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Dvorak: Green Computing Is Pointless

The April 2008 issue of PC Magazine, where this column is originally published, is all worked up about things green.

I admire the efforts, especially in a tech industry that is based on all forms of waste — from planned obsolescence and hazardous materials to impossible-to-recycle miniaturized components and landfill issues.

To make us feel better about the whole thing, let's buy Energy Star products exclusively. Yay!

Hey, I have an idea: Grow up and learn to turn off the darn lights in the house!

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Talk about leaving lights on; I have a view of San Francisco from my home. The place is lit up 24/7 like a Roman candle.

Turn off some lights! Why am I the one hassled by all this politically correct green blather while these lights are on?

I can only imagine what a nightmarish, overlit world we will inhabit once low-energy LED lights dominate.

The worst part is that most of the light isn't used for public safety — or anything else — since it is going into space in what astronomers call "light pollution." From an airplane at 35,000 feet you can see lights everywhere.

And what about turning off the computer at night? This would reduce energy use, and spam too, since over half the machines left on all night are doing nothing but turning into zombies to send spam all over the place.

Of course, this would be easier if computers had an instant-on boot mechanism. Exactly how much energy do you think is wasted when a computer spends 5 minutes booting up?

What bothers me most about the green movement is the arrogance — the greener-than-thou attitude — of many participants.

Combine these people with the dummies who just go along with the flock regarding what is best for mankind — er, personkind — and you have a dunce brigade telling everyone what to do.

One of my favorites is the movement toward cheap, Chinese-made compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs).

These things do save energy, but at what cost to the environment? They are loaded with mercury, which I can assure you will end up in landfills leaching mercury into the water and fish that the greeners so dearly love.

Seldom will these lightbulbs be "disposed of properly." Exactly what does that mean, anyway? Who do you call? The mercury-removal company?

To most people, "dispose of properly" means throw it in the recycle bin, where it will get busted up and contaminate everything in the bin.

One specious argument says that using CFLs will reduce the need for electricity, thus reducing the mercury from coal-powered electric plants for a net mercury loss.

In fact, people will just keep these lights on all over the place.

When has anything taming the overall demand for electricity resulted in burning less coal? We wouldn't need CFLs if we just turned off the blasted lights!

Personally, I do not like CFLs because they do not generate any heat. I like my bulbs hot so they can kill the stray mosquito that accidentally gets into the house and wanders toward the light.

There are always a few odd dead bugs around a good 100-watt incandescent bulb. This is disease prevention as far as I'm concerned.

And the heat from the bulbs helps warm the house in the winter, saving on fuel costs. Heat does warm the air, right? It's not a complete waste, as the CFL lobby wants you to believe.

But let's get back to computers, since I will never win the light-bulb argument. And don't get me started about using food — corn, that is — to make fuel for cars.

How about this for an energy-saving idea: Turn off the computer when you are not using it.

Hook all your gear to a good uninterruptible power supply and turn everything off when you go to bed or leave the office, and boot the machine and peripherals only when you are working on something.

Leaving desktop computers, laser printers and other gear on is like leaving a 1,500-watt hair dryer going all day. Part of the problem is that in the late 1980s and early 1990s people were advised to leave their machines on.

Being responsible doesn't mean you have to buy a Prius or wear a green badge or ride a bike.

It's the little things you get no credit for that make a difference, like buying perfectly good used products, insulating the water heater, turning off the computer and cooking with pressure cookers.

Most of today's greenies are in it for the accolades from fellow travelers who also like to brag about their green accomplishments.

The green scene is as good a hobby as a Barnes & Noble book club, but little of it is well directed or realistic. There seems to be a lot of posturing, clichés, pontification, hot air and out-and-out B.S.

Welcome to 2008, the Year of the Green. Meanwhile, turn off your lights and computers!

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