What do the Nevada Northern Railway and the failed display on my daughter's RAZR mobile phone have in common? Believe it or not, I can connect the two. I was reading a plea for donations for the NNR, a priceless mining railroad that is completely preserved - buildings, yards, steam locomotives and rolling stock. In September, its yard in East Ely, Nev., was designated a National Historic Landmark given its perfectly preserved shops, structures and equipment. Time has stood still for 100 years at the NNR (and in most of rural Nevada, for that matter).
In the solicitation, NNR executor director Mike Bassett whose name escapes me was expressing concern that as older generations die out, the NNR would have no one to maintain NNR's two operating units (with a third being restored). He decried our "throwaway" society. Enter my daughter's RAZR. After 18 months, the display has quit. She asked if Cingular, our carrier, or Motorola would fix it. I laughed, thinking no way. We'd toss the RAZR and get hosed buying a new one. My assumption was not entirely correct. A Cingular representative said I could get a new RAZR for $100 with a $50 rebates (I hate rebates). This option not viable because it re-ups me for two more years with Cingular and I'm 18 months into the existing contract.
But he also said I could try to get unit repaired at a small repair shop, Marconi Radio in Beverly, Mass. I called. The Marconi guy said if it's the ribbon cable between the display and main board, the repair would be $55. If it's the display, it would be $70. If it's both, do the math. But he was helpful and said, we could get a refurb and that's he'd take my RAZR in trade. So my options were not entirely all bad. I'm headed to Marconi. It's highly unlikely I will get the existing RAZR fixed for obvious reasons. But I won't throw it away, either.
Samsung's Galaxy line of smartphones used to fare quite well in the repairability department, but last year's flagship S5 model took a tumble, scoring a meh-inducing 5/10. Will the newly redesigned S6 lead us back into star-studded territory, or will we sink further into the depths of a repairability black hole?
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NASA engineer Brian Trease studied abroad in Japan as a high school student and used to fold fast-food wrappers into cranes using origami techniques he learned in library books. Inspired by this, he began to imagine that origami could be applied to building spacecraft components, particularly solar panels that could one day send solar power from space to be used on earth.
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