Archive for the 'computers' Category

Window Shopping

My laptop has been sitting around, naked and unprotected from the dangers of her surroundings.  Alone most of the day, completely exposed to the ravages of…well, wayward photons.  I guess.   You see, I’m trying to rationalize my desire to buy an awesome laptop case.  I do need one.  One day, I’d like to be able to leave the house with her.

I’m hoping that my need to protect my investment justifies the amount of time I spent looking for laptop cases today.  Recycled material, fair trade, sustainable fibers, and proper laptop padding are apparently all quite compatible.  I have at least four favorites.  There’s a vertical bag made from recycled mosquito netting at Peaceful Valley, in green and red.  It’s big enough for a 15.4 laptop, but it doesn’t say how the laptop pocket is padded.  But hey, if it’s not padded, maybe I could put it in this slim red leather case with fake purple fur lining from bronwenhandcrafted, at etsy.  Man, with that wrapping, I could stick her in anything and she’d be safe! Or at least fabulous.

But if it’s not a red leather and purple fur day, I could use this inexpensive, recycled plastic bag from Verdant Computing.  It comes in black, sky blue and orangish, and it looks way useful and unassuming.  Like, if useful and unassuming is your thing.  And one I keep going back to is this reclaimed plastic case that’s made from fused waste materials in India, and fairly traded.  The company that makes them, Conserve, has some really gorgeous bags, but the laptop cases come in less exciting color combinations right now.

As much as I liked them all, I don’t like any of them enough to commit right now.  And I’m hoping that, after this weekend, it won’t matter.  I have the sewing machine all set up, and some extra strong canvas and soft fleece, so I could make my own, and that’d be pretty awesome!  Or I could knit a case for it with some of my yarn stash.  Or maybe I should stop looking through etsy and getting ideas about what can be done with my extra fabric and yarn.  But I’m envisioning a canvas case with two shoulder straps and a carrying handle, a medium-sized top flap, an internal divider…

I need a case for real though, so if inspiration hasn’t made my hands swift and seams tight this weekend, I need to buckle down and pick something.  I’m leaning to the mosquito net thing right now.

Hippie Hamlet sums it up:  To buy, or DIY?

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Getting Rid Of A Computer

First post from my linuxed-up laptop! It’s a great little machine, and I’m happy with my choice.

After opening the box, I realized I’d forgotten to mention another pretty important rating system for eco-friendly electronics. Energy Star is a DOE/EPA initiative to label the most energy efficient appliances, gadgets, homes, building materials, and a bunch of other things. Only products that use a significantly smaller proportion of energy than other similar devices being sold will qualify for the Energy Star seal. Look for their blue logo on anything you’re thinking of purchasing (unless it’s like a banana or whatever, they don’t do food). You can look up the model you want or already have- here’s mine. Energy Star has a much more comprehensive database than EPEAT does now, since it’s an older program.

But enough with ratings. On to the disposal.

I now have a CRT monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, and a CPU that I don’t need- and that are taking up a huge amount of space on my desk. They’re all old, but functional. Instead of getting rid of them, or even sending them to a safe electronic waste program, I’d like to donate them to be reused, refurbished, or at least raided for useful parts.

First I need to clean them up- take off all the lovely decorations (4 years of I voted! stickers), and also clean off my data securely (just in case some joker gets hold of my 11th grade English essays). Even deleting your important data won’t remove it securely from your hard drive- that just erases the computers memory of where it is. So if you’ve got anything on there you don’t want found-and you do, if you’ve ever recorded your social security number or any bank or medical information on it- try out something like Utimaco’s free, private-use only encryption software, which offers a secure-delete options for your files- it’ll write over the actual data 100 times, to make it very hard to recover.

The GF has already called the CPU- he wants to add it to his own computer parts empire. I’ll donate the monitor, and hopefully the rest, to Goodwill. They fix up the computers as part of a job-training program, and donate them to places in the community, and that I can get behind. Free Geek does a similar thing in Oregon, and lists affiliates in a few other states. EBay sponsors a program called Rethink that lists potential places to donate, and responsible ways to recycle your useless electronics. Some donation programs take broken electronics to dismember and reuse, or refurbish, so check out their policies before you give up on your broken items. Finally, for information on what happens to improperly recycled electronics, and the hazardous situations they’re creating in foreign countries, check out Basel Action Network’s information. Sobering, and they include links to various recycling groups that responsibly dispose of your stuff, once it’s far beyond gone.

If your stuff isn’t in a good shape to donate, your local government has a hazardous waste disposal area, or it should. For residents of Alexandria, you can take your electronic trash to 3600 Wheeler Ave, Mondays from 7:30 to 3:30. Take proof of residency, and be sure to clean off your hard drives- they won’t do that for you. Check out the Earth911 search bar for local waste disposal, too. It includes business take-back programs and special recycling days that are close to you. And since I know plenty of you have Dells, Dell will take back all of their electronic equipment to be safely disposed of, for free– and they’ll pick up any other kind of computer stuff to dispose of for you, for a small fee. Huzzah for corporate responsibility! Enough to make me think for a minute about maybe buying a Dell. Not that I need one now.

Right, That Laptop

Let me help you up off that cliff. Where were we? I bought a laptop. I thought it would be difficult to balance my not-so-demanding computing needs and my wish to shop earth-consciously. It turned out to be pretty simple. The steps:

1) Set a target price. I didn’t want to spend more than $750, based on some tooling around a couple of online retailers and my personal financial goals.

2) Asked the Gentleman Friend for recommendations on brands, and tech websites. He’s quite into this sort of thing, so it was tough reminding him that I need a lot less machine than he does. A lot like trying to buy bike gear from an Intense Biking Person, when really you just need a Huffy.

3) Waded into the Green-Tech rankings. I checked EPEAT first. This was a bit of a mistake, since EPEAT rates individual machines. Greenpeace rates manufacturers overall, so i should have started with them. The model I ended up with is actually not rated at the EPEAT site yet, but the manufacturer has gotten silver and a few gold ratings for all of their rated products. The EPEAT Criteria are here. Models are rated on how well the company reports materials used and avoids some hazardous chemicals, among other things. Manufacturers have to mreet 23 basic criteria to get Bronze, all the basics and 50% of the 28 optional criteia. Gold laptops need 75% of the optional criteria as well as the basics. Toshiba, Dell, HP, and Lenovo all make has Gold-rated laptops. My price limit eliminated a good deal of the gold models. Not that they’re expensive, it’s just, $750 is not very much to pay for a laptop.

I checked Greenpeace next. Apparently, they do much more than harass whaling vessels. Their rankings deal with chemicals, reporting on materials, and takeback recycling options that companies offer. Toshiba gets top rankings, along with Samsung. Dell, Lenovo, Nokia and Sony come in “second”. Greenpeace found room for everyone to improve, though, of course.

Given how many different machines EPEAT needs to review to get their rankings to be really useful, I think Greenpeace might have the better idea ranking by manufacturer’s overall practices. So I decided to decide by that. Toshiba, Dell, and Lenovo seemed to rise to the top of the rankings where I was looking. Toshiba and Dell turned out to be a bit much for my budget. Plus, I’m no tech snob, but I’m a tech snob about Dells. They’ve got Linux models now, and they are doing good work with ecoing-up the ante, but I’m a tech snob about Dells.

4) I decided. I found out the good things about Lenovo just in time. After some research at newegg, I had picked an Acer and a Lenovo. Seduced by the 17 inch screen, I almost opted for the Acer- until I saw the Greenpeace rankings. Ah-ha! Thank you Greenpeace, for quantifying my principles for me. I opted for the 15 inch Lenovo. It was no longer for sale. What? I had to look around again, but I found a less-expensive, and less fast (2GB vs 3GB RAM) Lenovo Y510 at MicroCenter, which is a less-ubiquitous kind of Best Buy, as far as I can tell. And I pick up my new little $620 friend tomorrow morning, since he was in stock.

I’m excited, but I’ve also decided to switch to Linux myself this time around. So I’m anticipating a few glitches before I get the hang of Ubuntu. I’ll keep my old computer around for a few days while the helpful GF gets me through that. Which is really just a way of saying that you’ll have to find out how I’m eco-disposing of my old rig in a couple of days! Back over the cliff, now. Hang tight.

I Bought A Laptop

I’ve been waiting for six years to say that.  I’m still using the desktop and CRT monitor that I took to first year of college.  I’ve gotten used to the hum of the CRT, the whir of the fan, and carrying that sucker up flights of stairs in the 14 times I’ve moved since then.  But she’s starting to object to opening web pages, so it’s time for a new beginning. 

So computers are even worse than the fashion industry for engineered obsolesence.  At least we know that every twenty to forty years, what we wore last year will be fashionable again for a bit.  Not so with computers, or phones, or music players- stupid Moore’s Law, making stuff all faster and more powerful.  Now, I’m no luddite.  Catch a luddite blogging!  (Then call them a hypocrite.)  I just don’t demand very much from my technology.  I’m not a power user, I don’t play computer games. All I want is a speedy computer to check email, write some things, and keep my photos on.  Fortunately, the toasters they make nowadays can do all that, so I’m golden.

I think we’re pretty inured to the idea that a computer is just funl, or just work- a complicated tool- and forget their environmental impacts.  They draw tons of power (especially as much as they’re on now, even if they are getting more efficient) and are manufactured from plastic, chemicals, toxic stuff, and all sorts of hard-to-reuse-or-recycle items.  What did you do with the last machine you got rid of?  Did you throw it out, or recycle it?  Was there a program available from the manufacturer to take it back?  As early as 2002, Wired was writing about the need to prevent computers frrm sitting in landfills, here or in China, leaking mercury and lead.

Fortunately, manufacturers and regulators have gotten on that problem, and now with the whole “green” thing, there’s even a host of ratings systems that compare how companies design, manufacture, ship, and recycle their products.  I wrote about the EPEAT ratings a while ago, and Greenpeace scores manufacturers (Apple, HP, Dell, Lenovo) on cradle-to-the-grave machine management.  Verdant Computing rates products they offer on a few different sustainable criteria.  Greener Computing is an industry-oriented website with some interesting articles on ecologically sound IT, including on the burdens of recycling programs for manufacturersSoftchoice is also more for IT professionals, but it links EPEAT-certified hardware for sale.  There’s plenty of information out there if you want to find out how your computers are made, and what options you have when they’re obsolete.

Maybe that’s why it took me 8 months to research this purchase.

So chew on that, and I’m going to leave you with a cliffhanger tonight what I decided, and what I’m going to do with my old one.  Dun dun DUN!

How-To: RSS

So as to not bore you with frequent, fruitless checks for new material, I should let you know how to get an RSS feed of these posts (in case you don’t already know). Basically, 1) get an RSS reader, and 2) insert https://virescent.wordpress.com/feed into it. If you don’t have a feed ticker you like, I can’t recommend one right now (I don’t know of any “good ones” myself). However, if you use gmail, you can insert my feed into the RSS ticker at the blue header bar. In gmail, go to Settings (probably in the upper right corner of your screen), then select the Web Clips menu tab, and search for “virescent” or “virescent.wordpress.com”. Stuff will pop up, find and add my /feed site, and then my posts will pop up on your gmail with some frequency, depending on how many other news feeds you also have.

From now, I’ll be more frequently updating, and I’ll try to warn you of any long delays between them.  If there is any interest, I’ll add an email function that will email you my latest posts, and I’ll be on the lookout for RSS tickers to recommend for those who want a separate one or who don’t use gmail (if you know of any useful ones, do tell).

Measuring PC Greenity

BusinessWeek’s special report on green tech (investing in, new trends, etc.) includes an article on a new rating system for measuring the greenness of PCs. The Electronic Product Environmental Assesment Tool (EPEAT) was

“designed by manufacturers and environmental groups to help institutions such as governments, schools, and businesses pick eco-friendly PCs. Computers submitted for EPEAT ratings have to first meet 23 required criteria covering hazardous materials, recycling, and power consumption. That scores them a bronze rating. To nab a silver or gold, they have to meet at least half or 75%, respectively, of a second list of 28 more rigorous criteria.”

BW points out that while businesses buying in bulk will pay attention to the EPEAT guidelines, most individual consumers care more about upfront cost and nerd cred than the environmental impact rating of a product. They conclude that since this is true, there’s not a reason to give consumers the additional information contained in this new rating.

Since this is a business mag, the lack of faith in the informed consumer must be forgiven. Though we shortsighted masses probably make our purchasing decisions based on cost, styling, or ability to frag n00bs, it’d still be lovely to have a chance to make an environmentally conscious decision (while fragging n00bs in style, cheaply). Not included in the article is a link to the EPEAT rating systems. 617 products have been reviewed and are searchable by product rating in the gold, silver, and bronze categories. Only 14 products got the gold- one of them is the $100 laptop design for the One Laptop Per Child program. Would tech people care to comment on whether or not the Gold medal winners are sweet systems and thus good choices for reasons beyond tree-hugging hippyness?


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