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!

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