Interview by Vincent van Haaff
“Fix more, buy less.”
I was fortunate enough to meet with David Repa, founder and owner of The Hackery and co-founder of Free Geek Vancouver. David and I sat down to chat about what The Hackery is, and its role in the community here in Vancouver. I learned that it is actually a full-fledged, local, cradle to cradle computer centre where they repair, provide parts, and offer recycling services for all your computing needs!
… So how did The Hackery get here?
David: “I used to be in the auto industry…. recycling automobiles is a bit easier than recycling computers which require a bit more reverse engineering and problem solving. The auto industry has other business that sell tech manuals and software that tell you what parts fit what, making the re-use aspect easy to accomplish. With computers you need to dig around for this knowledge, but it is out there.“
“I was lucky to have trained with the old guys in the auto parts industry. They didn’t have all the parts software modern dealerships have. They learned by talking to techs, understanding measurements and ratios, and by personal experience with the parts. They had a much more intimate knowledge of how everything fit together as a system – it was not simply A fits B. I think that I was part of the dying tradition of apprenticeship, which is really a failure to society. There’s not much download of knowledge like that anymore.”
David: “I really wanted to get into computers because, for one, it was cleaner, and I liked how the used parts aspect was like my experience in the salvage yard.”
I was amazed over the quantity of knowledge and generosity that was housed within the doors of The Hackery, and was in awe over their willingness and openness towards information sharing. With three full time and two part time employees, The Hackery is a great asset to have in the city of Vancouver.
One thing to really note here is that The Hackery believes in that apprentice model, the model of knowledge sharing and openness. That doesn’t mean they enforce Linux on all the computers they service. It means that he and all his staff are very willing to help any customer that comes in with many different problems.
If they know the issue is fairly simple, they will try to save client’s spending money by recommending known procedures, Google searches, or going to various open help night’s around Vancouver. David sees it being a unique institution Vancouver in that as much as it is a business, they are always willing to share information. And he sees it mostly with John, his vintage specialist.
David: “John will take a 1/2 hour trying to get a customer’s Apple II working. And while it’s very proprietary hardware and software that they are working with, it’s still information and knowledge sharing, and there always seems to be a a laugh or a story attatched to it. You just can’t get upset talking about an old Apple II or PDP 11[zomgwtfbbq].”
[Continued below the gallery…]
David took some time to show me around the space and I totally and completely geeked out. Walking past Ataris, wall mounted desktop towers with their innards exposed like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, a self repaired forklift, and a flat of Apple IIs (yes a flat!!), I began to get a feeling for what this place represents. Not only do they repair, educate, and recycle computer equipment but they also curate them. It’s almost like they preserve the history of an era in computing where you could still find breadboards in production-level products, when word processors were written in basements, and the internet was run by a motley crew of people like us.
David: “…sitting down with racecar guys is very much like the Hackspace or Maker Faire: their talk about rear ends and gear ratios is very much like taking about phones and hooking them up to an Arduino. The new hot rods are computers, and phones [and robots!], because hot rod cars are too expensive and are now a rich boy’s atmosphere. Back in the day, anybody could do hot rod-ing. It was very accessible. I like where I am because I can blend the automotive old timer self-learning and the new kind of hotrod-ing that I am a part of today. “
And a quote from The Hackery website:
At The Hackery, our favourite pastime is computer equipment. Our founder has over a decade of experience in the recycling industry. While we always prioritize re-use of our equipment, there comes a time when some electronics need to be recycled. The Hackery takes ethical recycling seriously. We do not ship any of our laptops or computer scrap overseas—even the really ancient ones.
Here’s to The Hackery!