Computers – Notes for ShareFair June 2016

OBSOLETE – transferred to other documetns at 8:50 pm Monday 6 June 2016

There’s a lot we can do to improve our use of computers, both as individuals and as part of a community. Not only is it better for the environment, but it’s fun and empowering.

What You Can Do   /  Bringing old computers back to live / Linux


  • The problems of e-waste
  • What you can do.
  • Computers into the hands of people who need them
  • Learn more
  • Have more control over your life
  • Fun
  • Get involved with interesting people
  • Can get working

The problem



In Transition, we look for ways to

To use one’s computer skills to help bridge the digital divide.

To be environmentally responsible. Massive amounts of energy and raw materials are required to manufacture our electronic gadgets.

To gain control over our lives. Be an active creator, rather than a passive consumer.

Cheaper and in some cases, much cheapter. For less than $50, you can have a laptop computer that will meet most of your needs.

The Story of Electronics video by Annie Leonard


What you can do

Get a used computer

  • Buy a used or refurbished computer. (See How Refurbished Electronics Work.)
  • Refurbish a cast-off computer and use it. Find parts on Craigslist or eBay. To expand your options, try out Linux.

Keep using your computer as long as you can

  • Prevent over-heating (the main cause of computer failures)
    • Make sure air vents on bottom and side of laptops are uncovered (for example, don’t use laptops  on top of fabrics which block the vents).
    • Periodically clean dust from the inside of computer, especially the fan and vents.
    • Take periodic breaks to let the computer cool if running compute- or  graphics-intensive programs.
  • Get better performance
    • Close  unneeded tabs and remove unused extensions in browser.
    • Install ad-block software on your browser.
    • Close unused programs.
  • Clean  up software:
    • Remove crud from a slow version of Windows, e.g. by reinstalling.
    • Install Linux to replace a slow or obsolete version of Windows, such as XP.
  • Repair problems.
    • Many problems are due to software (see previous point)
    • Hardware problems can be fixed and broken parts can be replaced. It may or may not be worth it. Many parts are available cheaply, for example via eBay.
  • Upgrade hardware (if desired)
    • Replace hard drive with a faster drive (for example SSD).
    • Add more memory if you need it.
    • Replace CPU or motherboard for a major upgrade.


  • Use an old laptop as a desktop, e.g. after battery has died. For comfort, use a lapstop stand and perhaps a big monitor.
  • Use an old computer as a back-up system – in case you’re in the middle of a project and your main computer breaks down.
  • Use an old computer for a special purpose, e.g. as a file server, web server, video or audio server.
  • Re-use parts (RAM, hard drives, power supplies, cards, CD/DVD drives).

Give away or sell

  • Give to a family member or friend.
  • Donate to an organization to refurbish, part out, or responsibly recycle.
  • Sell as a working unit or “for parts or repair” (eBay, Craigslist, Nextdoor).
  • Make sure drives are cleaned of data before giving away (deleting files is not enough).


  • Recycling should be a last resort, since it requires energy and recycled materials are less useful than functioning units. It is estimated that re-using a computer is about 25 times as envrionmentally benefical as recycling it at 3-5 years of age. (Lynch, Computers for Classrooms).
  • Look for responsible recyclers. Bad recyclers ship electronics to foreign countries for disposal in unsafe and polluting processes, such as burning circuit boards to get metals.
  • Electronic gear should never be sent to the landfill, since it has toxic chemicals.




Resources for buying, selling and disposing of computers

  • Stanford Surplus, Stanford campus.  Computers, peripherals, and parts from Stanford University. Ask at the desk for hard drives. Office furniture, tools and much. miscellaneous is also for sale.  (Patch article). Open Wednesday and Thursday.
  • Weird Stuff,  Sunnyvale. A warehouse full of odd and perhaps still useful electronics. See the Tour, for a taste of this iconic store.
  • HSC Electronic Supply (aka Halted), Santa Clara. Recommended by Eitan and the New York Times: “one of the last of a dying breed — a rough-around-the-edges electronics wonderland.”
  • Green Citizen, Burlingame. Recycles electronics. Burlingame office may have disk drives for sale.  (SF Chronicle article).
  • Computers for Everyone, Menlo Park. Refurbishes computers and other gear.
  • Electronics Flea Market, DeAnza College. Swap meet for radio and electronics. Second Sunday of each month.
  • Western Pacific Pulp and Paper, Newark. A huge recycling facility which often has laptops for sale.
  • Craigslist. Buy and sell computers and other gear locally. You typically meet the seller in a public location and pay in cash.
  • Nextdoor. A private social network active in our area. It’s not hard to get an invitation to join and get connected to local people. Occasionally electronic gear shows up on the “Free” and “Classified” notices.
  • eBay.  Buy and sell computers and other gear nationally. Unsurpassed for finding obscure parts.You can buy used computers in lots of 2 to 100+.
  • Freecycle. Giving and getting free stuff. I haven’t seen much electronic gear on offer.
  • Recycle Works. Listing of local recyclers.
  • Silicon Valley Linux Users Group.

Computer refurbishers: non-profit groups


Computer refurbishers: individuals

How to

The Problem

Info:Computers in education



At a certain point. Microsoft deserves xxx for their program for recycling.

But at a certain point,

  • Free
  • No paperwork or bureaucracy
  • Fewer resources required.
  • Works well on older computers.
  • Much online troubleshooting.
  • Self-sufficiency. Not dependent on a single corporation.
  • Highly customizable. Many different versions for different situations.

Microsoft does have some strong points, and many refurbishers


Recommended for normal people:
Linux Mint

A comfortable experience, with low hardware requirements (RECOMMENDED)
Ubuntu Mate
Linux Mint Mate

Fairly good experience, with low hardware requirements:
Xubuntu (xfce + Ubuntu)
Lubuntu (LXDE + Ubuntu)
Linux Mint xfce

Okay experience, with VERY low hardware requirements:
Puppy Linux

Good experience but high hardware requirements:
Unity on Ubuntu
KDE (various distros)
Gnome (various distros)

For techies and tinkerers, low hardware requirements.
Arch Linux (e.g. + xfce or Openbox)

Many other distros (distributions) for special purposes
Red Hat





A problem for all of us  is how to get support in solving their computer problems. This is particularly true for Linux, which is new to most people and not covered widely in the press.





What we can do