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Archive for the ‘Free Geek’ Category

The large IT trade show is in decline all over North America. Comdex disappeared a few years ago, and, despite the thriving market for GNU/Linux, LinuxWorld Expo cut back from twice a year to one. However, since many of these events have been replaced by smaller gatherings, I thought that room might still exist for a local show. However, after spending yesterday at the Vancouver Massive Technology Show, I doubt that trade shows can survive in even such a truncated form.

I was at the show as a volunteer for the Free Geek booth, so my time wasn’t wasted. Recycling and free software education are causes that I am happy to support, and honing my impromptu speaking skills can’t hurt. Still, with five or six volunteers at the booth and a free ticket or two, I had plenty of time to observe the show.

Attendance was only moderate, and, to judge from the way people were strolling around the exhibit hall and from the bland looks on their faces, the main reason for attending the show was to get away from the office for a few hours. On another day, a lazy cup of coffee at Starbuck’s might have provided the same excuse.

But the lack of excitement was hardly surprising. Even allowing for a wish for Canadian content, my first reaction to the list of people was, “Who are these people?” Aside from one or two whose competence I could vouch for because I know them personally, none were exactly acknowledged experts in their fields. In general, the lackluster field made the claim that the show was the place to find out about the latest in technology ring hollow.

As for those exhibiting – well, “provincial” is the phrase that springs to mind. Not only was Free Geek the only exhibitor I saw who was doing anything with free and open source software, but at least one was so clueless that he told a colleague that he wouldn’t use it because it was insecure.

To say the least, that’s not an attitude that you associate with the cutting edge of anything, except maybe a dull knife.

For the most part, the exhibitors were typified by their mediocrity and cheapness. Some wanted to be the next FaceBook, others the next Linkedin. Others were local web designers. Many offered search engine optimization, a piece of voodoo that always reminds me that almost nobody knows how or why marketing works. Many offered marketing or HR services. All were on such tight budgets that few could afford the usual swag – not even a cheap pen in many cases, although one company’s booth team were giving out small oranges or tangerines from woven baskets (which made me think of Nell Gwyn), and one energy drink company offer half-a-swallow samples. None had anything beyond the most basics of booths, the kind that at a really large show practically gets swallowed by any booth of reasonable size.

When I say that the only booth that I easily remember is the one selling IM Buddies – USB dongles that could be made to whirl and emit different color lights depending on who is messaging – you can get an idea of just how unmemorable the exhibits were.

In the center of the exhibit were amusements allegedly designed to appeal for geeks (never mind that I doubt a technical person was at the show), such as foosball and Guitar Hero. The apparent prize amusement was a mechanical bull (THAT’S RIGHT, A MECHANICAL BULL! the program screamed). Aging executives bored with imagining themselves Antarctic explorers could don cowboy boots and hats and be gently bucked about with all the energy of the kiddy rides that used to be placed outside grocery stores.

I haven’t had so much fun since the last time I rolled pennies. But I did think a mechanical bull was an appropriate symbol of a lackluster show full of marketing people going through the motions.

I also noticed that there were plenty of posters and cardboard flats advertising the new cable TV program on which Massive’s owner appears. These did their best to make her look geeky, tough, and 18 – none of which she has ever shown the least sign of being in my contacts with her.

As for her male co-hosts, let me just say (as a middle-aged man myself) that it is embarrassing for everyone when overweight or middle-aged men try to act hip or cool. The result was rather like catching a re-run of Mod Squad on the television screen before the DVD kicks in.

I was far from the only one to come away unimpressed, either. In the Tazzu forum, one of the leading network sites for Vancouver IT, other posters were no more thrilled with the day than I was. One forgot all about the show, one decided he would rather work, and the rest expressed sentiments in keeping with mine.

Massive’s only hope of survival lies in the hope that advertisers and those whose egos are stoked by a brief moment at the podium won’t notice the modified rapture of attendees, or look at the attendance figures. If they ever do, I give it two or three more years before extinction. Meanwhile, you can put Massive and other big time trade shows in the CITES Appendices of endangered species.

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No one can be involved in the free software community to any extent without stumbling across conspiracy theorists. Like the mad wife in the attic, they’re an embarrassment to the community, clinging to attitudes appropriate to the days when free software was new and vulnerable, and providing an easy means for outsiders to discredit the rest of the community. They can also waste a lot of your time if you let them, so you should learn how to identify them for your own sake.

You remember the scene in Apocalypse Now when Colonel Kurtz mumbles his story? You may remember leaning forward, straining to hear him – only to realize with a cold thrill that what he is saying is insane. Conspiracy theorists are like that. If you’re not careful, you find yourself being slowly drawn into their world, either accepting their ideas or arguing with them. The result is the same, regardless of whether you’re face to face or on IRC or email — either way, you lose.

Recently, I forgot that simple axiom, until I brought myself up with a start. I won’t mention the people in question, because I don’t want to dignify their antics with more attention. But, while the experience is still fresh in my mind, here are some of the signs that should put you on your guard:

  • An obsession about a single person, corporation, or issue to the exclusion of everything else: Conspiracy theorists will spend an inordinate amount of time researching and blogging about the object of their obsession. Although Microsoft is a favorite object of free software conspiracy theorists, I’ve also come across people with an obsession against Richard Stallman, the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, or even a particular project, such as KDE or GNOME. But, no matter what topics a discussion with them begins with, they will always find a way to bring up their obsession, often straining to do so. At the first hint of news, they will rush to blog about it, filling in gaps with speculation.
  • Extreme paranoia directed at the object of the obsession: The object of the obsession is viewed as vastly more powerful than the free software community. It is conceived as moving constantly in the shadows, recruiting dupes, spreading money when it has some and laying long range plans to subvert some or all of the community. Sometimes, these plans may make direct business sense, but, just as often, they are for dubious benefits. Should the object of the obsession deny an accusation, the conspiracy theorists simply regard the denial as a sign of how clever the enemy is.
  • An either / or mindset: For conspiracy theorists, no middle ground exists. Unless you are in complete agreement with them, you are in the enemy camp – and probably in the enemy pay. Even an attempt to qualify their argument will mark you as part of the problem. So will suggesting that they work to change or influence the object of the obsession where that is possible. The conspiracy theorist’s identity is bound up with being in opposition to the object of their obsession that anything except whole-hearted hatred is unacceptable to them. Key phrases: “There can be no truce with [insert object of obsession here]” and “Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.”
  • An inability to summarize other viewpoints with any accuracy: Convinced that they are on the right side, the average conspiracy theorist is either unable or unwilling to report other people’s ideas with any accuracy. Instead, they seem to report what they imagine others are saying, or is convenient to believe that others are saying.
  • A refusal to modify opinions, even in light of new evidence: Conspiracy theorists’ beliefs are so important to them that to change them would risk losing identity. So they don’t, ever. When offered new information that might challenge their basic position, they will either try to discredit it or change the subject immediately, perhaps raising a peripherally related point but not addressing the new information.
  • The use of decontextualized evidence: Conspiracy theorists see information that supports their central belief, and are prone to miss information that challenges or contradicts it. They will take a phrase out of context – for instance, take a comment on a technical issue to be about a political one — or even ignore basic grammar such as the serial comma in order to find support for their beliefs.
  • A refusal to consider alternate explanations: Coincidence, circumstance, and human stupidity do not exist for the conspiracy theorist. For this reason, they make no effort to discount them, not even to strengthen their own arguments. The one explanation that conspiracy theorists accept is malevolence.
  • A lack of civility and a quickness to give and take offense: The free software community is not the politest place in the world. However, even by its standard, conspiracy theorists are abusive. They’re quick to hurl insults, or to take insults personally. Their writing leaves an impression of emotion held barely in check, the words rushing out of them as fast as they can manage in their anger.
  • A disregard for the rules of evidence: The wise pundit looks for evidence that would hold up in a court of law – that is, establish a point beyond a reasonable doubt. By contrast, conspiracy theorists have no such restraint. For instance, if a company has hired a former Microsoft executive, that is proof that the company is controlled by Microsoft. Never mind that Microsoft is so large that any North American company has a good chance of hiring a former Microsoft executive – the one tenuous connection is enough to establish proof for a conspiracy theorist. Key phrase: “Can it be coincidence that . . . ?” (Sometimes, yes)
  • A scattergun approach to evidence: Instead of building up an argument point by point, conspiracy theorists tend to bury you in a random collection of related facts. They can take this approach, because their obsession causes them to have hundred of points ready at any given point. But instead of the rational building of an argument, the result is not logical persuasion, but an impressionistic, often highly emotional view of the situation.
  • A lack of self-reflection: Many of the sort of people I’m talking about know that “conspiracy theory” can be negative term, and are insulted if you apply it to them. However they don’t have the least idea of why it is appropriately applied to them. Accuse them of paranoia, and they will explain that they are only be sensible, and everyone else is living in a fool’s paradise. Suggest they have a cavalier attitude to evidence, and they’ll say much the same same. Don’t expect a sense of humor, either – that’s usually lost with the self-reflection. If they call you a “Microsoft shill” and you ask, “Where can I send an invoice?” they’ll assume you’ve just revealed your true allegiance, not that you’re making a joke.

This isn’t a pop quiz of the “Should you quit your job?” or “Which Tolkien character are you like?” variety, and still less a guideline to psychiatric assessment, so I can’t tell you exactly how many of these behaviors are needed to diagnosis someone as a conspiracy theorist. In fact, I’m tempted simply to say that, when you meet one, you’ll know. Still, the more of these traits you see, the greater the likelihood that you’re dealing with a conspiracy theorist. If you see more than half, then the likelihood becomes a near-certainty.

And then what should you do? The problem is nicely summarized by two verses of Proverbs 26. The first is: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.” The second is: “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit”. In other words, you don’t want to be dragged down to a conspiracy theorist’s own level, but you don’t want them to continue unchallenged and perhaps convince others who aren’t paying enough attention to realize the kind of person they are facing.

Answering is always tempting, but you have to put a limit on your answers. Whenever I receive comments on an article I’ve published, with few exceptions I restrict myself to two exchanges, regardless of whether I’m dealing with a conspiracy theorist or not. That way, I show politeness and respect to someone who has taken the trouble to contact me, but I don’t use up all my spare time in answering people. If your time is valuable, you might want to do the same.

However, you should also bear in mind that you can’t win. Try to refute a conspiracy theorist, and you simply prove to them that you’re the enemy. In the end, the best thing you can do for yourself – to say nothing of free software – is to stop responding to the conspiracy theorist as soon as you realize the type of person you’re dealing with. The time you spend dealing with a conspiracy theorist will be put to much better use writing code, persuading a friend to try free software or dealing with the real threats to the community instead of the imaginary ones.

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I now began to consider seriously my condition, and the circumstances I was reduced to; and I drew up the state of my affairs in writing, not so much to leave them to any that were to come after me – for I was likely to have but few heirs – as to deliver my thoughts from daily poring over them, and afflicting my mind; and as my reason began now to master my despondency, I began to comfort myself as well as I could, and to set the good against the evil, that I might have something to distinguish my case from worse; and I stated very impartially, like debtor and creditor, the comforts I enjoyed against the miseries I suffered.

– Daniel Defoe, “Robinson Crusoe”

 

The year end lists in newspapers and blogs always leave me bemused. The ones that list top stories for the previous year always leave me feeling that I’m either living in an alternate universe or that I’ve missed everything important while preoccupied with the business of living. As for the ones that predict the coming year, they seem purest fantasy – my own included. Still, like Robinson Crusoe, I find it useful to look to my karmic accounts now and then. So, as the last hours of the year wind down, and I wait to leave for tonight’s party, here’s my accounts for the last year:

On the negative side, my mother-in-law and her sister died within a few days of each other last spring. Neither death was unexpected, since they were both in their nineties, but when you’ve known people for decades, they leave a large gap. I also lost a friendship, apparently irretreivably, although I don’t quite know why and I’m irked at my ignorance of the causes. And, most important of all, my partner’s illness continues to be chronic, with me helpless to do anything about it.

On the positive side of the ledger, I made a few new friends for the first time in a year or two, and have become marginally involved in Free Geek Vancouver, one of the worthier causes I’ve encountered recently. I’m a firm believer that volunteer work is as good for my psychological health as any advice I’m able to give might be to the recipients.

However, the largest addition to the positive side is my development as a writer. Although I dropped my efforts at fiction about May, 2007 has been by far the best year I’ve ever had for writing.

Just in terms of volume, I wrote about 245,000 words of articles on free software, or about 185 articles. I also wrote about 45,000 words for the Imperial Realms online game divided into 17 articles and about 55,000 words spread over 135 posts. That’s a total of roughly 345,000 public words alone.

By other measures, my writing year was also successful. During the year, I found new sources for my work, and I now make as much money freelancing as I ever did as a communicatins consultant (good thing, too: I’m getting too old to learn how to knot a tie again). I was interviewed four or five times over the year, either as a writer or as a subject matter expert. I also returned to an academic project that I started years ago and abandoned. And, just as I was typing this paragraph, I received an email from a friend telling me that an article of mine had been Slashdotted, making the perfect end to the year. So, in many ways, I think that 2007 marks my first real understanding of myself as a writer.

Looking over the paragraphs above, what strikes me is the imbalance between the personal and the professional. Not that the personal was particularly awful, but it seems thoroughly overshadowed by the professional. If I were superstitious, I’d be tempted to say that there’s only so much karma to go around. Or, from a psychological perspective, perhaps I’ve been practicing the fine old Freudian tradition of sublimation.

And what do I see looking ahead? I can’t even begin to guess. But there’s a scene in T. H. White’s The Once and Future King where Lancelot says that, after an encounter, he got down on his knees and “thanked God for the adventure.” I’m not religious, but I hope that I can must the same combined sense of stoicism and adventure as I face what’s waiting for me in 2008.

Upon the whole, here was an undoubted testimony that there was scarce any condition in the world so miserable but there was something negative or something positive to be thankful for in it; and let this stand as a direction from the experience of the most miserable of all conditions in this world: that we may always find in it something to comfort ourselves from, and to set, in the description of good and evil, on the credit side of the account.

— Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

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Like many people who spend their working hours with computers, I’m often asked by friends and neighbors for help. I’m an ex-teacher, and I volunteer at the free clinics held weekly by Free Geek Vancouver, so I don’t mind; teaching is close to a reflex with me. But one thing I do mind – very much – is when I ask the person I’m helping for some information about their computers or what caused the problem and they reply, “I don’t know. I’m just a techno-peasant” or say that they leave such technical matters to their pre-teens.

What irks me is not just the little giggle or the helpless shrug that accompanies such statements, regardless of whether a man or a woman is making themt. Nor is it the fact that the term is at least twenty years out of date. Instead, it’s the fact that the people who make these responses seem more proud than ashamed of their ignorance.

Why anyone would choose to boast about their ignorance is beyond me. Of course, nobody can be an all-round expert. Moreover, if you don’t mentally bark your shins against your own ignorance from time to time, you’re probably leading too shallow a life. But why boast about your shortcomings? Personally, I consider the fact that I am not fluent in another language, and know little about wines or central European history to be defects, and hope to correct them some day. Meanwhile, if I have to admit to my ignorance, I do so shamefacedly, and quickly change the subject.

As for computer skills, surely computers have been around so long that an average middle class North American should know their way around a computer. I don’t expect them to be able to write a “Hello, world” script if threatened at gun point, but how could they help not learning some basic system administration and hardware care?

I mean, I’m an English major with no formal background in computing whatsoever. If I can learn enough to write about computers, then surely most people can learn basic maintenance. After thirty years of the personal computer, defragging a hard drive or plugging in the cords to your computer should be as much a part of everybody’s basic skill set as cooking a meal or changing the oil in their car. Yet, as I continually find when asked for help, most people still haven’t learned these skills.

What’s worse, the implication of these reactions is that those who make them have no intention of correcting their ignorance. It doesn’t seem to be a reflection of class, an implication that they’re too important to bother themselves with details, as though they’re a high-powered CEO and I’m the janitor. Rather, it’s as if, having reached some landmark of adulthood – turning 21, perhaps, or receiving their master’s degree – they’ve decided they’ve done all the learning they need for this life time, and nobody can trick them into doing any more.

As someone who’s always believed in learning, this attitude horrifies me. So far as I’m concerned, the only time you stop learning is when you die. The idea that anyone would want to anticipate this end to learning is hard for me to understand. If nothing else, what are they going to do with the next fifty or sixty years?

Just as importantly, this refusal to learn undermines the whole idea of teaching. To me, the point of teaching is give students the skills they need to function on their own. But when people describe themselves as techno-peasants, what they’re telling me is that they have no intention of learning to function independently. They’re calling me in, not to help them learn to cope for themselves, but as a convenience that allows them to keep from learning.

And, considering they’re asking me to do the sort of things in my spare time that I do in my working hours – and for free — the request is a high-handed imposition. They’re asking me to waste my time for their convenience – frequently not just once, but often for the same problem, over and over.

Despite these lines of thought, I almost never turn down the requests for help. Some people are making a genuine effort to learn, and there’s always a chance that the rest will learn despite themselves. Yet I wonder if any of them guess that I think less of them once I understand that the only thing they’re willing to learn is how to excuse their own helplessness.

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Reading the comments left publicly and privately for “Why would I care about Microsoft?”, I realize that many people’s view of free software is outdated. To many, free software is a small, delicate idea that a juggernaut like Microsoft can overrun at will. In this circumstance – which may have existed ten years ago – fears, obsession, and paranoia are only natural. But having these emotions in 2007 may no longer be appropriate. Like parents who haven’t realized that their children are growing up, perhaps many of us in the community haven’t realized that free software isn’t as fragile as it used to be.

I’m not saying that Microsoft shouldn’t be watched or that its motives shouldn’t be questioned or guarded against. But I am saying that free software is in a much stronger position to defend itself than even a few years ago.

Consider, for example, the variety of responses that Microsoft has made to free software in the last year. It’s tried co-opting companies like Novell, Linspire, and Xandros. It’s made unsupported threats about patent violations in GNU/Linux. It’s talked about wanting to cooperate with the free software community. Just ask yourself: Are these the actions of the winning side? Or are they a sign that the company is desperately looking for a winning strategy in a losing fight, or divided internally?

The truth is, free software has come a long way from its days of vulnerability. In its early days, free software may have been vulnerable, but now it has strong defenders. For major corporations like IBM, Sun, and Hewlett-Packard, free software means billions. Why do you think they have surrendered some patents, or supported the anti-Tivoization and patent clauses in the third version of the GNU General Public License? Part of the reason may be altruism, depending on your view of human nature, but, on the whole, I doubt that many corporations like these provisions. Yet not one of these companies was willing to disagree with them in public. In the end, the price of dissent was more than the potential profit.

And that, in itself, is a prime reason why Microsoft is not much of a threat these days. These days, to take on free software means to take on the rest of the computer world. No single corporation, not even Microsoft, can afford that risk.

Just as importantly, free software has grown its own defenses. At the Software Freedom Law Center, Eben Moglen and Richard Fontana are educating the next generation of free software legal defenders. The Linux Foundation is working on patent pools. Peter Brown and Richard M. Stallman at the Free Software Foundation are linking with social activists, who are starting to add free software to their causes. So free software has a second line of defence as well, one not limited by budgets or the concerns of shareholders. And if you haven’t talked to these people, let me tell you: These are frighteningly intelligent and dedicated people. If I wasn’t on their side, I’d think twice about opposing them.

But there’s a third line of defence, even stronger than the first two: The community itself. It’s no longer just geeks. It’s educators, for whom free software is the only way they can function with their limited budgets. It’s government departments in both industrialized and developing nations. It’s groups like Free Geekers introducing free software to the general public. This, I suggest, is defence in depth. In the event of an attack, the community is like thousands of widely dispersed guerrillas, next to impossible to attack by conventional business or legal means, and needing, not to win any fight, but only to make the cost of fighting too high for its opponents to want to continue.

Maybe I’m in a privileged position as a journalist. As I research stories, I probably get to see more of the community than most people. That’s why I trust it to be able to defend itself. Against these defences, a company like Microsoft may gain a temporary or limited advantage. But the days when it could realistically be thought capable of destroying free software are long over.

That’s why I don’t spend a lot of time or emotional energy worrying about Microsoft. I keep an eye on them, certainly – just in case. But Microsoft’s days as a threat are gone, and so are free software’s as a helpless victim.

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I never did write about my experience two weeks ago taking about GNU/ Linux in the TV studio. Partly, that’s because I was waiting until my article on the subject appeared on Linux.com. However, I also suspect that I did poorly, being out of practice with public speaking and flustered by the technical difficulties that emerged just before my spot. That’s not easy to admit, yet I have to admit that if I’m going to write about what happened.

Still, it was an interesting experience. The show was Lab with Leo, a tech program that appears in Canada and Australia. It’s shot on a permanent set designed for the purpose in an office building in one of the rougher areas in Vancouver. Strangely, the set isn’t totally sound-proofed, which occasionally causes trouble when people pass by in the hallway.

One thing that fascinates me about the experience is the way that film involves the creation of an artificial reality. Viewers only see certain parts of the set – they don’t see the area reserved for the cameras, or the technical crew in their glass walled offices on one side of the set. And, at one point, while the camera was focusing on the host of the show and a guest, besides the two or three members of the camera crew, another half dozen people were watching silently off-camera, not five meters from what was being filmed.

Everything — the makeup on people’s faces, the star’s bonhomie, the opening sequence in which the star walks down a hallway and stops to talk to a cast member who is seated where a receptionist might, the moving around the various pieces of the set to soften the fact that the show is mostly talking heads – is calculated to create the illusion of something that doesn’t quite exist, at least in the form that viewers might imagine.

I thought the whole process neatly symbolized by the contrast between the pristine set and the cluttered office and prop rooms from which you entered it. The office and prop rooms were what you might see in any office, especially in high-tech. By contrast, the set looks like a workshop, slightly rough around the edges, where the concerned star fields questions from viewers and wanders around from guest to guest and interacting with the cast.

I’m not a Puritan who wants to close the theaters. Still, I’m an academic by training, and a journalist by career choice, and both those professions are based on the assumption of objective truth and tghat the effort to find it is worthwhile. So, while I enjoyed the experience, even while feeling I didn’t hold up my own end as well as I might, I find that whether I only make one appearance or am asked back a matter of less importance than I thought.

Being asked back would be flattering, and I would probably do it. Yet, at the same time (and at the risk of sounding as though I’m indulging in sour grapes), if I’m not asked back, I won’t be unduly bothered, either. As a member of the audience, I’m perfectly happy accepting the illusion that the show – like any other – tries to create. I’m just not sure that, temperamentally, I’m suited to creating such illusions regularly. Illusions, in the end, don’t interest me nearly as much as ferreting out truths.

Besides, if I did do as badly as I think, I can’t complain. I’ve been doing so well lately that a failure to keep me humble may not be so bad an idea. I learned a lot, and got an article from the afternoon that might help others, so what more can I ask?

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Lately, I’ve been learning about the ewaste problem. I’ve written an article on the subject, and, last night, I attended Free Geek Vancouver’s airing and discussion of the Basel Action Network’s (BAN) two films on the problem: Exporting Harm and The Digital Dump. Knowledge of the situation is so alarming and depressing that I’m almost afraid to turn my computer on and add to the problem. Instead, though, I’ve been considering about what I could do in my own life to improve the situation.

Most people, if they stop to think, wouldn’t be surprised that the problem of discarded high-tech hardware is growing. These days, many households have not only multiple computers, but also multiple televisions, cell phones and mp3 players.

However, what people don’t know is that most hardware is full of toxic substances, including lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, and brominated flame retardants. Nor do they know that North American countries routinely ship the junk to developing nations like China, Nigeria, India, and Pakistan against the wishes of those country’s governments, using loopholes to get around the Basel Convention, the international treaty that is supposed to prevent such trade. There, the waste is stripped of any valuables under dangerously unsafe conditions and the remnant is burned, releasing toxic fumes.

And if all that isn’t enough, even supposed recyclers are shipping ewaste overseas. That’s right: even when you think you’re doing the proper thing, you may be adding to the problem. Many recyclers won’t tell you what they’re doing, either, citing trade secrets as a reason for keeping you uninformed. Even those recyclers who would prefer not to ship overseas often have no choice, because local means of dealing with the waste don’t exist.

BAN advocates legislation that makes manufacturers responsible for the disposal of their own products. Such laws already exist in many European countries. As part of this effort, it is also working with other environmental groups to encourage manufacturers to reduce the toxins in their hardware.

Besides supporting these efforts, and trying to deal only with true recyclers, what else can one person do? I found myself considering this question last week when I bought a new laptop.
Mindful of the ewaste problem, last week I decided that I would use Greenpeace’s assessment of the leading hardware manufacturers as a guide when I went to buy a new laptop. I chose to buy a Hewlett-Packard product, since Hewlett-Packard has one of the better records in removing toxic substances from its products.
I give nothing up by making this decision, since Hewlett-Packard’s laptops have a good record for reliability. In fact, I might have bought a Hewlett-Packard machine purely on its own merits. As things were, the company’s record on the ewaste problem was one of the deciding factors between buying from Hewlett-Packard rather than Acer or Toshiba.
Still, no company’s record is especially strong, so I still felt a few twinges of uneasiness. Never mind that my last laptop was bought eight years ago, and was used until it became unreliable.
During last night’s discussion, I suddenly realized that I could do more. As soon as I finish this blog entry, I’m going to write a letter to Hewlett-Packard, congratulating them on their awareness of the problem, and adding that it was one of the reasons I bought one of the company’s products. I’m also going to urge everyone I know to shop in the same way, and let whatever company they buy from know what they are doing.
Of course, I don’t deceive myself that a couple of dozen letters will have a huge influence on manufacturing decisions. Yet one of the common arguments you hear from manufacturers is that there is no demand for greener products, so enough letters of this sort might just help them decide to change their practices.
That’s why I’m also urging anyone who reads this blog to do the same. The effort is minimal, and can’t hurt – and just might do a small piece of good.

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