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Medium 9781626560246

Chapter 2 The Role of the Individual Purchase

Tom Szaky Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 2

© Nat Ulrich/Shutterstock.com

© Bakalusha/Shutterstock.com

When looking at the root cause of garbage, we as consumers bear a large part of the responsibility. Garbage is predicated on our individual consumption. If we don’t buy something, it can never become garbage.

The manufacturers that make our products are here to serve the desires of consumers (you and me). Sure, by marketing to our desires they may influence what we want—or even introduce things we never knew we wanted—but in the end we are the individuals who pull the trigger and trade our money for those goods. No one is forcing us to buy anything. By contrast we voluntarily, and in fact willingly, buy things on a daily basis. We even gain pleasure in the act of buying. Consider the recent emergence of “retail therapy,” a pop-culture concept promoting the act of shopping as a way to beat depression.

Consumerism, in a way, is something of an addiction. We almost need to consume; we are constantly chasing after the next new thing (or high, for the sake of this metaphor), and our appetite to consume is never satisfied. One key difference between global consumerism and individual addiction is that this destructive habit doesn’t just harm our individual bodies; it affects our planet in a real way.

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Medium 9781449388249

7. Building an Appliance/Nettop System

Robert Bruce Thompson Maker Media, Inc ePub

In a strict sense, we define an appliance system as a small, quiet computer that is dedicated to one task or a group of related tasks, such as a home server, a network-attached storage (NAS) box, a media center front-end, or a home-automation controller. In a broader sense, an appliance system may be a general-purpose computer that is particularly small, quiet, and unobtrusive. By that definition, the archetypal appliance systems are the Mac mini and the many models of ASUS Eee nettop systems and all-in-ones.

But we dont have to buy a Mac Mini or ASUS Eee. We can build our own system based on a 6.7 square Mini-ITX motherboard with an AMD or Intel processor and run Windows 7 or Linux on it. Because were designing and building it ourselves, we can optimize our system for our own needs and budget.

For example, we can build an inexpensive, nearly silent appliance system with moderate performance around an Intel Atom motherboard and processor, or we can build a system with mainstream desktop performance around an Intel Core i3 or Core i5 processor. If we want both silence and high storage performance at the expense of storage capacity, we can install a fast, silent solid-state drive (SSD). If our priorities are low noise and high storage capacity at the expense of disk performance, we can install a quiet, high-capacity 5,400 RPM laptop drive. Or we can strike a happy compromise between noise level, capacity, and performance by installing a 7,200 RPM or faster laptop hard drive. Those arent options with the Mac mini or the ASUS Eee.

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Medium 9780596005139

17. Sound Adapters

Robert Bruce Thompson O'Reilly Media ePub

Because no one envisioned sound as a business necessity, the only provision early PCs made for sound was a $0.29 speaker driven by a square-wave generator to produce beeps, boops, and clicks sufficient for prompts and warnings. Reproducing speech or music was out of the question. Doing that required an add-on sound card, and those were quick to arrive on the market as people began playing games on their PCs. The early AdLib and Creative Sound Blaster sound cards were primitive, expensive, difficult to install and configure, and poorly supported by the OS and applications. By the early 1990s, however, sound cards had become mainstream items that shipped with most PCs. By 2001 most motherboards included at least basic embedded audio, and by 2003 it was difficult to find a mainstream system or motherboard without good built-in audio.

Properly, the term sound card applies to expansion cards, while sound adapter or audio adapter applies to any component used to provide PC audio, whether as an expansion card or as a device embedded on the motherboard. But like most people, we use these terms interchangeably.

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Medium 9781449334765

4. The Bulb

Sal Cangeloso Maker Media, Inc ePub

There isnt a whole lot to the typical LED bulb. In addition to the standard gearthe base, lens (optics), and/or reflectorthere is a driver, which is explained in more detail below; PCB, LEDs, an encapsulant over the LEDs, a phosphor, and usually some sort of a heat sink. The ideal scenario (or the goal for some manufacturers, at least) is for the LEDs, hardware (cooling materials, etc.), and driver to each make up for one third of the cost of the bulb, but thats essentially just a rule of thumbreal-world demands and technology issues often get in the way of such ideals. As with any other manufactured product, its all about tradeoffs. By investing more in the cooling, its possible to run more power through the LEDs, which means you can use fewer of them to get the same amount of light. Similar tradeoffs must be made, for example, between the quality of the light and the efficiency of the bulb.

The driver is essentially the lamps power supply, but because this is a modern light source, there is some intelligence built in as well. The driver, which usually lives at the base of the bulb, is able to not just transform the energy the bulb takes in to what the LEDs need, but also to do things like throttle the power being sent to the LEDs if it senses that the unit is too hot. This will not only prevent possible damage to the surrounding area but it will extend the life of the LEDs.

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Medium 9780596007041

9. Do It Yourself

Brett McLaughlin O'Reilly Media ePub

Home theater presents myriad reasons and options for DIY, or do-it-your-self, activities. Reasons can range from and be combinations of saving money, starting a new hobby, meeting particular performance goals, meeting particular appearance goals, the challenge, the satisfaction of the end result, or even just because you're bored on a Saturday afternoon. The formula that will determine if DIY is right for someone will be unique to each person. Actual DIY projects can range from buying a complete kitwhere all you have to do is make a few wire connections and turn a few screwsto designing and building amplifiers.

I'll start with a word of caution. Building audio equipment needs to be a lifetime hobby if you intend to attempt your own designs, especially if you're trying to design a crossover for a speaker or build an amplifier. You won't save money with these activities, and it might take you years to gather all the necessary equipment and learn enough to design and properly implement a speaker or amplifier from scratch.

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Medium 9781626560246

Chapter 8 The Critical Element of Separation

Tom Szaky Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Chapter 8

© Kasia Bialasiewicz/Shutterstock.com

© Kongsky/Shutterstock.com

In nature the waste of organisms is typically spread out in small quantities over a wide area. Unlike humans, animals in nature don’t head to the same spot every time they have to poop. They don’t preserve their dead, place them in caskets, and later bury them in designated areas. And they certainly don’t have any garbage, let alone put it all into a big pile.

When outputs are mixed together as they are in a landfill, it is harder for them to become useful inputs. Putting even useful outputs into the garbage will render them useless outputs. While this is partly because they will not naturally decompose in a landfill, it is also because it is very hard to recycle a soda bottle (#1 plastic) when it is squashed together with a banana, a yogurt cup (#5 plastic), and a used rag.

Any one of these outputs could be recycled or composted individually. A soda bottle could be melted down into plastic, as could a yogurt cup. A banana could be composted, and a rag could be shredded and made into paper or new fabric.

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5. Memory

Robert Bruce Thompson O'Reilly Media ePub

This chapter focuses on general-purpose memory, where PCs store programs and data that are currently in use, the pipeline that supplies data to and receives results from the processor. General-purpose memory, called read-write memory or Random Access Memory ( RAM ), must be readable-from and writable-to. Two types of RAM are used on modern PCs:

Dynamic RAM stores data for only a tiny fraction of a second before losing it. To maintain stored data, the system must constantly refresh DRAM, which exacts a performance penalty and limits its speed. Typical DRAM provides 60 ns access, but is inexpensive and consumes relatively little power.

Static RAM automatically maintains its contents as long as power is applied to it, without requiring refresh. SRAM provides access times an order of magnitude faster than DRAM, but is expensive and power-hungry.

PCs use a tiered memory architecture that takes advantage of these characteristics:

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18. Speakers and Headphones

Robert Bruce Thompson O'Reilly Media ePub

Here are the important characteristics of speakers:

Computer speakers are sold in sets. Two-piece sets include two small speakers intended to sit on your desk or attach to your monitor. Three-piece sets add a subwoofer, which resides under the desk and provides enhanced bass response. Four-piece sets include four small speakers, and are useful primarily to gamers who have a 3D-capable sound card installed. Five-piece sets add a subwoofer to that arrangement. Six-piece sets include a subwoofer, a center-channel speaker, and four satellites, and are intended for PC-based home-theater applications. Most headphones use only two speakers, one per ear, but some use two horizontally offset speakers per ear to provide true four-channel support.

Frequency response is the range of sound frequencies that the speaker can reproduce. The values provided for most speakers are meaningless because they do not specify how flat that response is. For example, professional studio-monitor speakers may provide 20 Hz to 20 kHz response at 1 dB. Expensive home-audio speakers may provide 20 Hz to 20 kHz response at 3 dB, and 40 Hz to 18 kHz response at 1 dB. Computer speakers may claim 20 Hz to 20 kHz response, but may rate that response at 10 dB or more, which makes the specification effectively meaningless. A reduction of about 3 dB halves volume, which means sounds lower than 100 Hz or higher than 10 kHz are nearly inaudible with many computer speakers. The only sure measure of adequate frequency response is that the speakers sound good to you, particularly for low bass and high treble sounds.

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Medium 9780596008666

3. System Maintenance

Robert Bruce Thompson Maker Media, Inc ePub

In This Chapter

Airlines, trucking companies, and other large organizations devote much more time, money, and effort to cleaning and preventative maintenance than they do to repairs. That's because cleaning and regular system maintenance repay their costs many times over by reducing the frequency and cost of repairs. It's almost always cheaper to prevent something from breaking than it is to fix it after it's broken. The same is true for PCs.

Dirt is the main enemy of PCs. Dirt blocks air flow, causing the system to run hotter and less reliably. Dirt acts as thermal insulation, causing components to overheat and thereby shortening their service lives. Dirt causes fans to run faster (and louder) as they attempt to keep the system cool. Dirt worms its way into connectors, increasing electrical resistance and reducing reliability. Dirt corrodes contact surfaces. Dirt is nasty stuff.

Computers become dirty as a natural part of running. Fans suck dust, pet hair, and other contaminants into the case, where they rest on every surface. Even in clean rooms, operating theaters, and other very clean environments, a PC will eventually become dirty. If there's any dust in the air at all, the system fans will suck it in and deposit it inside the case, where it will become a problem sooner or later.

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5. Processors

Robert Bruce Thompson Maker Media, Inc ePub

In This Chapter

The processor, also called the CPU (Central Processing Unit), is the engine that drives the system. Replacing the processor requires some careful research to ensure that the new processor is compatible with the current motherboard and other system components, but a processor swap, properly done, can be one of the highest bang-for-the-buck upgrades you can make. In some cases, you can double or even triple overall system performance by spending $50 to $100 on a new processor. In this chapter, we tell you everything you need to know to choose and install a replacement processor.

Processor companies do nothing to discourage longstanding myths about processor performance. It's true that in the early days of microprocessors, a new model was often two or even three times faster than the model it replaced and sold for little or no more. In those halcyon days, the fastest available processors were sometimes 10 times faster than less expensive models that were still being sold.

There was also a favorable bang-for-the-buck ratio. If you paid twice as much for a processor, it was probably considerably more than twice as fast. We remember testing our 4.77 MHz IBM PC/XT against a 16 MHz 286 PC/AT when both were still being sold. The latter system cost two or three times as much, but was something like 10 times faster.

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11. CD Writers

Robert Bruce Thompson O'Reilly Media ePub

CD writers use one or both of these media types:

CD-R discs record data permanently. Data written to a CD-R disc cannot subsequently be deleted, which may be an advantage or a drawback, depending on how you use the drive. If you partially fill a CD-R disc, you can add more data to it during a later session, but once that disc is full, no more data can be written to it. CD-R discs are cheap$0.20 each in bulk, and sometimes almost free after rebatesand are a cost-effective means to archive data or to transfer large amounts of data to someone else. CD-R discs can be read in all but the oldest CD-ROM drives, and in most consumer CD players made in the last few years. CD-R discs may be written to in audio or various data formats, and can be read by any CD-R, CD-(M)RW, or MultiRead-compatible CD-ROM drive.

MultiRead and MultiRead2 are OSTA standards for CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives and players. A MultiRead-compatible device can read pressed CDs (CD-DA and CD-ROM), CD-R discs, and CD-RW discs, and can read any disc written using fixed- or variable-length packets. MultiRead2 extends the specification to include DVD-ROM and 2.6 GB DVD-RAM devices. All MultiRead-compatible devices are also multisession-compatible, but the converse is not true. For more information, see http://www.osta.org/specs/multiread.htm.

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6. Memory

Robert Bruce Thompson Maker Media, Inc ePub

In This Chapter

Computers use memory, also called main memory or RAM (Random Access Memory), to store active programsincluding antivirus scanners and other background servicesand the data the system is using at the moment. Data can be written to and read from RAM extremely quicklyroughly a million times faster than a hard drivebut data in RAM is retained only while the system is running. RAM costs hundreds of times more than hard disk storage, byte for byte, so RAM is not an economically practical substitute for hard disk storage.

The characteristics of RAM and hard disk storage are complementary. The hard drive stores programs and data that are not currently being used, for which large capacity and permanence are important but speed is not. RAM stores active programs and data, for which access speed is important but smaller capacity and transience are not.

That's not to say that the amount of RAM you have installed in your computer is unimportant. Far from it. If your computer has insufficient RAM to hold all of your active programs and data, it slows downsometimes dramatically. This problem occurs when the operating system must swap out active programs and data from memory to the hard drive to make room for other programs and data. In extreme cases, such as running Windows XP with several active programs in a system with only 128 MB of RAM, performance may drop to literally 10% of what it would be on a system with sufficient RAM.

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10. CD-ROM Drives

Robert Bruce Thompson O'Reilly Media ePub

CD-ROM drives are so standardized and ubiquitous that, excepting high-end SCSI models, they have become commoditized and are now obsolescent. Despite that, it's important to understand CD-ROM technology because it is the basis for current technologies including CD writers, DVD-ROM, and DVD writers.

If you use a CD-ROM drive only to play audio CDs, load software, and so on, nearly any recent CD-ROM drive suffices. If you need to replace a failed drive or buy a drive for a new PC, you can use an inexpensive ATAPI CD-ROM drivewhile they remain availableor you can substitute an ATAPI DVD-ROM drive, which also reads CDs. If you put more demands on a drive, such as accessing databases, playing games directly from CD, or using the drive as a source to duplicate CDs, it's worth learning about the differences between currently available drives.

This chapter and the following chapter cover standard CD-ROM drives and CD writers, both of which store data on optical discs. Most drive manufacturers other than Seagate use the spelling "disk" for drives that use magnetic storage. By convention, all manufacturers use the spelling "disc" for drives that accept optical media.

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Medium 9781449334765

5. Non-Bulb Lighting

Sal Cangeloso Maker Media, Inc ePub

LED bulbs will have so much impact due to the fact that they are direct replacements for the lights people have used for years. A standard, household bulbthe A19can be easily replaced with an LED model with nothing more than a few turns of the wrist. This means that, using existing infrastructure, tremendous amount of energy can be saved every yearand billions of dollars worth of bulbs can be sold. Just how much energy are we talking about? A 2011 Energy.gov report put the potential savings at 84.1 tera-watt hours (TWh) a year if only the A-type bulbs in the US were switched to LEDs. And while the standard household bulb is important, its far from the only application of solid-state lighting. Aside from the A19 there are also PAR, MR, GU, and other styles of bulbs. And those replacement models are just the start. The LED will extend to fixtures, like flood lights, tube lights, bay lighting, and even street lights (see Figure5-1). There are also LED lamps, in the common use of the word lamp, like the one found on your desk or side table.

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Medium 9780596801724

1. Home Green Home: Creating a Safe, Earth-Friendly Place to Live

Nancy Conner O'Reilly Media ePub

Living green is all about reducing pollution and creating a safe, healthy environment for you and your family, not to mention all the other critters on the planet. There's no better place to start your quest for greenification than at homeafter all, that's where you have the most control.

Turns out there could be some pretty scary pollution right in your own house:

The air in your home is probably more polluted than the air in the industrial part of a big city.

Many common cleaning products contain toxic substances.

The average American home contains 63 synthetic chemicals, which add up to about 10 gallons of hazardous stuff.

Yikes! Almost makes you want to up and move to a log cabin in the woods.

Luckily, you don't need all those nasty chemicals in your home. And, as you'll learn in this chapter, getting rid of them doesn't mean giving mildew free rein over your bathroom. Nope, you can easily and cheaply replace potentially harmful cleaning products with simple, natural alternatives. Same goes for your lawn: You can keep it healthy without feeding it synthetic fertilizers; the last section of this chapter teaches you how.

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