Schrodinger’s computer purge (part 1 / 3)
So, I’m a techno-wannabe-geek with elements of hoarding in my DNA. I find it hard to dispose of working computer parts, long after I’ve outgrown the need for them. Some “saves” are practical and some are not. And like Schrodinger’s cat, my computer purge is both real and theoretical at the same time.
A. Network cabling. Sure, I had too much coax at one point, leftovers from running connections to parts of the house that didn’t have a cable outlet. Back when I had cable feeds, that is. We long ago switched to internet streaming, and we had proper outlets installed when we moved in to add to where things needed to be.
What is left is Ethernet cabling. But when we moved in, and we had the basement renovated, I had the electrician run some extra ethernet cabling through the house. One went to the living room for the TV and gaming machines. I didn’t have an actual need for that when I did it, we still had cable, but it seemed like a good place for a connection. I considered one in the family room, but we didn’t think we would ever have a computer or TV in there, so it seemed overkill. Fast-forward to the pandemic and Jacob was doing his schooling from that room, an ethernet cable would have been nice. Wifi was good enough, but I eventually ran a cable from the office upstairs (our main internet hub) down to the playroom with that “lie flat” style Ethernet cable, so there IS a feed there now that Jacob uses for all his gaming. And he noticed the difference instantly.
But I knew there would be a need in the finished basement, so I had TWO lines run to the basement. I probably only needed one, but well, why not? At the time, the electrician grumbled and complained, thought I should only do wifi, and I was like, “Why would I settle?”. Particularly with some of the wifi challenges that can come up from interference, distance, etc. There is a whole sub-industry with ways to extend your wifi farther to weak areas of your house. Mostly obsolete at this point, but still, it seemed prudent to just do it.
Now that I’m in the basement for work full-time, it’s pretty sweet having the proper cabling already in place. I added some lie-flat CAT6, which left me with a bunch of old ethernet cable to dispose of, sitting in a box. Well, actually, two or three boxes, mixed in with other things.
After Andrea helped me sort all of the basement electronics into about 12 separate smaller boxes, I realized how much of that leftover cabling I still had. Oops. Out it is going, boxed into two boxes and currently waiting in the garage for me to make a run to the dump.
B. Keyboards and mice. You know when you upgrade your keyboard and mouse? Maybe get something a bit nicer, cleaner, sleeker? Well, I tend not to dump the old keyboard and mouse right away, just in case there’s a problem. And in my defence, there HAVE been several occasions where a keyboard or mouse died, and I went to the basement, grabbed a previously used option, and got everyone back in business in minutes, not hours or days. Not exactly saving lives, obviously, but it’s a nice backup to have.
A few of them are wireless. More than I thought, actually. Andrea likes having a wireless keyboard, while Jacob and I seem to prefer wired ones. His is a gaming keyboard, as is mine, but mine is just for size and tactile feedback. I don’t use any of the gaming features, really. While a keyboard is nice and big, the little wifi dongle that goes with it is not. Dun dun dun.
I was going through all my USB sticks, memory card readers, etc., and pulling out the dongles. I found most of them no problem. And was able to toss one of the keyboards. It had no recharging capability, batteries only, and Andrea said it died fast. So it goes to the e-waste pile. Another? Hmm. No dongle. Did you know that the wifi ones are all adjusted for frequency so that they don’t conflict with a neighbour? You don’t want an office full of wireless keyboards to be getting confused which keyboard is which, so they are paired tools…each keyboard and mouse use a specific dongle. I had thought they were all like Bluetooth connectors, it broadcast a general signal and received one through pairing, not through the frequency control. So I didn’t try to keep them together. And if I don’t have the right dongle, the keyboard and mouse are dead. Oops.
No problem, I would see how much a replacement was. Oh, you can’t get a replacement because the frequency is unique, you can’t get a general one and adjust it to match. The original dongle or you’re dead in the water. Oops.
So, I had to toss what I thought was a very nice Microsoft keyboard and mouse with no dongle. Then, as I’m weeding another box, I find a small bag of USB devices. Including three more dongles. Is it this one? Nope, that looks like it is for my old MyGica remote. Which is already dead and gone. Toss. Another one comes up as a Bluetooth device…oh, it’s generic, designed to be plugged into desktops that don’t have Bluetooth. I guess I should put that in the little save pile. A third, that must be it? Nope, it is a dongle-style USB drive, with a fairly large capacity, yet super compact.
Okay, let’s finally toss the non-working keyboard, the MS keyboard that I don’t have the dongle for, and a wired keyboard that is just worn out, into the garage. I threw in 2 wired mice, although those go in the “offer to the buy nothing group”. And I would recycle the wireless mouse that goes with the keyboard.
About 30 minutes later, after taking some of that stuff to the garage, I am going through smaller box 4 of 12 in the basement, and oh, look, another dongle. And it says Microsoft on it! Damn it. I go back to the garage, pull the keyboard and mouse back out, test it, yep, it matches just fine, everything works. Andrea needs a new wireless keyboard for when she goes back to work, but not immediately, she has one keyboard she’s working with for now from work. Score! I can give it to her, yay hoarding! She has a mouse she likes, so she just needs a keyboard. I gave her the MS ones to try, annnnnnd, no joy. She doesn’t like the feel of them at all.
So back to the conundrum. I don’t often use a wireless keyboard setup. I might when I get the TV hooked back up to my computer and I’m doing some streaming stuff. But when I did that before, I just used the laptop keyboard. But that’s a different kettle of fish to fry, and I’m not there yet. Will I want a wireless one? Perhaps. I’m trying to purge, but I also don’t want to purge something and turn around in 3 months and decide that a wireless keyboard setup is what would work well in the basement. Plus, it’s nice to have ONE backup. Okay, it can stay. I ditch another wired one that was a maybe.
C. Computers. I thought this one was going to be easy. I have four extra computers that I am not currently using. Wait, I know that sounds like a lot. Don’t freak out yet. Let me explain.
For active computers, I have my main desktop. I also have my MS Surface as my laptop. Everything synchs, everything works, all good.
But I also have an old desktop PC that was mine before I upgraded, and then Andrea’s before she got a laptop, and then Jacob’s before he got a laptop. It isn’t super powerful, but it runs fine, has no issues, and would work in a pinch if needed. Except we all have laptops, and if someone is in a pinch, my Surface could be handed over just as easily until we find a working permanent solution for someone.
So I should ditch the PC, right? Except in the basement, I want a computer hooked to the TV. Plus, I have a new 3D printer, and was thinking about putting a computer on that desk to do my modelling stuff. It’s not high-end modelling, so I don’t need a powerful computer, and if I’m streaming, I could go with something way less powerful even. It’s a viable solution for that space. If I want to go that route. And the two functions can be done by the same computer.
But I have three other computers to consider. First and foremost, I have my previous laptop. It’s an HP, runs well most of the time, and would work equally well as a streamer and with the printer. However, I’m having trouble with it connecting via wifi, so it likely would need to be connected through Ethernet (which is fine, I have a connection right there), and it also doesn’t want to charge at the moment, which I think is just which powerpack I have plugged in. But if it’s always sitting there, I don’t care if it charges. I used to stream from it before, I just found it a bit bulky and heavy for writing on long-term, hence the newer and faster and lighter Surface.
I also have an older Compaq laptop that went before the HP model, which I can easily purge. Once I find the power cable for it so I can power it up and wipe the memory. But it also works just fine, except for a weak wifi module, reminiscent of the era. I can offer it to someone through the buy nothing group, lots of hobbyists repurpose things like that, use it to run Linux, etc. It clearly “goes”, or at least I thought it should.
And then there’s my little NetBook. An ACER Aspire One. I bought it as part of an endless search for a small writing tablet/computer that could go anywhere, be used anywhere, and let me write anywhere. I wrote lots of stuff on it, but it always seemed a bit clunky. The MS Surface is NOT clunky, but it is a bigger screen overall. Nevertheless, I’ll never go back. So it too can be powered up, wiped and recycled / repurposed.
My goal was for all three laptops AND the PC to be in play for one of them to remain as a streamer and the rest to go. Except I’m having a hard time working out what combo that should be. And as I was playing with the options, I came across another idea.
There is a version of Linux that is very game-based. If you install it on a computer, the list of specs for hardware to run old games is pretty basic. Even the Aspire One can handle it. With many of the old 8-bit and 16-bit game available online through legitimate and nefarious means, it is viable to install Linux, connect a game controller, and turn the machine into a Retro Video Arcade. I had planned to make one through 3D printing and use a Raspberry Pi sitting in my closet. A small project I wanted to do, with some people having made really cool old Game Boy designs but running way more powerful insides and games. But as one project for the Aspire One mentioned, if you build it with a Pi, you also have to add a case, a video display, perhaps a keyboard, and a USB port. In effect, you have to add all the peripherals that are already built-in for the Aspire One, except an external controller. I could repurpose the Bluetooth dongle and even go BT for the controller. Or wired. Or wifi even.
I have a very specific idea in mind for one possibility as a gift for someone, and if I did it with all three of the dead laptops, it would give them new life. Well, sheep dip. The goal was PURGING, PolyWogg, not repurposing. I mentioned the gaming project to Jacob, and mentioned that if he was interested, we could do it together and see if we could get it working. I could just do it myself, if he’s not interested, I don’t think it will be that hard, but if he was interested, I could help him do it to get it running. To my surprise, considering all the other little game projects we have that we can do, he wants to do this one with me. As happy as I am about that, it sealed my fate. I can’t quite ditch those if I can repurpose two of them as gaming options and the other two are possible streamer options. I’ll eventually ditch 2 of the 4, maybe even all 4, within the year. But Jacob and I are going to give them the hobby treatment first. They’re relatively compact at least.
Sigh. I thought I was doing well, there were already 4 boxes of e-waste in my garage. Plus, 4 boxes of books and CDs, that’s a separate purge. And about 2 boxes of various computer gear upstairs, ready to leave the house. But those will go to the “buy nothing” group if anyone wants them. Some of them are actually worth a bit of milk money, but I’m happy to give them away for free if someone can get a bit of use of them still. Even though some will take them and just try to resell them, I suspect. Andrea’s already gotten rid of 3 or 4 things already, but there’s more to come. I’ll talk about some of that in part 2 later this week.