Void the Warranty

I’m not a big fan of branding. I have a tendency to try to remove, cover or otherwise erase the brand names and logos that appear on the things I have, wear or buy. I’m not a big fan of items that do just one thing either. What if that one thing is something you only do once in a while. That appliance or tool or whatever is just taking up space the rest of the time. Seems a waste to me.

So, there are very few items in our kitchen that do just one thing (despite all those infomercials telling me I need this or that that does just this one thing, allegedly, the best and only way it can be done.) I remove the little plastic plate or sticker that has the car dealer’s name on it. I remove the license plate frame the dealer automatically puts on my car. I’m not being paid to advertise for them, why would I do it for free. I have also removed all the branding (except the stuff etched into the plastic cover) on my cell phone. I hacked into it and changed it so it did what I wanted it to do, not what they told me it should do.

I have not read the fine print on my phone so am not totally sure, but it seems right that I can mess with my phone and if I “brick” it, well, that’s my problem isn’t it. My little borg ear piece I used on another phone now works, I can download images from it and upload my own rings tones to it without having to go through their systems and paying for the data usage. And I like it that way. My boys’ had the first Nintendo DS systems before the light was put in a later model. They couldn’t be played in the car if it was dark outside. So, we put one in ourselves from a small kit we got online. Why? Because we could.

After all it’s mine right? Possession is nine tenths of the law. Isn’t it? Some would argue that I don’t really own that phone since its use is dependent on the network to which it connects which I definitely do not own. Intuit once told me I don’t own the Quickbooks software I use for my business. I begged to differ and offered for the nice customer service rep to come and try to get it from me.

It’s that kind of corporate “arrogance” (they don’t mean it) that makes me want to do whatever I like with whatever I have paid good money for. Why not? It may say “warranty void if opened/modified/unscrewed” but if it still works afterward and I don’t mess with the stuff they have control of, why not? It’s kind of fun stepping outside the comfort zone of the instruction manual and admonishments you find in the front of it.

Yes, usually, there are rules for a reason. After all, anarchy doesn’t usually end well. But sometimes being “bad” feels pretty good (if it keeps you up nights, you took it too far.) Sometimes making something do what you truly need it to do — above and beyond what the company you got it from says they want it to do; usually so they can make a profit on the “other” things it actually can do once you buy the add ons — is something many feel they should be able to take on.

Have you ever broken the rules? Not broken the law, just broken the rules; actually taken the adage that “rules were meant to be broken” and gone ahead and done it. Maybe you’ve taken a photo where it says no photography. Or maybe you’ve torn the tag off a mattress or pillow (ok, that’s not really a rule, but with all that legalese on those tags it feels a little criminal doesn’t it.) Or maybe you’ve applied Jailbreak to your iPhone (I don’t own one so don’t know about this particular hack but it sounds liberating).

The manual with my heart rate monitor watch says the battery shouldn’t be changed by anyone other than a “qualified technician.” I did it anyway. The outside of some electronics say “no serviceable parts.” Servicable? No. Modifiable? There’s only one way to find out. Look at the first five to ten pages of anything that plugs in, has sensitive parts, is sharp and moves fast or is otherwise associated with electricity, technology or building materials. These pages are usually diatribes of legal spew that were most likely created to discourage the morons who use their vacuum cleaner as a hair brush or their blow dryer as a cooking utensil from suing the maker into the ground.

But what about us regular folks? Those with brains and a penchant for questioning everything, or at least wondering how that hell that thing over there on the counter works?

I say, make it yours. Make it do what you want it to do or additional things beyond that for which it was intended. If it’s safe (for the love of pete, use a fry pan for those eggs) then I say go ahead. Give it a shot. I can tell you first hand, doing so gives you the feeling that you have control of things in your world. It’s a karmic slap in the faces of the marketers and corporate lawyers and whomever else feels the need to dictate what you do, how you think and what you do with your possessions. Make that cell phone do your bidding, take apart something and use those parts to make or fix something else. Or search on the net, find a DIY site and pick something that looks interesting to do. Then do it with just what you have around the house.

There is in fact a whole group of people who do this kind of thing. A relatively new magazine called Make is targeted to those who want to find new ways to use old stuff, or DIY ways of making things only big companies have the resources to make (anything from robots to a wallet made of duct tape…really.) And it’s not really about taking control and being “bad”. It’s more about tinkering and creating and feeling happy in the end that you took that journey to make something with your own two hands. And even if that thing becomes a “sculpture” instead of an automated toaster, it’s really the journey that matters and the success of getting to the end, anyway.

There’s also a website called instructables.com where folks like this congregate. It’s like a catalog of “things to do on a rainy day.” It is full of ideas of how to make stuff out of other stuff. I have made two different kinds of video camera stablizers (one a “steady cam” type apparatus and one a version of something called a “Fig Rig“) out of copper pipe and PVC. They cost me about $30 when professional equipment of the same sort of thing costs a hundred times more. My boys and I once made a model of a light saber out of plumming supplies and posted it on Instructables.com. We had the best time making it and they love them. They cost about $33 a piece which isn’t the $15 you can spend on a cheaper plastic one in the toy store. The way we did it just feels better. (full disclosure: The light saber project was published recently in a book called The Best of Instructables by O’Reilly in a joint venture with Make and Instructables.com. I do not, however, make any money off the sale of Make subscriptions or the book. I just happened to think they’re really cool.)

So if you need something done around the house for which you could easily buy the solution. If you have a few hours to maybe do it yourself, then see if there’s something around that you can modify, open, take apart, rework or combine with something else to do the same thing. You might save money, you might have a lot of fun doing it and you might have a scuplture for the family room. But there’s a good chance you will have fun doing it, whatever it is.