Computer Reuse

This is a gigantic topic which requires a treatise or a long report so I will not even attempt here to cover the topic as it deserves. In order to do it justice, there would need to be input from electronic engineers, layout and assembly engineers and the vast chemical industry that serves the factories in which computers are made, assembled and completed.


Some observations: People tend to hang onto their old computers because they know they still work, even if they seem to have become “obsolete”. The backlog of old computers in people’s closets and garages was irresistible to the recyclers so in the nineties and following, they mounted a propaganda campaign to pretend that there was a problem with the way that computers were being reclaimed by burning in China, Ghana, Nigeria and other places. They were not wrong on the basics. The burning was a horrible, toxic, life-destroying process which created a toxic smoke. Where they were dead wrong, was in pretending that they cared and that they could do something about it. The fact is that the way that computers are designed today, for early obsolescence, impossible repairs and non-existent hardware upgrading, THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE for poor people to earn a pittance by recycling electronics by burning and other low grade means. The recyclers have nothing better to offer, but you would never know that by their deceptive propaganda.

What they did was to pretend to the public that effective and upscale recycling WAS IDENTICAL TO COLLECTION. Instead of presenting a face to the public of collection of electronic garbage, they roped the California and other legislators into a bogus campaign of paying a fee for recycling and then COLLECTING the same computers for the same fate as before. But now they kept intoning promises of PROPER RECYCLING, even though they had, and have, no idea of what that would look like. The same electronics still flow to the same poor villages and are still burned but today the state collects money which it pays to recyclers for their participation. Hardly anything else has changed.

The giveaway is right there on the announcements that you will repeatedly encounter of COLLECTION EVENTS. Take note of the facts presented. They will tell you who is the sponsor, where to take your electronics, who will pay whom for what, the dates and the times. That’s it! No hint ever of what will happen to the goods collected except that the phrase “proper recycling” will be joined to “certified recyclers”. The actual destination of your discarded electronics remains unknown, at least to you. The real payoff has nothing to do with what happens to the goods. The real payoff is 1. the fee you pay up front that goes to the recyclers and 2. your peace of mind as you imagine that they, whoever they may be, are in charge and taking care of it. No more worries.


Recently it was brought to my attention that there is a feature of computers which seems to have been designed to slowly fail, possibly before the rest of the machine. I refer to the cooling fans which are built into the guts of the computer to keep the main microchip cool enough to run. These fans pull in air from one side of the computer and discharge it through a screen to the outside. If you put your hand near an operating machine’s discharge port, you can feel the hot air. All air carries dust and that dust can build up against the discharge screen. If you are careful, and knowledgeable, you can blow out the dust with a blast of high pressure air (which most people don’t have available). Otherwise, as the dust pad builds up, the efficiency of cooling decreases, the temperature of the microchip rises and the computer will shut down. For many people, an older machine will simply be written off as too much trouble when this happens.

The fan is thus a discard trap, a failure element, a Trojan Horse, which causes a machine to be discarded and replaced earlier than it needs to be. One useful redesign would be to make the discharge port easy to clean. For example, it could simply slide to one side allowing the dust pad to be easily pulled out. I haven’t seen this design element in any computer.

As I learn about more such redesigns that are not impossibly technical, I will add them to this discussion.

For a Tinkerer and computer repair fanatic in the Linux world, see this article.



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