Busting Open an iPod Touch

Cracked screen next to new screen. Yes, this iPod is loaded with Art Bell episodes because I’m crazy.

I now know what the inside of an Apple iPod Touch 5th Generation looks like and I can’t get it out of my mind. Consider the feeling a mixture of demystification and empowerment, the sense that it’s within our power to take control of these tools that too often control us.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon repairing Kelly’s iPod Touch that’s been banging about a junk drawer for years since she broke the screen. I’ve found old Apple iPods and iPhones useful as mp3 players. In my shop there’s a iPhone 3 a neighbor gave me that, while it no longer functions as a phone, still works perfectly well as a jukebox and clock. While I have plans to use the iPod Touch as another mp3 player I was, frankly, more interested in just seeing how it works, what the inside looks like and gauging how practical it is to repair these devices.

I went to the iFixit website, reviewed the lengthy instructions, and bought their and tool kit and iPod screen replacement. While I like iFixit and have used the site in the past, I found their instructions for this particular device inadequate. The instructions showed how to take the iPod apart but not how to install the new screen. The instructions said to simply “reverse the steps” but it’s not as simple as that. In addition they suggested the unnecessary step of removing the battery. Thankfully, I found a detailed YouTube video from iCracked, a phone repair company which, as far as I can tell, doesn’t exist anymore.

I lost track of time doing the repair. It took hours of intense concentration and was one of the most tedious things I’ve ever done. While I had plans to document the repair, there was no way I could break my concentration to stop and take pictures. A lighted magnifier I found in the street was a necessarily tool as some of the parts bordered on microscopic. As usual with modern electronics, the hardest part is opening and closing the case. These devices just aren’t made for easy repair. Lately, Apple even made DIY or third party iPhone 12 repair impossible. Try to replace the logic board or battery on an iPhone 12 yourself and it won’t work unless you take it in to Apple.

To test the iPod I took a selfie. The look of worry and exasperation is real.

Apple’s minimalist design aesthetic, while making devices that are visually appealing, gets in the way of their use and function. This iPod is so sleek and slim that it just wants to slide out of your hand and break, which is how I came to this repair, of course. The funny thing is that in order to keep the thing from getting broken you have to buy a third party case. From a design perspective (not a capitalist one, of course) it would make more sense if this device had it’s own protective case incorporated into the design, which would also allow for a more repairable and spacious interior. The slim design, presumably so you don’t have an unsightly bulge in your Prada, means that the inside of these things are a tight packed tangle of tiny connectors and microscopic screws (in four different sizes, by the way).

While my iPod repair was difficult, at least now I know what’s involved and have a better feeling for how to open and close the case. Like any other skill, electronics repair takes practice. I’m thinking that the next time I have to throw out an unrepairable electronic device, that I should take it apart first to see how it works. I have a broken iPad mini and iPhone battery replacement up next on the repair bench.

It must be a special kind of hell to work on an electronics assembly line. Snapping in the tiny connectors, tightening those microscopic screws, and inhaling adhesive fumes is no way to live or work. An NYU student, Dejian Zeng, went undercover on an iPhone assembly line a few years ago and documented his life. His task was to screw in one of those infernal microscopic screws 1,800 times during a 12 hour shift. He was not allowed to listen to music or even talk with fellow workers while his bosses constantly asked him to go faster. The rest of the day he spent in a dorm room with seven other workers. I find myself thinking more and more about William Morris’ linking of the well being of workers with the environment and aesthetics. All are interconnected, and I’m thankful I don’t have to spend my days doing nothing but tapping in tiny screws while Apple executives get rich.

But back to my iPod repair–the bottom line is that, in the case of these small Apple devices, you can fix them yourself. My suggestion is thoroughly reading directions and watching multiple YouTube device breakdown videos. There’s also not one right way to do it. The best DIY repair sources go into detail on how to open and close the devices, which is, in my opinion the hardest part. If you get stuck I’d suggest stopping and sleeping on the problem. This is how I finally got the iPod closed.

Cracking open and understanding these objects could help us all demystify their control over our lives. One of the side effects of the pandemic will be, I believe, even more addictive and invasive technology. What if we were, collectively, to figure out a way to gain control over these things? To make them tools rather than becoming tools of the tools? In the coming years we must crack, hack, split open and reprogram our tools so that they serve us.

Special thanks to friend of the blog Michael W. who offered to help me with Linux and got me thinking about spending more time making these electronic tools work for me rather than me working for them. Micheal also tipped me off to a great post from Low Tech Magazine “How and why I stopped buying new laptops.”

100 Years

This year marks the 100th birthday of our house, or at least the centenary of when the first resident moved in as I think the house was under construction in 1919. I suspect it was a kit house produced by the Pacific Ready Cut Company. There’s a nearly identical house a block down the street.

The construction of our house took place at the tail end of the last bad pandemic. Apparently, LA city officials did a much better job 100 years ago dealing with the Spanish Flu. Our house’s birthday is overshadowed by the Fyre Festival that was 2020.

To commemorate our 100 year old bungalow I thought I’d post a few pictures I took this morning without tidying up for the photos. The one above shows the room I do most of my reading and pontificating in. There’s usually an unsightly pile of books next to my throne.

We’ve populated the house with a mix of furniture I built and a few antiques in the arts and crafts style. The original inhabitants of this house would have, more likely, had furniture that looks like this:

Our old house requires constant, daily maintenance. Something is always busted, wonky or dusty. As I run about fixing stuff I think of the ancient Greek philosophical conundrum of the ship of Theseus. The story goes that a ship leaves port and, in the course of the journey, the ship’s carpenter replaces every single board. The ontological question posed: is the ship the same ship that left port?

In the case of our house it’s mostly the same ship since the previous residents, thankfully, never did any misguided remodeling (nor did they do any needed maintenance). Nevertheless, our bathroom is a Disneyesque fiction. We gutted, retiled and switched out the cheap 80s fixtures. Essentially we put the room back to the way it was in 1920. Out went the cheap and shoddy shower and in went a clawfoot tub and shower curtain. The salespeople at the plumbing supply store thought we were crazy to do this. They were wrong. It’s fine.

Egyptian Court Apartments, San Diego.

Kelly and I have been living in 1920s buildings since we met in San Diego in the early 1990s. Our first apartment was in a spectacular, if rough around the edges, bungalow court with an Egyptian theme. While the outside was styled like something out of a Boris Karloff mummy movie, the inside looked exactly like what our house looks like now.

There’s a few things I’ve learned living in 20s buildings over the past 30 years:

  • People had less junk.
  • The 20s was cottagecore before #cottagecore
  • Other than the still working phone ringer box in our hallway there were no consumer electronics. Radios stations start popping up around 1921.
  • People in the 20s, because of previous public health issues including the aforementioned flu pandemic, liked clean tiled, somewhat hospital-like kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Double hung windows with weights and cloth cords are easy to maintain and can last for a hundred years. You can make them less drafty but that’s a project I haven’t gotten around to yet.
  • Electricity, a telephone, indoor plumbing and a two car garage must have seemed futuristic in 1920.
  • There’s a distinctive, musty-dusty 1920s building smell. I want it as a cologne.

Between our church, Sunset Boulevard’s commercial buildings, the Central Library and our local movie theater (another King Tut themed building), in the before-pandemic times it was possible for me to spend a whole day in pre-WWII buildings. I have to be honest and say that I prefer pre-WII vernacular buildings to more recent architecture. And I’d say that it’s well past time to bring back the King Tut architecture thing.

Kelly and I are very lucky to own a house in this very expensive city. Many people are facing eviction and homelessness due to the pandemic that has only worsened the housing crisis in LA. This holiday seasons let’s use this crisis to do something for those who don’t have a roof over their heads.

Saturday Linkages: Advent 3/4

Shadowbox project by Creatiedroom

George Orwell describes the ideal pub

Fit for a king: true glory of 1,000-year-old cross buried in Scottish field is revealed at last

How to watch the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter

Make a Christmas shadowbox

A podcast about Arthur Machen’s weird vision of art

Watch Peter Follansbee carve a shallow relief pattern

From Instagram to Insistent Goats: Another Life After Social Media Case Study

Slavoj Žižek on the “screen new deal”

My wife just confessed that for her entire childhood she thought Colonel Sanders’ bow tie was his whole body and now I can’t stop seeing a tiny stick body every time I look at him

Saturday Linkages: The King’s Hand

Tsunami Warnings, Written in Stone

What Is Metabolic Rift? The Ecosocialist idea you’ve never heard of and might need

Infected after 5 minutes, from 20 feet away: South Korea study shows coronavirus’ spread indoors

How Previous Epidemics Impacted Home Design

Luxury Sneaker Markets Are a Preview of Capitalist Dystopia

Farmers Reject Biden’s Pro-Corporate Rural Advisers

Out in the wild: how Ken Layne created an alternative to clickbait in the desert

Playing God: I sold my wife’s clothes to build a Christmas village in my parents’ basement

I had a dream where there was a food called “King’s Hand”, a hollow hand made of m&m cookie, filled with Greek salad. I could not stop thinking about it. Here is the culmination of a week long effort.

Pfizer Vaccine Trial Update

The Pfizer vaccine trial I’m a part of went up for review yesterday before a review panel of outside experts convened by the Federal Drug Administration. The panel recommended that the vaccine be approved. Odds are the F.D.A. will grant approval later this evening.

This comes at a very dark period in which we’re seeing an exponential increase in cases and deaths here in Los Angeles and the rest of the country. As more than one panelist noted yesterday, we’re looking at many hospitalizations, deaths and a strained hospital system in the days and weeks ahead. In short the virus is out of control. The vaccine will take many months to roll out and things aren’t returning to normal anytime soon.

Chart of side effects of the Pfizer vaccine from their presentation.

The good news is that the Pfizer vaccine is very safe and 95% effective. Before I decided to participate in the third stage of this trial I carefully went through the results of the first stage as well as the release forms that I had to sign. I’ve since closely followed the results of the third stage and can assure readers of this blog that it’s safe and that side effects are mild to moderate. I’ve heard similar good results from the other mRNA vaccine being developed by Moderna. Yes, there have been a handful of allergic reactions, but those incidents have been exceedingly rare. Your chances of getting Covid are much, much greater than any side effects from the vaccine. Most importantly, by getting the vaccine we express our love and solidarity with health care workers and respect for our elders, the two most vulnerable populations to this disease. Nobody should have to spend their last moments saying goodbye to their loved ones on an iPad especially the doctors and nurses who take care of us when we get sick.

Screen shot of TrialMax app.

My participation in the trial involved a checkup, two blood tests and two injections. This is a placebo controlled study so there’s a 50/50 chance of getting the vaccine or a saline injection. Each week I check in with an app to report if I’ve had any symptoms such as fever or sore throat. The study is projected to last for two years and I will, periodically, go in to have blood taken to monitor for antibodies. The study is blind do I won’t know the results of the antibody tests.

Both the FDA and Pfizer are considering what to do with the placebo group since it would be unethical to ask those in that group to stay un-vaccinated. Some in the F.D.A. suggested keeping the study blind and giving the vaccine to the placebo group and giving the placebo to the already vaccinated group. Pfizer balked at the cost and logistics of doing this and countered with simply vaccinating the placebo group and continuing the study to monitor for long term effectiveness of the vaccine. If this happens the study will no longer be blind and will lose some safety data, but will still yield results on long term effectiveness.

I’m going to guess that Pfizer will get their way. Pfizer proposed vaccinating the placebo group in the order that everyone else in a given state or municipality is vaccinated. This would start with health care workers, who make up around 20% of the third stage trial as well as nursing home residents. Judging from my lack of side effects, I think I’m in the placebo group and I’m more than happy to stay a part of the placebo group until my turn comes up for vaccination. I don’t think I should get special treatment and jump ahead of the line just because I’m in the clinical trial. Right now we need healthy nurses more than we need healthy bloggers (Is their anytime that equation is reversed? Probably not). Pfizer suggested that those of us in the study would jump to the head of the vaccination line within our respective age/need groups as the vaccine becomes available.

The silver lining to any crisis is that it forces us to do things once deemed not possible. A crisis, of course, can be exploited for good or bad. My hope is that one of the lessons we will take from this difficult period will be a sense that we all need to work together. The press tends to focus on anti-maskers and Covid deniers but I think, at least where I live, most people know that the reason we take precautions is for the sake of other people, particularly those who grow and deliver food as well as health care workers who take care of us when we get sick.