Friday, October 20, 2006

More than meets the eye...

We are a take-apart family. No defunct appliance can expect to arrive safely at the landfill if it's been in our house. Just about anything that has screws is fair game... :)

We started our take-apart career when B was 6 & our very first VCR bit the dust. I had always been curious about how the darn things worked, & thought, virtuously, that taking it apart might not only satisfy my curiousity but help strengthen B's fingers & fine-motor skills with all the unscrewing with the screwdriver... As it turned-out, I had to pre-loosen all of the screws because they were pretty tight (it was comforting to think that it had been a well-made machine :), but B spent a very happy hour at least removing teensy screws as we uncovered circuit boards & gears & neat little clicky things. By the end of that session we were both hooked on the take-apart thing. B wanted to play with the innards, so after sorting them & removing anything sharp or greasy I put it all in a box in his room. Within a couple of days B had built a "computer" with by festooning his playskool tool bench with various parts, some still ribboned together with wire tapes. It was really impressive & B loved to fiddle with it, fine-tuning the look & imaging what it "did".

The summer B was 7 we signed him up for Camp Invention, whose main cachet was the take-apart sessions, with the requirement that you bring an old appliance from home to eviscerate so that something new could be created from it. B went to Camp Invention for 3 summers & always came home with something imaginative, although the only disappointment was that the new gadgets didn't really do anything...

Our next big take-apart project after the VCR was B's beloved Apple Performa computer. It was only a year younger than he was & had been lying fallow after the purchase of our fancy G4 until B hit 3rd grade & we thought he'd take better to doing homework if he had his own computer. We were right. B discovered things about that computer that we'd never suspected it could do, although his brief obsession with password-protecting files came to a teary end when he couldn't remember the passwords... His buddy/mentor Ck showed him how to make the computer talk in various voices & B loved to type in hugely long numbers & have the computer say them. We'd be driving in the car & B would ask me "Mom, what's bigger- a nonillion or a sextillion...?" **roll eyes** Sadly, B's computer only made it 3 months in his possession before it went into hard-drive failure (I will never forget that clicking noise as we tried to boot it up...), but I had happily showed him how to backup his files on floppy & he barely lost anything. I was able to find a reconditioned mac powerbook laptop that's only 2 years younger than he is (a computer buff friend identified it as a Wall Street model & said he'd had one just like it, once upon a time...) & I was able to transfer B's files to this computer, which he still uses.

After looking at the ruined husk of the Performa CPU for a couple months (B refused to part with it) I convinced him that we should take it apart & he agreed. This time, though, we had a professional in attendance. B's best buddy's father is a software designer & CalTech graduate who builds computers for fun (he built B's non-mac pc from bits friends had given him so that B would have a computer that would work with his lego spybots' software). So when we took the Performa apart he explained what all the parts did, showed us how the optical drive worked, rhapsodised over the quality of the mac speaker & mac craftsmanship in general. I learned so much that afternoon... The only part of the computer that B wouldn't take apart was the hard drive, since it was the "soul" of the machine, & he uses it these days as a paperweight. I took the metal exo-skeleton, cleaned it up, bent back any sharp bits, & B uses it as a shelf unit, on top of a bookcase in his room, because it has so many cool little nooks & crannies. The rest of the bits are being saved because B wants to open a junk shop some day...

Tha past couple of days have seemed about right for more take-apart projects, so yesterday we tackled the defunct phone/answering machine we'd been saving. B had decided that he wanted to gut it & use the shell as a secret hiding place to cache special stuff in his room. So I glued all of the buttons back in place so that it would still look intact. The boxy base of the unit is a pretty neat hiding place, actually, & the top snaps back on pretty easily without needing the screws to hold it together. B plans to use the portable phone part clipped to his belt as a mobile storage unit :) He's become quite independant with handling all but the most stubborn screws & dad's ratchet-style screwdriver makes the take-apart quite pleasant.

Today's project has been much more complicated- my very first printer/scanner/copier, that gave up the ghost last August. I think that B had hoped to also use this as a secret hiding place, but when we finally got it opened up we discovered where all the ink I'd run through the system trying to clean the nozzles before realising that the thing was actually broken went (into the bottom, which we discovered to be lined with absorbent felt- pretty good design!), so the shell went into the trash. But there are still treasures to be unearthed- B's found 2 motors so far & some really cool gears in the scanner part. The loose parts are being saved for the junk shop, of course, but I keep thinking that maybe some of this stuff will come in handy someday if we ever get into building 'bots (did I say "if"?). If nothing else we have a very cool collection of circuit boards & other groovy stuff- maybe a future Halloween costume? You never know... :)


At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Mum Is Thinking said...

I wish I could remember where I saw someone had made jewelry out of discarded computer bits. It was really quite lovely, though I don't guess my son or yours would want to make jewelry when there are robots to think about ;-)

We take things apart, too! Our youngest likes 'modifying' things, as he calls it, which generally involves a LOT of tape.

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Kristina Chew said...

Maybe on Uncommon Goods? I trying now to think of the hard drive as the computer's soul or rather its brain?


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