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A Wikipedia for repair leads to good memories

IFixit, a site originally created to sell Macintosh and iPod repair parts, is relaunching itself as a Wiki devoted to repair information.

IFixit, a site originally created to sell Macintosh and iPod repair parts, is relaunching itself as a Wiki devoted to repair information. (Image from IFixit home page.)

The site has actually been moving in this direction for some time, CEO Kyle Wiens admitted, with features like a WiFi teardown and a video disassembly of the Sony Playstation 3.

The news sent me back four decades, to the days when my father ran a TV repair shop on Long Island called Tower TV.

Dad and his co-workers had learned to fix sets with tubes. My job was to inventory the tubes, from the big 1B3 that had two plugs to the small 6SJ7 that sat in newer circuit boards. Later I learned the striped markings on resistors, both the color codes representing its value and the silver or gold stripes showing efficiency.

In the late '60s new car radios came into the shop, which my dad (left) did not know what to do with. He hired a teenager named Steve to take these out and repair them. They worked using transistors. They didn't come in often, but when they did Steve made them profitable.

Steve would lie on his back, his backside on the curb, his shirt pulling out from his pants, and finagle wrench drivers in behind the radios in order to pull them. It became a vivid memory.

Of course, we now know those radios were a mark of doom for shops like my dad's. Solid state hardware doesn't break down like tube-based products did. Dad sold out in 1973, and when I went back while in J-school just five years later  I found Tower TV was gone, replaced by a real estate office.

This taught me an important lesson, one which the industry in general has learned to be increasingly true. Consumer electronics cost more to fix than they are worth. Don't buy the extended warranty.

All this might just be a memory, except for an email that came in late last month, signed simply "Steve." He asked me to call him, and I did.

Steve had fond memories of my father, who passed away in 1999. Steve was calling to thank him. He was entirely self-taught, he admitted. He bluffed himself into that job. My dad took a chance on him.

But Steve took that chance, and wound up having a great career in TV technology. He went to work for ABC and helped with the technical side in covering the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. When a small fire broke out in a truck he used the volunteer fireman training all true Massapequans have and put it out.

So in the end this story is a bit like Alton Brown's famous line "stuffing is evil," which he later amended into several shows on stuffing turkeys and lobsters. There are exceptions to every rule.

IFixit is one.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com