Sunday, November 1, 2015
DMCA Reversal that Helps the DIYer
Glad to learn from Hemmings Daily's Terry Shea that the Federal Government has clarified the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to permit owners to work on their own cars. I am not joking. To crack the code of a modern computer-assisted vehicle--for the farm or the road--risked violating Federal law, because the code and many of the tools used were proprietary to the company making the original equipment.
John Deere apparently was among the firms fighting to keep the safeguards for their profits in place buy penalizing any customers who worked on equipment they owned. Shame on Deere. At one time, as with my 1950 M, the company deliberately designed all machinery so a small farmer could do any repairs that did not require a machine shop. I saw that on a friend's Farmall Super A as well, where we pulled the cam and replaced the cam gear with hand tools.
Modern computer-assisted systems make such tasks harder, but not out of reach of the enterprising DIYer. Go at it, friends. Check YouTube for how-to videos. I learned to reverse-flush the power-steering system on our Honda after the dealer told me doing so would run $120. NAPA had a sale on the Honda-only fluid at $3 per bottle, so for $12 and 30 minutes of my time (plus 15 more watching videos) I did the job myself.
I would be the first to say that we should not return to the engines of the 1950s. They ran dirtier and consumed fuel at rates that would make us stagger today. Car engines might last 50K miles before being shot. Yet at a time when our phones have more power than any early PC, we should be able to get diagnostic tools and connect them to our cars to repairs and other modification, including, yep, hot-rodding. I felt damned good after rebuilding my first carburetor.
There's a hunger for this out there. I see it at festivals and meetings. Perhaps we can blame Steve Jobs.
He helped to make many of us even more helpless, and in the age of mobile phones I'm actually seeing my students LESS able to write code, manipulate software, or fix hardware-software problems than their peers 10 years ago. Jobs, unlike Apple co-founder Wozniak, wanted enclosed boxes with proprietary hardware--damned well made and lovely hardware. The look of Apple speaks to me like the lines of a '67 Pontiac GTO or a current Audi coupe.
Maybe I'm shallow, but I buy cars that look fast and trucks that look like trucks, not toys.
Apple fanatic I am, mostly for the hackability of their UNIX-undperpinned OS and durable hardware, I should not be a critic. Yet Jobs never wanted ease-of-modification in his hardware. I've come to realize that it was an anomaly of the late 90s when he came back to Apple. My wife has owned two Mac desktops that have worked well for a total of 16 years. But I was able to update their hardware. I added Firewire to a "gumdrop" iMac in a lickable grape color that lasted us a solid six years until it could not run the newest Mac OS. A parent in Alaska bought it on eBay from me and his daughter continued to use it. I then replaced the beloved gumdrop with a G5 that lasted nearly a decade. I put a power supply in that second machine, using a unit from a mom-and-pop repairer in New Jersey, and sold the G5 for a handsome sum on eBay to a guy who was going to replace all the capacitors on the mother-board (my soldering skills are pretty good but not that good). It was near the end of the line for Macs that could be opened easily and upgraded. I'd still have that G5 and bought a new set of capacitors if the generation of computer ran a current operating system or applications.
Jobs' plans for his customers resulted in my being unable to hack my iPhone or sleek MacBook Pro easily. Though Nan's amazing new MacBook Air looks ready to last a long time (partly due to having a solid-state hard drive) it's as incomprehensible inside as our Mini Cooper's engine bay.
Microsoft is going the same route with Windows 10 and its alluring-looking Surface laptop, it seems. I do love the docking-station / keyboard aspect of Surface, something that steals a march on Apple's designs, yet I expect Microsoft to emulate Apple's model under the hood. Hacking Windows' Registry has, after all, always been far more daunting than getting deep into Apple's OS.
Making us consumers brings profits, and DIYers can be dangerous to the bottom line.
The allure of early PCs, the Apple II, and the Macs of the 90s-early 2000s was how one could open the cases and have fun tinkering. Given the DMCA changes, some upstart maker like Tesla will figure this out and make vehicles for tinkerers again. I'll be in line to buy one. For the small farmer, I'd say buy old equipment if your operation is small. Careful repairs and maintenance can keep the old stuff going nearly forever.