Monday, May 28, 2007

A Tale of Two Computers

In Digital Spring Cleaning and Diskard I mentioned that I had somehow come to harbor three computers in my tiny apartment. How could that happen, you ask?


I acquired one of the computers when I returned to graduate school, the first time around. It was the first PC that I ever owned. A CompuAdd PC running DOS. Great computer! Never had any real problems with it. Sturdy and solidly built. Just how sturdy I only truly discovered later, when I tried to extract the hard drive. But I digress.

I eventually bit the bullet and got a Windows PC, but not being entirely convinced that I would get along with it, I kept my CompuAdd as a sort of electronic security blanket. Eventually though, I used the CompuAdd PC less and less until it just sat shrouded in the corner, collecting dust.

This second computer, I only had for a couple of years before it needed to be replaced. As many of you may know, it can be quite a production (and a painful one!) to transfer your files and applications from an existing computer to a new one. Never mind having to then prepare it for a new owner if you decide to give it away or donate it to charity. However, with this computer, uncharacteristically, I somehow managed to accomplish these tasks relatively quickly and passed it on to my mother, who had finally decided she was ready to take her first steps into the world of computing.

I trundled along with my third computer for about seven or eight years, before it too began to conk out. Unfortunately, getting rid of it did not proceed as expeditiously. I was in the final throes of another academic experience {{{shudder}}}, and hoped it would hold out long enough for me to complete my coursework, which it thankfully did. Incredibly, I still had one more academic requirement to complete, so I just did not have the time nor the fortitude right then, to go through the contortions of breaking this third computer down, in order to get rid of it. It would be two more years, before I could even contemplate that project and then, due to my floppy disk dilemma (see Diskard for the sordid details), possession was extended a tad longer.

And so, this is how I came to have three computers in the house, not a completely unreasonable scenario, at least for a Packrat, right . . .?


Nevertheless, the day finally came when I truly accepted that I did not need to have three computers, when one would do just fine, and had the time to do something about it. The CompuAdd, trusty little computer that it was, went first. Its 5.25" drive no longer worked so I really had no further reason to keep it any longer. I even managed to suppress a compulsive thought that there might be stuff on the hard drive that was possibly worth keeping, which would have only needlessly delayed the inevitable. I consoled myself by reasoning that if I had not looked at it or needed it by now, I probably wouldn't miss it! However, as a slight concession to myself, I decided to remove the hard drive before getting rid of the computer altogether.

And, let me tell you, I might just as well have been trying to break into a safe! Those CompuAdds were solidly built machines. Tightly screwed (like lug nuts on a tire) and all but welded together. Once I managed to get inside the box, I had to figure out where the hard drive even was! It turned out to be tucked quite securely under the 3.5" floppy drive bay, which also had to be removed in order to get at the hard drive. All told, it took several hours to figure all this out, get everything apart so I could do the extraction and then put it back together. I very nearly gave up, especially since the computer drop was the next day. But you know what I always say . . . I am nothing if not persistent and at last the deed was done. Several months later, I repeated this drill with the other computer. Thankfully, getting the hard drive out of this one was much, much easier. Undoing one screw here, pressing a couple of release tabs there and POP! Instant access inside the box. And this time, the hard drive bay was not buried under some other component, but was instead easily spotted and also easily released by undoing one or two screws and pushing on a couple of tabs.


The computer and its related equipment will probably be some of the easiest stuff you'll ever get rid compared to other treasures you might accumulate over the years.

For one thing, relatively speaking, the tech industry is way ahead of manufacturers from other industries in incorporating "take backs" into their business practices. By that, I mean they have specific and explicit policies to facilitate the consumer's ability to properly dispose of their used or unwanted electronic gizmos, but more importantly, this information is readily communicated to the consumer at some point during the acquisition process or ownership phase. For example, printer cartridges. Within the packaging of the new cartridge, my printer manufacturer includes instructions along with a postage-paid return envelope for sending back the old one. Imagine being able to do the same with a pair of shoes or ironing board...? Anyway, you can check out the EPA's Plug-in Partners page for a listing of companies who have such a program in place.

Also, a variety of organizations have sprung up that either sponsor electronics drops, will pick up, or to whom you can send your old equipment for refurbishment or proper disposal. GreenDisk is one such organization that I've previously talked about and actually used (also discussed in Diskard). GreenCitizen, (I haven't used them) based in California is another. Every so often, the Lower East Side Ecology Center in NYC among other activities, sponsors electronics drops. Earth 911 is another excellent resource for finding out how and where various items, including electronics, can be recycled nation wide.

To dispose of each of my computers, I took advantage of one of the municipal electronics drops, which are scheduled from time to time by the city. Both times that I dropped my computers off, I found it extremely easy, convenient and well-organized. They were held in locations to which you can drive your car if you choose. Once there, personnel then direct you to the particular spot where they will unload the stuff from your car, after which they point you in the direction to exit the area. Each time, I was on my way in less than 5 or 10 minutes. In fact, the hardest part was getting the stuff down from my apartment and into the car, beforehand.

Really, I can't see any good reason not to take advantage of the available opportunities to get rid of this type of stuff. Also, while putting the finishing touches on this week's post I discovered that Staples just announced a massive takeback program. There's a press release at the Earth 911 site, here.

So, there you have it. What are you waiting for!

Monday, May 14, 2007


Last week in The Diskard entry I described my difficult, but ultimate triumph in disposing of an accumulation of 5.25" floppy diskettes, and advised that this was part of my multi-faceted Electronics Discard Project (EDP), discussed in Digital Spring Cleaning. For The Diskard's "Removal step I used Green Disk, which turned out to be a really easy solution! Just the way I like them!

According to their website, "GreenDisk began on April 22, 1993 (Earth Day!) . . . [and] was founded by high tech industry veterans who had a particular passion for the environment." I had actually first heard of them many years ago through a professional list serve I subscribe to. Someone on the list asked if anyone knew of an environmentally friendly way to dispose of disks and CD's, and Green Disk was suggested. Packrat that I am, I tucked this bit of information away for future reference. Once I decided it was time to finally get rid of these floppies, I untucked it and decided to give GreenDisk a try. You see! Hoarding can have its advantages!

Through a series of partnerships with both for-profit businesses and non-profit agencies GreenDisk takes advantage of existing recycling centers to process what they call "technotrash". This arrangement also provides employment opportunities for disabled adults. Certain of the refurbished "technotrash" items are sold as GreenDisk's branded line of office supplies. Those items that cannot be refurbished are dismantled and properly disposed of, and they will provide a certificate to that effect. Everyone wins!

There is a fee to take this stuff off your hands (varies depending on the service you use), but for me, this was well worth it. Another great thing about GreenDisk is that they handle both small (30 lbs or less) and large amounts (over 300 lbs) of technotrash, so this deklutter solution is one that is suitable for both individuals as well as businesses. They accept quite a wide variety of electronic refuse:

  • desktops
  • laptops
  • monitors
  • printers
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • videotapes
  • cell phones and other PDA equipment
  • but this list represents just a smidgeon of it. For a complete list visit their FAQ.

    I used the Technotrash Pack-It service, although there are other service options available: Technotrash Can and the Computer and Component Recycling Program. With the Technotrash Pack-It service you use your own box and fill it with up to 20 lbs worth of whatever technotrash you can fit into it. At this writing the cost was $6.95 plus you have to pay for shipping. Anything over 20 lbs will costs 0.30¢ per additional pound. It took mere moments to set up an account. Placing my order and the final checkout process was also a breeze. The mailing label was included as a .PDF attachment to the order confirmation sent via email. Regular users of their services can manage their account and product orders through the site.

    The Technotrash Pack-It service is good for small amounts of such items as floppies, DVDs, CDs, mice, cell phones, PDAs. Smaller, computer-related stuff like that. For larger volumes of this type of trash, you should use the "Technotrash Can" service. Various box sizes and pricing are available, however all the ins and outs are clearly spelled out at their site.

    For computer components like monitors, printers, laptops, or complete desktop systems, they require you to use the Computer Component Recycling Program. If you or your business has unique needs, you can contact them to arrange a solution tailored to your particular situation. Note: "Technotrash Can Service is available only in the 48 contiguous states. Service is not available in Alaska, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, or outside North America."

    I packed up my floppies and just for the heck of it, tossed in a bunch of promotional CDs that I had (such as might be received from a certain internet and email service provider that starts with an Amer...?). I took the box to the post-office in order to weigh it on the self-service scale. It came to a little over 9 lbs. Later, I placed my order and printed out the label, then went back to the post-office to mail it. I used US Postal Service Media Mail, however you can choose whatever shipping method you like (e.g. UPS, FedEx or whatever). A week later, I received a Certificate of Destruction, which GreenDisk states is a bonded guarantee that the intellectual property and all of the physical materials were disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.

    And that was that! Diskard Mission accomplished!

    Sunday, May 6, 2007

    The Diskard

    The Diskard was one facet of my overall Electronics Discard Project (EDP), which I alluded to in the Digital Spring Cleaning entry last week.


    Somehow, I had managed to accumulate about 13 boxes of 5.25" diskettes. Each box held or was capable of holding about ten diskettes, twenty with a little shameless cramming. I also had a number of what I think were never used, blank diskettes that my father had given me at some point. For those of you who may not be getting the picture (or don't want to face it), let me spell it out:


    And, as some of you may also be very well aware, 5.25" diskettes are definitely a storage media of the past. For the less technologically savvy among you, in computer years, think of them as dinosaurs! So you know they weren't really serving any useful purpose other than to collect dust and take up space on a shelf in my apartment!

    Why didn't I just toss them and be done with it!? Even with the length of time those diskettes had to have been sitting there, I still thought there might be some useful data worth preserving (Well, you never know!). My plan was to take a quick look at them, copy any files I wanted to keep over to 3.5" diskettes so that I could access them on my current computer, and delete the rest. Easy enough, right?!

    Well that part of my plan proved to be a huge stumbling block on my DeKluttering Path. One of the three computers I had been harboring in my small abode (another facet of the EDP to be discussed in a future post) had both a 5.25" and 3.5" disk drive. Ordinarily it would have been just the ticket, however, its 5.25" drive was not working properly, and I never dreamed how difficult it would be to find a comparable set-up. Actually, finding a 5.25" drive wasn't even the main problem. There are plenty to be found on eBay! I even went to the trouble of setting up an eBay account in the hopes of successfully bidding for one! The true predicament became figuring out which one of the hundreds of such drives available would be compatible with the other computer system I had, which could accommodate a 5.25" drive, and then to somehow figure out how to install it correctly.

    The only other solution, with which I occasionally flirted, was to purchase yet another system with the requisite floppy drives (also available on eBay), but that just seemed like waaaay too much trouble. It also involved bringing another computer into a house which already had too many of them, rather than getting rid of one. Basically, to my mind, a big step backwards!


    However, I am nothing if not persistent. I finally thought to contact a cousin who troubleshoots and repairs computers and posed my problem to him. He was able to scavenge up a system for me, but more importantly, one that I could use at his house, rather than mine! But, I wasn't quite out of the woods yet! Both of us have busy schedules so it took a while for us to hook up. In the meanwhile, I got everything organized into a shopping bag and set it aside until we were finally able to get together.


    Many of the diskettes were unreadable. It is very likely that over time they had simply gone bad. Also, another techy friend of mine advised that 5.25" drives can be finicky and may fail to read perfectly good diskettes. Oh well! I did the best I could, under the circumstances, and more or less accomplished my goal of copying some stuff, deleting other stuff, and finally determining what could be trashed. It ended up taking eight or nine hours, but I was determined and my inner Packrat was appeased. Plus, my cousin and I also had a really great time, just shooting the breeze while I did it.

    I could now proceed to the "Remove" step of the DeKlutter drill. Thanks Julio!!!

    Next up! My floppy diskette exit strategy: Green Disk!