Fixing things

Some years ago I read an article on Wired Magazine on the need for a Fixer (not just a Maker) Movement. I truly believe our civilization needs to keep dominating the technology it is using to avoid succumbing. To do this we need a collective effort in understanding, teaching and documenting technology in order to be able to replicate, fix and improve all the components and systems that are dominating all aspects of everyday life.
This topic is very well portrayed in a short story by Murray F. Yaco, “No Moving Parts” freely available from the Gutenberg Project (
I have embraced fixing as well as making. Repairing something broken is often an interesting challenge. First of all you need to understand how the broken piece of tech works.
As an exercise let’s take a washing machine, here are the main parts:
  • Water pumps. These circulate water through the machine. Most modern models have two pumps one for the wash cycle and one for draining water.
  • Water valves. These are used to fill the drum and direct water through the Drum.
  • Washing machine motor which rotates the drum in various speeds and in both directions.
  • Drain pipe;
  • Printed circuit board (PCB). This is the brain of the washing machine which orchestrates the activities of the components;
  • Sensors, these can be various. An important one is a button sized temperature thermostat that tells the PCB when the desired temperature is reached and it must turn off the heating element;
  • Heating element. Often needs cleaning because it tends to accumulate calcium and this makes it less efficient.

How does a washing machine work?

Most of your washing machine processes are electrically controlled, such as the drum, valves, pump, motor and heating. Your average wash will go something like this:

  1. You load the machine with your laundry, dose with detergent and select the program you need.
  2. The programmer in your machine opens the valves to let the hot and cold water into the machine, this then fills both drums up. Some water also enters the detergent tray (if your machine uses one), and washes any detergent into the main part of the machine.
  3. The valves are switched off once the water has entered the machine.
  4. The thermostat measures the water coming into your washing machine and may heat up the water using the heating element to the required temperature.
  5. Once the water is at the desired temperature, the inner drum begins to rotate back and forth, mixing the clothes up in the warm, soapy water, agitating them to help remove stains and soiling.
  6. The detergent helps remove the dirt from the clothes, and pulls it into the water.
  7. The valve opens again and the dirty water drains out of the drums. The pump works to help get rid of the water.
  8. The valve lets clean water in again into the drums.
  9. The inner drum rotates again to rinse the clothes from any remaining dirty water or detergent.
  10. Once rinsed, the inner drum starts to spin at high speed to remove any remaining water. This water goes out through the small holes in the inner drum into the outer drum before the pump removes any remaining water, and your clothes are ready to be taken out to dry.
Once you understand how technology works fixing becomes possible. For example both pumps of my dishwasher failed in two different instances. Repairing the dishwasher took just the time necessary to find a replacement but the actual repair I did in minutes. The single replacement pump is relatively cheap and you don’t have any extra costs.
One trick I always use while fixing things is taking pictures with my phone, this way I can map cables easily and don’t need writing down cable colors and relative positions.
Sometimes I encounter IT programmers who say “I don’t have any idea why this is not working“. I have a really hard time accepting this kind of answers. Even if I work in Marketing there have been countless times I have had to study and spot the problem myself.
The general theme is always the same, to fix something you just need to know how it works. In this day and age we are full of resources that help us when we start out without knowing.
The answer is there, somewhere. You just need to google it.

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