Friday, August 08, 2008

Recycling the Old Mac

About a week ago, I said goodbye to an old friend. It was my original Macintosh II computer from 1987. It had been quietly sitting in the basement for over a decade and a half and it was finally time for it to go. What made this the right time? The Apple recycling program.

There are a lot of reasons why I kept the old Mac around all these years. When I first replaced it with a faster Performa model, I figured the Mac II would be a great backup computer. Or perhaps one I could use in the basement for whatever. And then there was the moose.

The moose is the famous Talking Moose that Dr. Steven Halls programmed using the built-in Macintalk voice feature of the Macs. Every few minutes the image of a talking moose with a Canadian accent would pop-up and make some witty comment. I loved that thing. You could even have it recite your own phrases to really personalize the computer. That's probably why I couldn't let go of the obsolete Macintosh II even after another Mac aficionado offered to buy it. It would mean letting go of the Moose. Sadly, the moose function doesn't work on Apple operating systems later than version 7.1. Something in the native speech software changed and the Moose went silent.

Apple's recycling program, however, offers a really compelling reason to de-junk your basement or garage. If you buy a brand new qualifying computer or monitor from an Apple Store, you have the opportunity to opt-in to the recycling program. If you elect to go that way, Apple sends you two bar codes good for shipping your old computer and monitor of any make back to Apple for proper electronic recycling. This is completely free. All you have to do is box up your old equipment and take it to a FedEX store. They scan the barcodes and print out shipping labels gratis. Well, somebody's paying but it isn't you.

Shipping is the real killer with giving away, donating or recycling old computer equipment. That stuff is heavy. Especially tube type monitors that can darn near break your back carrying them up and down stairs. Plus few local recyclers want CRTs anymore. They're full of lead that does nasty things to people who ingest it. We have a local metals and electronics recycling program that's available twice a year. But they want $10 for computer monitor and $20 for a TV. Gotta feeling that monitor charge is going to go up soon.

So, when my wife got her nice new MacBook Pro and the recycling codes it was decision time for yours truly. The Mac II and its 13" monitor were the largest and heaviest of the unused equipment I still had in storage. It wasn't a pretty computer anymore, either. The color of the plastic had morphed from a nice cream shade to a dirty orange around where the monitor had been sitting. Too many years of UV from the office window I suppose. Running a blazing 16 MHz with a couple of Meg of RAM and a 20 MB SCSI hard drive made it unusable for anything but the most basic word processing and spreadsheet work. But there was still the matter of the Moose.

Taking one last trip down memory lane, I Googled "talking moose" and was shocked to find that the Moose has been reincarnated. There is a new version called Uli's Moose brought back to life for OS X by Martin Ulrich Kusterer of Munich. It's a free download supported by voluntary contributions and runs great on that MacBook Pro. Searching further, I found a Windows XP Talking Moose programmed by Aaron Lambert that you can download from CNET.

Now with multiple mooses... OK, moose... inhabiting all of our current fleet of laptops and desktops, there is no reason to fill the basement with boat anchors. But that doesn't mean they're going to the curb either. Electronic circuit boards, lead filled CRTs and a couple car trunks worth of plastics and metals are going to be donated, given to local computer enthusiasts for parts, or recycled at the next electronics drive, sans hard disks that I'll never feel confident are totally erased of the personal information criminal hackers long for. If you're goosey about identity theft, and you should be, remove those drives or use disk erasing software such as White Canyon's Wipe Drive to sanitize your hard drives before letting them out of the building.

I'll likely buy another Mac at some point and send some more decrepit hardware back to Apple from whence it came. That has a nice "circle of life" feel to it. I've also found a couple of recyclers online that will even pay for more recent electronics gear still in excellent working order. Cell for Cash wants cell phones and will send you cash just like the name says. Gazelle wants cell phones, laptops, digital cameras, MP3 players, camcorders, GPS navigation units, gaming consoles, satellite radios, and portable hard drives. Both of these companies will pay for shipping if you have stuff they want. Now if I can just train myself to let go of those gadgets before all the value drains out of them.

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