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Life Cycle Planning: Disposing of the Fruits of Technology

A tsunami is coming. The purchasing spree of technology, now slowed somewhat with the economy, has built a tidal wave of obsolete equipment that is ready for disposal. What should be done with it, and who has responsibility for proper end-of-life handling?

Looking to Europe offers a potential answer. Governments there and in Japan are demanding that companies that make and sell electronic devices take responsibility for them when they reach the “end of life”—when an outmoded PC is replaced by a newer model. However, once a PC is sold in the United States, tracing its life history is problematic.

Getting better, more structured information on technology entering the waste stream is the goal of a new study undertaken by the Electronic Industries Alliance ( Two models for collecting technology detritus will be evaluated: municipal pickup (for example, curbside collection) and point-of-purchase turn-in at retail consumer electronics outlets. Concurrently, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., and Best Buy have initiated take-back programs, though whether they will be cost-effective remains to be seen. Still, it suggests that colleges and universities should be asking their technology suppliers if they will taketh away as easily as they will sell.

Move Over Napster, KaZaA is Here!

You’ve watched the transformation of Napster from a “free” music-sharing juggernaut to a subscription service for downloading copyrighted songs. If you were anxiously watching network traffic loads, you might have felt some degree of relief from the change. Look again. Ask your network managers what’s happening on port 1214 and watch their expression. On second thought, perhaps you shouldn’t.

Yahoo Internet Life, an on-line magazine that covers the Internet, recently counted a typical Napster daily index of music files available for sharing at 233G. By comparison, one of the alternative services, Morpheus (another more recent example of client software for file sharing), listed 107 terabytes, roughly 500 times the size of the Napster network. What’s going on? The next generation of P2P file sharing has hit the scene.

P2P (peer-to-peer) refers to networking that connects machines directly to one another, without the need for a server in between. One of the newer entries into this space is KaZaA, a P2P file-sharing tool primarily for MP3 files, though it works equally well for other media and document types. So if you thought the battle for control of campus network usage was swinging back to the folks managing it, think again.

Rather than trying to limit what users can do by controlling the kind of information that can be exchanged, it would be wiser to look at what else is going on when a user gleefully installs some of those more sophisticated P2P programs. This solution falls under the general heading of spyware, and it’s a pretty frightening picture—and also the subject of a future column!

Selected Computer Recycling Links

Parents, Educators, and Publishers:

IBM Corp. Recycling Service:

Gateway Inc. Trade-in Program:

Back Thru the Future Micro Computers Inc.:

About the Author

Phil Long, Ph.D. is senior strategist for the Academic Computing Enterprise at MIT. He is also a senior associate for the TLT Group of the AAHE.
View more articles by Phillip Long.

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