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The Computer Designed to Last

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/11/2021 - 7:00pm in

Sleek aluminum housing? Check. A 13.5-inch, high-resolution display? Check. Backlit black keyboard? Check. Fingerprint scanner? Check.

The Framework Laptop might have more than a passing resemblance to the latest MacBook. But it’s different in one key aspect that could kickstart a revolution: repairability.

“Consumer electronics is an industry of disposability,” says Nirav Patel, founder of Framework, the California-based company behind the device. “It was really clear this wasn’t a problem that was going to solve itself. We want to prove that a different model works. You don’t have to get a shiny new product every time something goes wrong. ”

Patel, who previously built cutting-edge hardware for the likes of Apple and the virtual reality headset company Oculus (owned by Meta, formerly known as Facebook), argues the consumer electronics industry is broken. And he hopes the Framework Laptop, dubbed by its creators as “a notebook designed to last,” can help fix it. 

“The entire inside is designed to be repairable,” explains Patel. “We’ve also designed it so that upgrades can be made in the future. Why? It’s about respecting consumer rights and the environment, reducing extraction of the planet’s resources.”

A public manual on the Framework’s website explains how users can make repairs themselves. Photo courtesy of Framework

The result is that the Framework Laptop ($999) can be taken apart with ease, and virtually any part of it — from the battery to the processor to the keyboard — can be repaired or upgraded. The constituent parts can be accessed with a screwdriver and a public manual explains how users can make repairs themselves. The ports on the device are simple USB-C boxes that can be removed at the press of a button. The screen’s bezel can be lifted off directly with your hands. And the company just launched Marketplace, which sells affordable replacement parts (a new battery is $59). 

With this flexibility, the idea is that users will have greater control over their laptops, which will in turn have a longer shelf life. And Framework insists that despite the focus on repairability and functionality, there will be no genuine downsides. “We could have made it a fraction of a millimeter thinner,” says Patel, alluding to the fact the Framework is 1.58 centimeters thick, compared to the Macbook Pro M1’s 1.56 centimeters. “But the reality is that people don’t have to make trade-offs to get high performance and longevity.”

This simple yet groundbreaking innovation has already earned the Framework Laptop, which began shipping to the U.S. and Canada in July, plenty of plaudits. It is the first laptop ever to receive a 10/10 score by iFixit, an influential pro-repair website. And Framework, which will launch in further countries in the coming months, says it’s been selling more devices than it can produce (though that is partly due to the pandemic’s impact on supply chains).

“The history of the 20th and early 21st century has been a history of consumerism… But that’s created an emergency of e-waste and carbon emissions.” Photo courtesy of Framework

“We talk about modularity a lot in our teardowns and repair scores,” says Kevin Purdy of iFixit. “Generally, that means that any individual component that fails won’t doom a larger part of the device, or the whole device, to failure. Framework’s Laptop goes above and beyond in that regard. Anyone with typical tools and reasonable skill can access and fix the essential components.”

Experts say that reducing unnecessary consumption of electronics is a priority. A record 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019 — up by one-fifth in just five years, according to the UN’s Global E-waste Monitor 2020. That’s set to reach 74 million tons by 2030, making e-waste the world’s fastest-growing source of domestic waste fueled by higher demand for electronics, short life-cycles and few options for repair. The average U.S. household has 25 connected devices, including laptops, smartphones, wireless earbuds, smart home devices and exercise trackers, according to Deloitte’s Connectivity and Mobile Trends Survey 2021

“The history of the 20th and early 21st century has been a history of consumerism,” says Mark Miodownik, professor of materials and society at University College London. “It’s the economic model to make people buy more stuff. But that’s created an emergency of e-waste and carbon emissions.”

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Planned obsolescence — the built-in deterioration in the performance of devices – has been a key part of many companies’ business plans, according to Miodownik. And so the issue of repairability, he says, is significant not only for the environment, but also for reasons of social justice and global equality. “Making repairs easier redresses that balance,” he adds. 

But it’s unlikely to be smooth sailing. There have been notable failures to make modular devices like the Framework Laptop a success. Google’s Project Ara, a modular smartphone with swappable component packs, quietly folded. LG followed suit a few years later with its semi-modular Android device. And although other modular devices like Fairphone are still around, they have yet to break into the mainstream.

A record 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste was generated worldwide in 2019. Photo: Framework

“Ten years down the line a lot can change,” says Professor Miodownik. “The Fairphone eventually had design developments that weren’t backwards compatible. And it’s not zero risk for these companies. You have to be confident that people will actually repair these devices, because if you stock up on replacement batteries and they don’t, you’re going to be left high and dry.”

Purdy of iFixit hesitates to predict the success of the Framework Laptop, given variables such as marketing, inventory, production and price picking. But he believes that the initial signs are promising. “There’s a real chance they succeed, and slightly better odds that they influence the market,” he says.

Those odds are likely to be bolstered by the burgeoning right-to-repair movement that is now gaining support from President Biden. In October, Microsoft said it would study the impact of spare parts and repair manuals, and implement findings by 2023. Then the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress granted blanket exemptions for bypassing copyright schemes if you’re repairing a consumer device (or medical device, or vehicle). 

“No one would buy a bicycle if you knew it would stop working in three years,” says Miodownik. “Design for repair is the dominant model for that industry. And it should be the same with technology.”

The post The Computer Designed to Last appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Identity Crisis: Radical Gender Theory and the Left

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/10/2021 - 11:27pm in

In his latest series of documentaries Can’t Get You Out of My Head (reviewed by Guy Rundle in Arena Quarterly No. 6), sociologist and filmmaker Adam Curtis focuses on a number of individuals who sit at the uneasy intersection of modern individualism, an increasingly technologised vision of the human mind and human behaviour, and a liberatory politics denuded of grand historical narratives. Key portraits in this gallery include the US rapper Tupac Shakur, who attempts to recreate in music something of the political radicalism of his mother (the Black Panther Afeni Shakur) but finds himself trapped by celebrity culture, and the countercultural author Kerry Thornley, who sought to satirise conspiracy thinking, only to succumb to it in later life. But perhaps the most interesting figure of all, in terms of the ideological positioning of the contemporary ‘mainstream’ radical left, is the transgender activist Julia Grant, whose story Curtis glosses in an article for the Guardian … [More here.]

Imprisoned by a Horizon

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/08/2021 - 1:25pm in

Tags 

Tech

Last week I was on leave from work. On Saturday morning I packed a tent and sleeping bag onto my bicycle. By lunchtime it was obvious that our region was going into lockdown. So, I unpacked everything and settled into a week of being a home-body. I long for the horizon but cannot seem to start the journey.

My Bike
Bike

I was going to take my Librem (linux driven phone) with me. Thanks to the efforts of Martijn Braam and Dorota Czaplejewicz the Librem5 camera is now working. I’ve been experimenting with Braam’s Megapixels, which is basic but entirely functional. Brilliant work. I guess I’ll have to test it out a little closer to home.

Go Slow and Break Things

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/08/2021 - 7:00pm in

This review was first published in Arena Quarterly #6.

*

The short decade between the global debt crisis and the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency was a time of great excitement on the Left. Like the devil in Baudelaire’s The Generous Gambler, capitalism’s power had been based on its ability to convince the world that it didn’t exist; but in the months and years after the financial meltdown, its tail and trotters were distinctly visible to anyone who cared to look. Fred Jameson’s crack about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism still held true for the majority of people. But at least it was beginning to occur to some of them, as the end of the world drew ever closer, that capitalism might have something to do with it. 

One prominent emphasis that emerged in this time, on the Left as well as in other milieux, was the role that automation might play, or was already playing, in capitalism’s demise. As more and more jobs were automated, the prospect of a “jobocalypse” was widely mooted, as indeed was the “crisis of realisation” that was bound to follow hard on its heels (unemployment translates into a …) The emergence of near zero marginal cost technologies invited a Marxian interpretation of these developments, as “non-rival goods” (data, sunlight) collapsed the usual pricing/profit mechanisms and pointed forward to a world of abundance and relatively “clean” technologies. The economic system to come was growing in the belly of the one we had; the potential for a post-capitalist future—a cybernetic Great Leap Forward—was in prospect, if not inevitable.

To say that these enthusiasms (some of which I shared) have cooled somewhat would be to put it mildly. Catalysed by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the ‘techlash’ against Big Data’s abuses of consumer data is now utterly mainstream, while the idea that increasing automation might spell an end to exploitation is plainly incompatible with the degradations of the gig economy and the reality of working life at the shitty end of online commerce. Perhaps the starkest example of the latter is the Amazon ‘Fulfilment Centre’—the Potemkin village of cybernetic capitalism. Once billed as the cutting edge in automation, with an army of orange Kiva robots at the supervisors’ beck and call (in the depots of the past, flesh-and-blood humans would pick things out with their hands, like schmucks; today they arrive at your arm with a whisper), these warehouses are now seen for what they are: Taylorist hellholes in which it’s the humans that are ‘automated’, and in which surveillance, precarity and appalling conditions are marbled into the employment model.

So pernicious are many of the new technologies, and the uses to which those technologies are put, that a number of commentators have begun to question, not just the technophilia of the FALCs (‘fully automated luxury communists’), but the broader idea at large on the Left that it is less the technologies themselves that are important than the productive relations in which they are set. Indeed, one can even begin to discern a small outbreak of technophobia in some unlikely corners of the contemporary Left. Richard Seymour’s recent The Twittering Machine, for example, is dedicated “to the Luddites” and concludes with a fantasy of strolling in the park with “nice pen” and laying down “on a lily pad”. Even Paul Mason, whose 2015 book PostCapitalism was so central to the FALC analysis, now seems more keen to stress the dangers of new technology than its utopian possibilities. While PostCapitalism … His Clear Bright Future (2019) sets a new “radical humanism” against the potential for “algorithmic control” and its ambient intellectual stupidities.

It is the example of the Luddites that Gavin Mueller picks up in his new book Breaking Things at Work, a challenging, if ultimately flawed, attempt to push back against the technophilia (explicit and implicit) on the modern Left. Of course, the Luddites have always occupied an ambivalent place in radical affections. On the one hand, the followers of the mythic King Ludd are celebrated as an early manifestation of anti-capitalist militancy, while on the other, they tend to be characterised as an essentially naïve example of such—as a group that confused, or even collapsed, the forces and relations of production in a way that made technological “progress”, and not the boss, the enemy. But Mueller will have none of this. Following Hobsbawm, he argues that this characterisation is not only unhistorical (“In those pre-socialist times the working class was a crowd, not an army”, wrote Hobsbawm; “Enlightened, orderly, bureaucratic strikes were impossible”), but also misunderstands the ways in which work is itself a social activity to which the relations of production are “immanent”. It follows that attacks on new technologies are a crucial component of class composition, as well as a foreshadowing of the world to be won. For Mueller, in short, technology is never neutral; it is pregnant with bourgeois ideology in a way that the accelerationist emphasis on ownership of the means of production obscures.

Mueller wants a decelerationist Left, not an accelerationist one. Quoting Walter Benjamin’s suggestion, floated in “On the Concept of History”, that revolutions may not be “the locomotive of world history” but an attempt to “activate the emergency brake”, he seeks to rehabilitate the example of the nineteenth-century frame-breakers, and to excavate the buried tradition of which they are but one iteration—a tradition largely unsupported, in his telling, by the union movement, and despised by many on the Marxist Left as antithetical to the spirit of scientific socialism. For Mueller, the Luddites’ acts of sabotage are paradigmatic of a history of go-slows, wildcatting and general vandalism that is far more marginal than it deserves to be, especially given the central role that high technologies play in the modern workplace.

Mueller’s contention is that “actually existing automation” is not only about greater productivity but about reconfiguring labour practices in a way that makes workers easier to control. For as long as workers remained attached to ways of working that were marbled in to more communitarian modes of life, they would always baulk at the idea that their products were mere commodities for sale. But automation provides a way for capital to introduce its “values” (or its nihilism) into the labour process. By refocusing work on the efficient production of goods for profit, above all else, capital is able to transform the worker into a mere means of production, a cog in the machine. Marx himself made something like this point in an unpublished chapter of Capital called “Results of the Immediate Production Process” and its effect is to throw the various struggles over automation into a more nuancedlight. For example, when the FordMotor Company redesigned production so that materials were automatically conveyed from one process to another, it was not merely trying to increase production but to decentralise the production process in a way that allowed them to break the link with its proud and unruly workforce in Detroit. For Mueller, it follows that the struggle against such automation is more than just economic “self-interest”; it is, or can be, constitutive of an alternative socio-economic vision.

Mueller writes that he wants to turn Marxists into Luddites and Luddites into Marxists, but I think he will prove a lot more successful in the first ambition than the second one. For while he does a brilliant job of showing just how unhistorical, simplistic and idealistic the accelerationist model of “progress” is, in other respects he reproduces the shortcomings of mainstream Marxism faithfully. Noting that much of the criticism of new technology comes from “a place of romantic humanism” and from people who’ve read too much Heidegger (“who criticized technology for alienating us, through its disenchanting and instrumentalizing nature, from the mystical experience of Being”), he writes:

The problem of technology is not simply that it alienates us from Being, or from authentic experiences … [T]he more fundamental problem of technology is its role in the reproduction of hierarchies and injustices foisted upon most of us by business owners, bosses, and governments. In other words, the problem of technology is its role in capitalism.

Unless I’ve misunderstood this passage (and several other passages very similar to it), Mueller is saying that our “authentic” humanity is, as far as technologies go, less important than our participation in capitalism. But why is capitalism a problem at all if it doesn’t cut against the grain of our “nature”? Mueller writes: “What workers bitterly opposed was ‘industrial concentration’ that demolished their way of life by undermining the autonomy they possessed in small-scale home-based manufacturing, which ‘paced its activities according to its needs’ so that workers controlled the hours and intensity of their work.” Fair enough. But from what does the need for “autonomy” (or agency or conviviality) derive, if not our “authentic” humanity?

Mueller says he does not believe in a “universal essence”; but if he means by this that he doesn’t accept that humans have certain irreducible characteristics—sociality, creativity, corporeality—then he is channelling the very “Prometheanism” that he criticises in other parts of the Left: the Prometheanism that imagines human beings to be extrusions of the clanking machine of history, and thus infinitely malleable. “The argument for deceleration is not based on satisfying nature,” writes Mueller, “but in recognizing the challenges facing strategies for organizing the working class.” But organising the working class to do what? Take ownership? Get control of the surplus? This doesn’t sound a million miles away from the vulgar “workerism” of the Bolsheviks.

The point, surely, is that work is an expression of our fundamental creativity, and that technologies exist in a complex relationship to that fundamental creativity: a relationship that cannot be reduced to a forces-relations model. Frustrated with the cruder versions of that model, but still in thrall to a Marxist analysis that sees capitalism as the ghost in every machine and is reflexively hostile to any notion that human beings may have a nature that is prior to the economic “base”, Mueller ends up trying to have it both ways. To be sure, he’s made a good start on the frame, which is looking much less robust than it did before he started to wail on it. But given the utterly transformative nature of emerging and soon-to-emerge technologies, I think he needs a bigger hammer.

*

Gavin Mueller

Breaking Things at Work: The Luddites Are Right about Why You Hate Your Job

Verso; $29.99; 176pp

Mudmap

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/11/2020 - 1:16pm in

Tags 

Tech, Travel

For a long time I have wanted to integrate the GPS traces from my various excursions directly into an embedded map here on tregeagle.com. There is a million ways to do this of course. I have done so in the past using Google maps but I would prefer to use OpenStreetMaps (OSM). I once built an embedded OSM map system using Drupal and Leaflet. It had all the walks and things of interest in the Coffs Harbour Botanic Gardens. People could use it to navigate and explore the gardens and because of OSM’s nature they could edit or improve it themselves, they never did though. Of course it has been replaced by a brochure website now.

A Cunning Plan

Baldrick, he always has a cunning plan. Usually involving a turnip
I have a cunning plan

I am going to make a plugin for this site to embed my GPS traces on an embedded OSM map. How hard can it be?

  • I’m using Pelican for the site so I will have to wrap my head around building this all as a plugin using Python
  • I will use the gpx file format as that seems to be easy enough to extract from my device or my OSM profile.
  • Leaflet still seems to be the go for easily embedding an OSM map

Of course starting this is going to take the longest…

Lost

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/11/2020 - 9:03am in

Tags 

Tech, death

Last month my laptop became unstable. I had been trying to do something which I began to regret. Losing patience I reinstalled the operating system. Unfortunately on my previous installation I had negligently chosen to set up my hard-drives as a striped array. This meant despite days of recovery attempts I lost everything. ‘Backup’ I hear you say. Yes I backed up… six years ago, on a hard drive that has now rusted to death. There is a few boxes of photos under the stairs in our Coffs house but all the digital photos that did not make it onto websites or cloud services are gone.

The buddhists will one day stop telling us, ‘nothing is permanent’. Despite this I am sad about losing the photos of my son when he was fresh born and all the other old pics I’ve not yet discovered missing.

Blinkers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 29/10/2018 - 4:15pm in

Tags 

Tech

I recently bought some TaoTronics noise cancelling headphones. I thought they’d make the long-haul flight home to the UK less painful.

As an itirant miserable bastard I have found they also work to make long-haul life less painful. Sometimes I just want to switch the world off and step out for a bit. These headphones give me a bit a peace to recompose myself. Not as much peace as the electronic blinkers Panasonic is currently flogging though.

I chose life
Stupid marketing

I think if I was that desparate I could probably achieve peace with a sack over my head prior to a short walk on a busy motorway.

Root Agora

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/11/2014 - 6:21pm in

Tags 

Tech

After several weeks of intermittent failed attempts I finally managed to get root on my crapass phone.

“Getting root” has a different meanings here in Australia but in this case it refers to gaining full control of my telephone operating system. A bizarre idea when I stop and think about it. Just in case there is another sad geek in need of emotional support or instructions, here is how I did it:

I pulled up the phone specifications (Settings>About phone) and searched the net.

About phone - Kogan Agora HD+” src=”/images/Agora.png” />
About phone - Kogan Agora HD+

The Phone:
Kogan Agora HD+

Build:
KoganAgora_build. V2.0

Kernel version:
3.4.5 KoganAgora_Kernel.V2.0 3/12/2013

Custom build version:
KAQC05

Some of the things I tried were:

  • Configuring my Debian Wheezy laptop to use backported ADB tools and ensuring it connects properly via udev rules. Thanks Nicolas Bernaerts.
  • Marc Lane’s has a great little guide on his blog, but it did not work for me.
  • The ‘quick and easy steps’ over at Gleescape led me nowhere.
  • I even booted the Mini-Mac into Windows just to try SRSRoot and a few other shonky executables.

That last one, SRSRoot, is an executable which runs through a database of popular exploits to crack the phone security. This led me to search for a specific exploit that may work on my phone. I found a few posts in which eventually led me to Dan Rosenbergs motochopper exploit, (via Sourceforge Japan).

Motochopper appears to have given me root access. Without seeing what the exploit code did it is possible Dan Rosenberg has supplanted Google as my phones keeper. I can live with that, security is just an illusion anyway. Thanks Dan.

Firefox

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/06/2008 - 9:44am in

Tags 

Tech

Today [18th June] is Download Day!

Internet Explorer Icon VS Firefox 3

The third version of Firefox has been released today.

Firefox is synonymous with: security, stability and ease of use. If you want to try it out… it is only a small download and installing is a cinch.

If not, well that’s fine too. There are much more important things to do with your time :)