The woes of maintaining eccentric systems · December 18th, 2022
For a while my Droid has been showing its age. It started with little charging issues, then the charging led wouldn't light up, and at points the touchscreen controller couldn't be detected. Most of these issues were annoying, frequent, but not impossible to work around. Then over the past couple of weeks the display as intermittently worked. It'd be fine if I started the system with the display fully extended, but then any attempt to move it and the display would freeze or cut out.
Since this is my main computer, I hobbled along for a while, poking and prodding to try and figure out what hardware was going. Most of it was really naive. Like pressing on the display in certain areas, sliding it up/down in certain ways, ignoring the problem and pretending it'd just go away. You know, the basics.
The this morning the Droid decided it had had enough. I walked into work, turned the thing on, and it buzzed, but not so much as a light came on to indicate it was alive. No leds, no display. But it was on, I could activate various key commands in i3 even. The lights were just out. Normally I'd just ssh in and get on with my life, but unfortunately it wasn't an option. You see, one of the many issues that I'd just been ignoring is that networking sometimes fails to start. So here I was, no head on the system, no networking in, and a very stupid choice to disable the USB serial console on the device by default because "I'll never use that!". A prison of my own making.
Now most people would either just accept the system was dead, maybe buy a new one, probably never get themselves into the situation where a phone from 2012 was their primary computer in the first place. Fortunately dear reader I am none of these, and instead I spent my time on hold with RingCentral support disassembling the droid. Fortunately this phone was built before everything was held together with glue as strong a cement. Heck it even has screws holding it together! Here take a look!
Isn't that nice? Now the droid had never been disassembled so it did have a bit of foam adhesive that needed to be cut away, but it's primarily on the bezel, and wiggling my spunger back and forth was enough to free it. It'd probably been a massive pain 10 years ago, but at this point it's old and starting to dry out. All together I think it took about 30m to get it all apart, potentially I could have done it faster if I hadn't been on a call at the time, but whatever.
Once I was able to remove the motherboard and keyboard from the device it was pretty easy to tell what had broken. There's a flex cable that handles the connection to the LCD, touch controller, and front LEDs. That flex cable is attached to a little metal housing that is functionally the slider for the device, and as the display is slid up/down the flex cable folds under it. Go through that motion enough times and eventually it'll start to fray. Just like this.
The droid has been a faithful companion for a few years now, since Saturday September 19th 2020 if tune2fs is to be believed. And since that time this little system has done everything. It's my on call system when I'm out, it goes on work trips, it's in my pocket whenever I leave the house. It's even my personal knowledge repository, mp3 player, ebook reader. It's truly the all-in-one system I've always wanted So you can imagine it gets as much use as it possibly could. I've very literally piled everything I can/want to do with a computer into this thing. And having it break all of a sudden, utterly devastating. Frustrating as hell. I can't ssh, I can't reference, I can't entertain. A literal show stopper.
Fortunately for me and my eccentricities, I've got spare parts on hand at home. And this silly situation lost me only an entire days worth of up time. But this is what you're taking on when you decide to make strange systems more than toys, more than cattle, and sincerely pets. You love them, perform intensive surgery on them. And when faced with potentially replacing it with something more conventional like a laptop, you try twice as hard and improve the system in the process.