Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Farewell, old friend

I hate waste. Most of my calculations are done on the flip-sides of single-printed pages. When arXiv articles are uploaded in referee format, I download the source and recompile in a journal style to save paper. The water that collects in our dehumidifier is poured into our toilet's cistern to save about one litre per day. I throw away little in the usually vain hope that it can be re-used. Thus, it was with great pain that I finally conceded that there is no longer a place in my life for an old friend. It's been a fixture in my rooms since I arrived in the UK, and before that, a fixture in my brother's since shortly after he arrived in the UK.

Maybe you'll be surprised to hear that said fixture was the desktop computer he bought, back in 2004. Though not top of the line even then, this particular Dell Inspiron 4600, helped by regular re-installation of Windows XP, a small RAM upgrade and occasional dust-removal, has been chugging along happily since then. It's in fantastic condition. After adding a GeForce 6600GT, it even ran StarCraft 2. I'd have kept it if I hadn't acquired a new laptop through my department to replace it.

Having cared so much for this computer, I wanted it to go to a good home, preferably a charity. It will soon feature at the hotdesk of The Humanitarian Centre, Cambridge. But in order to keep it useful, I figured I should include the hard drive rather than remove it for security purposes. And this meant securely formatting the drive, frequently called nuking.

The tool for this is Darik's Boot and Nuke. I had some trouble with the then latest version but the older 1.0.7 worked fine and I don't imagine much has changed the system is quite idiot-proof. Burn the image as a bootable DVD, boot, and follow the instructions, which includes a frightening sounding selection of algorithms. Some are associated with the likes of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the US Department of Defense. Good enough for the DoD? Good enough for me.

So, having nuked the drive, my computer has been passed on. It's inspired a moment's reflection about how technology sometimes makes us lazy and wasteful. I now have a new computer, which I hope will also last at least 4 years. Presuming I don't hurl it out a window in a Windows-inspired moment of blind rage. But in the age of phone upgrades every other year and a new iProduct iteration, I'm not sure how many people still build things to last.

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