When technology crushes do-it-yourselfers

Stew prides himself in his supernatural do-it-yourself skills which permit him to repair things lesser humans would toss in the trash or the back of the closet. His brother Greg is even more confident of his technical abilities: He often buys things that are already broken, and really cheap, counting on being able to fix them and saving tons of money.

As a back-up strategy, Stew also saves all receipts and guarantees, so he can smugly send back to the manufacturer or retailer those rare items beyond his amazing mechanical talents, and demand a replacement, no matter how onerous the warranty requirements might be, such as “void unless you include the original sales and credit card receipts and a copy of your grandmother’s birth certificate.” Stew’s got them all neatly filed, and more often than not he gets a replacement.

Then came the case of the LG smart phone, which he dropped sometime ago. The keyboard touch-screen went bonkers and would come up with the wrong letters or none at all, making it impossible to type any messages or even enter the password. In Chicago we went to a Best Buy store, where a lethargic “Geek Squad” member at the service desk declared the phone positively dead and gone.

Patient lying on the operating table; vital signs still hopeful. 

Stew would not give up. Back in Mexico he fiddled around until he discovered that, aha!, the keyboard would work if he held the phone upside down, which meant the entire screen wasn’t dead, just the bottom half. Could that be fixed? Yes! he said to himself, and ordered a new screen—a “touch-screen digitizer”—from Guangzhou, China, via Amazon.com, for $9.19.

After a few days, he received a cheerful if mostly unintelligible email from someone in China, announcing the imminent arrival of the new screen. Indeed, it arrived in Chicago, and later in Laredo, in six days flat.

Must admit I became a believer when the cigarette pack-size package arrived, containing a new screen plus a set of nearly microscopic screwdrivers, smaller even than those you use to fix eyeglasses, everything you needed to replace the screen on a LG Nexus 4 smart phone—except instructions and a requisite hair dryer.

Stew found a thirty-five minute YouTube video that promised to guide him through the entire process. Let’s go.

Stew’s index finger and thumb on his right hand don’t work properly, thanks to an incompetent Mexican “orthopedic surgeon” here—with a German last name but no German expertise—who bungled the operation to repair carpal tunnel syndrome.

It was up to me to do the surgery on the smart phone, with Stew yelling the instructions from the guy on the YouTube video, which I couldn’t quite hear because the volume adjustment on his laptop doesn’t work properly and, anymore, neither does my hearing.

Let’s see. Pry the smart phone case open, carefully, with the tool provided, and then, using one of the tiny screwdrivers, remove nine screws, about a sixteenth of an inch long, if that. Set aside. Carefully peel back a printed circuit, onion skin-thick and then another. Using tweezers, not provided, unplug a connection at the end of a wire, about as thin as a human hair. Careful now.

With all the pieces spread on the desk, always being careful not to sneeze, you wonder how human beings, even very tiny Chinese factory workers with eagle eyes, magnifying glasses and tiny fingers, assemble these things. Some of the pieces had what looked like Chinese characters, presumably the initials of some quality control person.

After forty-five minutes, this intervention became as nerve-wracking as a vasectomy on a chipmunk, though, astonishingly, it seemed to proceed according to the YouTube video.

The beginning of the end: In comes a hair dryer. 

 “Now you need a hair dryer,” Stew said, echoing the YouTube instructor. The hair dryer was supposed to heat the malfunctioning screen to an unspecified temperature that would cause it to peel back from some sort of sensor panel to which it was attached.

“Shit”. A fateful last word, uttered by me or Stew, I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter. The screen didn’t peel back properly and the sensor panel shattered, though we also noticed that, anyway, the wires dangling from the replacement didn’t match those on the old screen or the picture on the YouTube video.

Stew wouldn’t give up—I can’t imagine what he was pondering—and so he left the whole mess of wires, circuit panels and tiny screws lying on the desk, as if waiting for a visit by the Angel of Technology.

“Should have done what ninety-nine percent of smart phone users would have done,” I said snarkily.

“Which is?” Stew asked.

“Throw the damn thing in the trash and buy a new one,” I said.

Which is what we ended up doing, and we now own shiny new Samsung 6 Galaxy smart phone. It has a panoply of features we’ve just begun to explore. Fingerprint and voice recognition, plus automatic this and that and the other. Don’t ask how much it cost, because I won’t tell you.

Meanwhile, Stew now has moved on to the solar-powered, motion-activated LED light by the entrance gate, which doesn’t seem to work. He mumbled about fixing it until he discovered we bought it nine months ago and it carries a two-year warranty.

And when that’s on its way back to the manufacturer, he’ll need to check the weather station on the roof which has been registering zero m.p.h. winds and no temperature, for several days. I think it’s broken.


18 thoughts on “When technology crushes do-it-yourselfers

  1. Anonymous

    Did Stew have a twin? Were they separated at birth and never saw each other again? Well, his twin is up here in Minnesota and I'm married to him. This post was so amusing. But, you know, sometimes they actually do fix stuff!


  2. Microsurgery on electronic devices would make me a nervous wreck. Sometimes I can't even get the charging port open on my LG Dumb Phone. But my wife comes to my rescue.Saludos,Don Cuevas


  3. As nerve wracking as a vasectomy on a chipmunk……oh my! I was laughing so hard I had to go find a Kleenex to dry my eyes so I could finish reading the post! You guys are like Felix and whatshisname.I don't even have those phones and now know I really couldn't work it anyway. However, if Stew runs out of projects, please send him over. Let's see I could use help with the weather stripping that I've been attempting to get going on a straight line on the bottom of the windows and sides of the doors and………….and……………and. Guess you get the idea! Thanks for the laughs.


  4. Anonymous

    Too funny! I'm actually a lot like Stew in that way. I can (and do) fix most things, though modern electronics like cell phones and cameras are another matter entirely, what with their fiddly little screws, and many parts that are glued together and not designed to ever be fixed. But larger stuff? No sweat! Saludos,Kim GBoston, MAWhere we recently fixed a friend's furnace.


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