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July 2007

July 2007 - Computers

Gallery

Columns

  • EMG News:
    News of July!
  • Healthy Green Artists:
    Greening Your Computer
  • Behind the Art:
    Creating a Book in InDesign
  • Myths and Symbols:
    Inhuman Double
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Digital Evolution

    Features

  • P4S5W0RD5
  • The Fairies' Harp Walkthrough
  • 1001 Wonderlands: Alternate Reality Games

    Fiction

  • Fiction: Game Over?
  • Fiction: Computerized Frustration
  • Fiction: Crashing
  • Fiction: My Computers

    Reviews

  • Movie: Men in White


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  • Greening Your Computer
    Healthy Green Artists
    by Janet Chui

    It may reveal my age, but I have to admit that whenever I'm sitting at my computer, I feel like I'm greener just because I'm not working on paper at the moment. In a way that is true, but it's also debatable that this computer has that tiny a carbon footprint - mining is one of the most energy-intensive and environmentally destructive human activities in the world, and our computers and computer accessories have plenty of metal and precious metals, including some hazardous substances like mercury, lead, and cadmium. It's all too easy to forget that our magic boxes (especially the prettier they look on the outside) reached deep into the bowels of the earth for their components, released plenty of greenhouse gases in their manufacture, and are always a monstrous hybrid of both reusable and non-reusable materials held together by screws, rivets, solder, and glue!

    I guess it's not something that gets mentioned very often in slick commercials and marketing campaigns. While there is no doubt our computers, notebooks, and laptops are extremely useful and allow us to communicate without paper, it is still high on the list of most resource-intensive items we own in our modern lives. Not only that, but we may find ourselves buying new computer systems more often than cars or major household appliances. Sometimes it isn't because the old hardware stopped working, but because it can't keep up with the latest software, which we want or need. (Ellen can tell you about that!) Or, and it's not all that uncommon, but we just want the new thing!

    There's a lot of press to be found right now on new, greener machines and appliances on the market, but in the larger picture, I think it's just terrible advice to say "Go out and buy the latest energy-saving device, if you care about the earth!" While it may be great advice for household appliances that are energy hogs and that need replacing, computers (this month's EMG-Zine topic!) and any devices that use transformers for their power already use considerably less (but still doesn't mean we should load up on little gadgets!). Like some environmentalists, I think bigger environmental impacts come from caring about "big ticket" items. Consumerism, and especially the environmental impact of consumerism that surrounds producing and selling electronic gadgets, would be a big ticket item we can make an impact on. As in, we can choose to purchase only what we need, and to rethink what we really need.

    Well, sometimes we really need new hardware. And if we do, it helps to know all of our options, many of them cheaper and greener than others.

    Upgrading instead of replacing
    It's cheaper, produces less waste, and has a smaller carbon footprint if we can simply upgrade components of our computing system instead of starting completely anew. (Although, I know that this isn't always "cheaper". But in most cases it is.) If we're extremely handy, eBay is a great resource for cheap scrapped components for replacement, or new parts for upgrading our hardware. Otherwise, experts can usually be found in your area, no matter where you are, and they're eager to help!

    Buying Second Hand
    If your hardware requirements are simple (alas, for digital artists, it probably isn't), buying second hand computers and/or laptops from news classifieds and online is pretty cheap and pretty green. Though this does require a bit of caution and a discerning eye to make sure you do not purchase a lemon!

    Buying Refurbished
    This may be a little more expensive than buying secondhand, but it's easy to find a supplier you feel secure dealing with. Refurbished machines usually come with a guarantee and/or warranty period at no extra charge. By buying refurbished, you're purchasing a machine that may otherwise go to the scrap or recycling heap, and encouraging the industry to see worth in their own products that aren't the latest thing. Manufacturers may even start thinking of designing computers that'll last longer!

    Buying Smaller Instead of Larger
    It may sound strange, but it does make a difference, sometimes as much difference as purchasing an energy-saving appliance over one that doesn't. Liquid Crystal Display screens use less electricity than Cathode Ray Tube monitors, and if you can live with it, a smaller LCD screen will also consume less electricity than a larger one. A laptop consumes less than a desktop computer, and different makes of computer can also matter, when you really get down to details! To learn more, I recommend: How much electricity does my computer use?

    Investing in Good Products
    I'll admit it. I once bought two no-name pen tablets in the interest in saving (hundreds of) dollars. Both of those lasted no longer than 1-2 years. In contrast, the name brand pen tablet I got that cost more than the previous combined, has now been with me for seven years, and it's still working, using the first pen nib I started with. I learned two valuable lessons: (1) Sometimes names and products are expensive and have recognition for a reason and (2) The country of manufacture, even if under just one brand name, sometimes also really matters. A product made under a label in Japan, can long outlast the same product under the same label made in another country. Sometimes there's a difference in the packaging of those two similar products, sometimes there's not. Sometimes you can find both, or only one or the other offered where you are. Sometimes it really pays to have friends in the right places, and to know the origins of even "similar" products sold in different places. (Oh, a note for North American shoppers - big box stores may not have the variety or in-store expertise for this advice to apply. You may have to think specialized small businesses instead.)

    There's no end to the stories to be heard from other shoppers, salespeople and insiders, but it all comes down to this: Sometimes getting the best product goes way beyond and more complicated than deciding on which product and model number you want! It's aggravating, but a growing fact in this globalized age, as more and more manufacturing industries move into less developed countries.

    Dealing with e-Waste and Techno Trash
    The smarter we've shopped, the less electronic gadget waste we should produce, and the less stuff we'll send to the landfill. That is, unless we're smart enough to know there's still worth in our old hardware. Check your local classifieds - you'll find people who want your old computers! You can also donate old computers and hardware to shelters or charity drives, or to small local computer shops that sell refurbished machines, repair old ones, or scrap those without hope. Some large computer manufacturers also say they'll collect your old computer (whatever their make) for recycling, and that's another option. Some of them may make you jump through hoops for them to accept your old computer (you have to buy your new purchase from them, or you have to be a company and not an individual, some companies are weird like that), so, you may have to do your homework. I generally investigate all avenues, with computer recycling as the last resort - because there is controversy over how ethical and environmentally friendly some computer recycling is. There still exists the practice where old computers (still loaded with their hazardous substances) are simply shipped to poor countries where workers (including children) are scavenging precious metals from them with their bare hands and no face masks. I'll find it hard to believe that this has completely stopped, and it always make me think carefully of new computer purchases.

    Sometimes though, we're not throwing out old computers and gadgets - maybe just batteries or compact discs. Never ever just toss any kind of batteries into your trash, and this applies to cell phone and laptop batteries. Make sure they get to an authorized battery recycling resource. They contain some nasty stuff! When not in use, make sure to keep batteries away from heat.

    Compact discs - ah, those little shiny circles of plastic! We can only make so many mobiles and wall decorations out of these, huh? When you've given up on them and need to get rid of them, check out the resources available now for recycling old data media.

    Greening Your Electricity
    You can help limit the electricity you use by turning off your appliances (including computer) when they're not in use. To go even further, look closer at your next power bill, or contact your power company, and ask them if you can buy electricity from green (ie. renewable and non-polluting) sources or RECs (renewable energy certificates). The ease of doing this in your area may surprise you.

    Conclusion

    Well, you know the drill. Turn off your computer when you're done with it for the day. And you should only need 20 more minutes for the rest of EMG-Zine, right?

    Last Note
    EMG-Zine is hosted with DreamHost. And they're carbon neutral.

    Janet Chui
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