPU, and it is also an Apple-specific EFI 1.10 implementation and not a modern UEFI standard implementation. I think I ended up believing that there have been advances in both the linux kernel and also things like systemd-boot that would have overcome the 32bit -> 64bit mismatch, but I kept running into boot errors anyway. My final takeaway is that it was the custom EFI 1.10 implementation that was breaking the boot process due to missing hooks. If you're reading this in the future, I don't think that this machine will ever get any better boot options due to its proprietary and opaque EFI 1.10 implementation, unless someone takes the time to reverse-engineer Apple's implementation.

This means that I'm left relying on GRUB2 and its EFI Handover Protocol method of booting "mixed-mode" on this particular hardware. I also discovered that newer versions of GRUB2 (starting at r566 I believe) have issues with this boot mode, so I ended up pinning grub to an older version (2.04) in pacman and now booting works every time. By adding "reboot=pci" to the kernel parameters, rebooting also works every time, and the laptop never has any strange boot issues. All that's left now is to figure out how to get the GPU firmware loaded manually.

August 23, 2023

/stream /repair /bicycle /fixie

After riding around town on my new /fixie for the last week, I got tired of the seized rear brake and was itching to try and repair it. From what I could tell, it seemed to be a Bridgestone "Self Centering" side pull rim-brake, or at least something that was attempting to look like one. I removed the brake and disassembled it, cleaning all of the parts with soapy water and then soaking everything in distilled white vinegar over night. Afterwards, I brushed the rust off with a toothbrush, reasssembled, lubricated the pivots, and everything was working well.

July 15, 2023

/stream /bicycle /repair /rad-runner

Performed some light maintenance and repairs on my /RadRunner Plus. I have never done much bike maintenance, but I've been slowly adjusting the brake tension as the pads wore down over the last 18 months. Recently however, my small tweaks stopped making an impact and braking power has reduced, and I needed to actually learn what I was doing. Turns out there is an adjustment screw on the brake calipers that nudges the brake pads in or out, and I needed to nudge the pads closer to the disc a bit as it wore out. I removed and cleaned both calipers with a damp rag (avoiding the pads), made adjustments, and reattached them with the correct alignment by squeezing the brake cable while tightening. Braking power is back to 100%, and the slight rub and squeak I occasionally got is gone now too.

June 12, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-pro-2006

After finally getting Arch installed, booting into it also had many challenges. I have not been able to get a consistent boot, and in fact have only been able to get all the way through to login once. Just like the /MacBook (2007), it frequently immediately hangs from grub on “Loading initial ramdisk”, but the success rate seems far lower than the MacBook. I’ll need to dig much deeper into the boot process to see if this isn’t fixable, but at the moment, /MacBook Pro (2006) does not have a usable linux partition. Hopefully I can get this sorted out, because these old machines are great, and having a reliable arch install would give these machines life for many more years to come.

June 11, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-pro-2006

Working through trying to completely restore this /MacBook Pro (2006) to a fresh copy of OS X Lion was hell. There was nowhere to download a disk image from, and the machine I was on was missing its Recovery HD partition. I jumped through so many different hoops trying to get figure out how to get things to clean install, but eventually I was able to generate a Lion Bootable USB, change the clock back to 2013, and then boot (and install) from the USB.

Unfortunately, the complete formatting of the drive and fresh install of OS X didn’t make the Arch install go any smoother. I had to mess with kernel parameters to get the arch iso USB to boot, and was eventually able to get the OS installed.

June 10, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-pro-2006

The last part for my /MacBook Pro (2006) came in today, which was the lower case. Unfortunately, while I’m sure it was a relatively “New OEM” part at one point, its years in storage left it a little bent in places, most notably the slot for the disc drive was collapsed. I looked through the internet and decided there were probably no more “new” parts like this easily purchasable online, and that this part was better than the one I had, so I did my best to bend it back in place and moved on with reassembly.

I never know if I’m doing a good job reapplying thermal paste, but otherwise reassembly went smoothly. My first attempt to boot failed, but it turned out to be from the RAM not being fully seated; I thought it was funny that after completely disassembling the entire laptop and transplanting it into a new case, the final step, and the only one that doesn’t require disassembly was the part that went wrong. After reseating the RAM, the computer booted normally into OSX.

Arch was a different story. I ran into a ton of problems, and ultimately decided that my “clone from a different machine” idea was a bad one. I’ll have to wipe this machine clean and start from scratch.

June 9, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-2006

Stopped in our local reuse shop today hoping that an old Apple Thunderbolt Display that I had seen earlier in the week would still be there, but as I was walking in, someone was walking out with it. As a consolation prize, there was a G4 iBook and a Matte Black /MacBook (2006) in stock. The MacBook was $10 and in need of a battery, but it came with an original MagSafe charger which would be useful for the /MacBook Pro (2006), and my /MacBook (2007) battery could be swapped in for testing and set up.

A matte black mackbook sitting on a walnut coffee table, booted to the default geometric blue wallpaper of MacOSX 10.4.

I took it home and checked it out, and it ended up being in great condition. It turned out to be the original Core Duo revision (MacBook 1,1) and not the Core 2 Duo revision from later in 2006, making it my first and only 32 bit computer. It should eventually be a great 32 bit test platform for the /coalescent computer. I luckily had 2GB of RAM sitting around from the /MacBook (2007) before it was upgraded to 3GB, which meant I was able to max out its RAM capacity without any new parts.

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /linux /macbook-pro-2006

Set up the SSD for the /MacBook Pro (2006). My current /MacBook (2007) has both Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Arch Linux installed, and uses the native Apple bootloader system to choose between operating systems; it was a pain to set up, especially because that specific chipset uses a 64bit CPU with a 32bit EFI. I decided that the easiest way to set up the new drive would be to clone the SSD from the /MacBook (2007), since it uses the exact same CPU and EFI system as the /MacBook Pro (2006). I booted the /MacBook (2007) from an Arch Linux Live USB, connected the new SSD via USB, and then used dd if=/dev/sdX of=/dev/sdY bs=256K conv=noerror,sync status=progress to clone between the drives.

Unfortunately, though they were both nominally 256GB, the new drive was about 0.1GB smaller than the existing drive so dd failed right at the end. Since I knew that all the data was there, and that the main issues were around the missing backup partition table and the truncated final partition, I manually reconstructed the partition table with gdisk by choosing the same block offset and length as the original disk for all partitions, letting the last one automatically go to the end instead of overflowing. By writing the modified table, the backup partition table was correctly rewritten to the end. gdisk v and fsck let me know that there were no remaining problems. Finally, I used resize2fs to also make sure the filesystem (ext4) in that partition knew that the size had changed, and e2fsck to verify it was clean. For sanity, I also regenerated all of the GPT UUIDs for the disk and partition, and then regenerated the fstab file for linux. I mounted that disk and arch-chrooted to make sure all was well, and then successfully rebooted directly from the drive.

Now, hopefully, it will be ready to drop right in to its new home when the final component arrives.

June 8, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-pro-2006

Several of the parts that I ordered for the /MacBook Pro (2006) came in today, including the Rear Bezel (the top of the "lid"), the Upper Case (where the keyboard and trackpad are), and the replacement 250GB SSD.

An old macbook pro disassembled in pieces on a coffee table; its guts exposed in the bottom case, with the keyboard and upper bezel sitting seperately next to it.

I removed and cleaned the keyboard from the original upper case along with the bluetooth module, and then reinstalled them on the the new case. It also came with a fresh set of insulation and spacers, which I also installed. I had already removed the rear bezel from the old LCD assembly, so snapping that on and replacing the two screws only took a minute. After about an hour and a half of work, those two parts were fully cleaned and transitioned, and looked good as new.

June 4, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-pro-2006

Today I completely disassembled the junk shop /MacBook Pro (2006) to inspect for any internal damage before buying a few replacement parts. Everything seemed to be in great shape, so I ordered a replacement top and bottom case from eBay, and a 2.5" SSD to replace the 17 year old spinning hard drive it still had. I had enough old RAM sticks lying around to max out its capacity (3GB), and the battery is actually in pretty good condition.

The CPUs and GPU on the motherboard of the 2006 macbook pro, freshly cleaned of thermal paste and setting on a clean walnut coffee table.

At some point in the next few weeks after cleaning and installing the guts in a new case, reapplying thermal paste, upgrading to an SSD, and setting up Arch Linux, this laptop will be a high performance work machine again, hopefully saved from a landful for another long while.

May 20, 2023

/stream /technology /permacomputing /repair /macbook-pro-2006

While helping my partner set up her work for a DIY art festival, I found a /MacBook Pro (2006) in a junk shop for $25. It was a 2006 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo model. I took it home and was surprised to find that it worked great after plugging it into an old MagSafe charger I had lying around. The case was a little bent as if someone had sat on it, and consequently the trackpad was a little wonky; otherwise, it seemed like a great machine. I'll need to tear it down at some point to look for any other internal damage before spending more time or money on it.