For some segment of the population, the words “No user serviceable parts inside” are a stab through the heart. Increasingly more and more ‘things’ can no longer be opened up, have their guts inspected, played with, improved, broken, warranty invalidated, learned, be made to do something they were never intended to do (note: not recommended for public transportation), act as a source of inspiration, be fixed, be broken (again), reveal principles, inspire, and shock.
And I wrote all this about a toaster.
As a kid I learned many things by taking apart a toaster. The first thing I learned was to unplug it. Actually the first thing that I learned was that the glowing light on those little insulated screwdrivers really does mean “live current”.
More importantly it helped me understand the concept of systems and how they co-exist. There is an electrical system and a mechanical system with a measure of interaction between them. There is even a feedback loop and a signaling system. There is also the matter of design – how good design can incorporate necessary mechanical elements in a way that seems to just make sense, while bad industrial design needs to throw in a lot of ornamental extras to cover up the bulky innards.
Just the other day my son decided to “see what was wrong” with an old point-and-shoot digital camera that a while back decided that picture taking wasn’t its purpose in Creation. So at first he fiddled with the controls and got the LCD screen to work. That’s already something. Then he decided that what was wrong was not on the outside but on the inside. Out comes the tiny screwdriver and the shell magically splits into two. Digital cameras are a lot more complicated-looking on the inside than the outside (thanks to a design principle that I call “complexity masking”). He played with the controls to see what they did on the inside and tried to infer what was broken by comparing the bumpy things. I am happy to report that the camera is no more broken than before he opened it.
Even the things that have screws are starting to lose them. In order to open an iPhone you need a razor blade! “No user serviceable parts inside” taken very, very far…
But, there is a way, often overlooked, to get to the parts inside, and that is through programming. While you can’t physically touch them, you can access them in a virtual way. Want to know if your Windows laptop is getting too hot? Hey, there’s a API for that! In about 15 minutes you could write something that accesses the hard drive temperature and shows a small thermometer in the Notification Area.
(Hey. That’s not a bad idea.)
Input, output, printing, peripherals are all accessible to the programmer. No insulated screwdrivers required. Pocket protector optional.