Computers – it’s not all bad

I’ve been having a clear-out

Living, as I do, in a very small flat, there just isn’t the room to accumulate things I won’t need again. I’ve come across loads of bits of computer hardware that might have come in handy again when they were first dumped in the cupboard, but which now look a bit quaint and past it. There are sound cards, modem cards (the old dial-up type, that is), my zip drive, internal and external floppy and DVD drives, no end of internal drive cables, and so on.

Computer Rubbish
Ready for disposal. Yes, Sarah, that was your old HP printer!
All of this stuff is going on the pile in the middle of the room that I’ll need “a man and a van” to come and take away for me. He’s going to have to dispose of it properly, of course. Electronic waste can no longer just be dumped in your wheelie bin: it has to be collected separately and disposed of properly. Since I live in Clapham, I’ve just googled “electronic waste Lambeth” and pretty soon found the website of the Western Riverside Waste Authority. They cover waste for Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth, and Lambeth. If you live in a different borough then I would recommend that you do a similar Google search if you have a similar need to get rid of stuff like this. You should be able to find out whether your own council will collect electronic waste put out separately from your normal waste. Some, or all, councils used to do such collections free of charge but I think you should expect to pay for it these days. I decided not to try and use Lambeth Council to get rid of my pile as their website wasn’t at all clear as to how they would cost a big pile of stuff as opposed to neatly boxed items. Anyway, the point of this digression is to suggest that if you have your own electronic stuff to get rid of then you need to abide by the disposal regulations for electronic waste and not just hide that old monitor at the bottom of your wheelie bin!

The real focus of this blog was meant to be that seeing all of this old stuff led me to thinking how little “hardware work” I actually do these days. Ten or twenty years ago it was very common for me to visit a client in order to attach another box to a computer or pull the case open in order to add or replace something inside. Bits of hardware would fail, or need upgrading, or need giving a good talking to so that they worked properly with all the other hardware.

We now seem to have reached a point of maturity in the industry whereby almost any computer will do everything the average user needs and it already contains all of the bells and whistles you will ever need. You can almost take it for granted that a new computer will include a microphone, speakers, sound card, networking capabilities, webcam, enough memory to do all “normal” things, and a hard drive whose capacity would make the Tardis blush.

Computer with Halo
My six and a half year old Samsung Q35 still does good service helping me provide computer support to Windows Vista clients.
Moreover, it seems to me that the hardware is very much more reliable these days. My own experience tells me that the most likely component to fail is the hard drive (so make sure your data is backed up or is safe in The Cloud). Apart from the hard drive, most computers these days just go on working until the owner fancies a newer, shinier, model.

When I first started working in the computer industry, in 1983, it seemed that most of my work was challenging but creative – designing small database systems. These days, much more of my work is trouble-shooting. From my clients’ point of view, spending money with me is often a “distress purchase”: it’s not uncommon for their parting comments to me to include things like “I hope I don’t see you again for a while” (I’m slowly developing a thicker hide as I get older). It would be very easy to think that all computers are always causing problems and generally being a pain in the neck.

However, when I look at all these bits of old hardware that I’m now getting rid of, and then I look at the (still shiny) six year old Samsung laptop that I’m still using to help me with support issues for Windows Vista, I think that I should stick up for the computer hardware industry and acknowledge that maybe it is reaching a point of stability and maturity that I suspect we would all welcome if we could just realise that it is actually happening.