A Conversation About Open Source Hardware with a Sydney Electrician

A Conversation About Open Source Hardware with a Sydney Electrician

I’m a software guy. I think in terms of software, and I always have. When you come from a background where you’ve been developing with high-level languages, it can be a difficult process to wrap your mind around low-level languages like C, which are “closer to the machine” and more closely aligned with the hardware aspect of computing. I’m a big fan of the Unix philosophy and I evangelize for it and live it whenever possible. This year, I’m committed to learning more about the hardware side of things… Especially since I just had a power surge that destroyed a ton of my equipment, including the PSU on one of my servers.

So, it was eminently clear that I needed to get an electrical guy out to my place to take a look at why the power surges kept happening. Enter Dominic, an electrician Sydney based residents and businesses have called upon many times to solve their issues. A quick conversation with him revealed that he is not only an electrical specialist, but a FOSS supporter and home electronics enthusiast with a penchant for radio technology, “If you think about it, the issues affecting the free and open source movement also have an impact on Australia’s community of electricians.”

He’s right, too. Like I said before, I’ve never really focused on the hardware side of things, but he really knew his stuff, “Many of the technologies that we work with and repair are not, by any means, open source. In many cases, guides and schematics are gated behind the requirement that you have to be specifically certified as a specialist with that manufacturer, which makes our job a lot harder than it should be.” Dominic gave some great examples, such as the fact that certain brands of alarm systems, air conditioners, and central heating systems do not have easily available repair manuals.

GNU really should move beyond being almost exclusively oriented with software and into the domain of hardware. As Dominic so eloquently stated, the issue of proprietary technology also dramatically changes the way that electricians have to go about their job. While you can crack open hardware and take a peek at how it works on the inside, you risk running into issues if the manufacturer designed the device in a way that makes it purposely difficult to repair, “In many cases, the manufacturer would prefer the client to go directly to them in order to enlist the help of one of their certified technicians. This means higher prices for clients, so everyone in every industry should be highly concerned about the implications of this.”

This conversation really got the gears turning. Not only that, but Dominic managed to track down the source of the issue, which was a short in the wiring in my kitchen. Not only am I grateful for his help, but I’m also incredibly happy that we were able to have an intellectually stimulating conversation about how closed source affects an entirely different industry from my own. I’ll be keeping them on speed dial for any issues I run into in the future.

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