How to Dispose of Old Computers Responsibly

We all go through several computers and other electronic devices over a lifetime and getting rid of them is not as easy as throwing them in the trash. Today we take a look at how to dispose of your old machines in a secure and environmentally responsible manner.
With the new Windows operating system around the corner and an abundance of cheap computers on the market, you may find yourself asking what to do with your old PC and components. We will take a look at how to securely destroy private data on your old hard drive, ideas for repurposing, and how to get rid of them in a way that is friendly to the environment.
Ensure Data Is Destroyed



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The biggest concern when getting rid of your old computer is ensuring important and private data doesn’t get into the wrong hands. Simply deleting your files and emptying the Recycle Bin is not enough. Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) is the most popular free utility that will overwrite each sector on your hard drive making data unrecoverable. It is very secure and will deter people that use hard disk forensic analysis from retrieving your data. Burn the ISO image to disk and boot from it to get the main menu. From here you can choose the method you want to use to wipe the disk.

Using the advanced methods takes a considerable amount of time and unless you have government secrets or the KFC secret recipe on the drive, you might want to choose a quicker method. You can get a list of other methods by hitting F3 at the main menu. The quick method will overwrite all sectors with 0’s in one pass and might be the easiest method for home users. However, some with the right equipment could possibly still recover data from this method and is considered the least secure.

Using a degausser to wipe a hard drive clean is aimed at businesses and corporations that need to wipe out several at a time. A degausser magnetically erases all of the information on the disk platters. Buying a degausser is not very practical for home users as they cost around $2,000 and higher. You can pay for services from companies like Garner and SEM that will degauss and destroy your hard drive completely.

Another cheap and effective (and much more fun) method is taking an axe or hammer to the hard drive and smashing it into bits. Of course make sure you wear protective goggles and other protective clothing when smashing it up.

What Happens to E-Waste?
Even with best intentions and bringing your old computers and other electronic devices to recycling centers, it’s shocking how much is dumped in developing nations. Computers and monitors contain toxic levels of mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, and beryllium which are very unfriendly substances to the environment. PBS and 60 Minutes have done stories where they track items from US recycling centers to dumping areas in China and Ghana.
A digital dumping ground in Ghana.

From a 60 minutes story, a dumping ground in China where workers are using a vat of acid to extract gold components.

It is not all gloom and doom when it comes to disposing of old computers and other electronics though. Get to know your local recycling centers and find out how they dispose of toxic e-waste. A great site is from the Basel Network (mentioned in the videos) that have created a list of rigorously tested recycling centers certified as e-stewards.

Alternatives to Recycling
Just because a computer is too obsolete for your needs doesn’t mean it it cannot help someone else. There are several donation programs that will take your legacy computer , get it in working order, and give them to others who need a starter machine to get into the information age. One thing I do is destroy all my data with DBAN and put on a fresh version of Linux or Windows and bring it to a thrift store.

Other Options

  • Sell it. If your old computer has some value left you might be able to sell it on ebay or craigslist for a bit of spending money.
  • Repurpose it. Figure out a new way to use the old machine. Install a light version of Linux like Damn Small Linux or Puppy Linux to breathe new life into it, turn it into a firewall, give it to your child or grandparents for web browsing, simple word processing and games.
  • Keep it around for parts. I do some computer repair on the side from my home and it has been awesome having extra memory, NIC cards, and hard drives laying around. Even having an extra CRT monitor is nice to use in case one of the LCD screens goes bad.
  • Keep it. If your current machine goes down for some reason you will have a spare to hook up while getting it fixed or getting a new one. You can also use it to do geeky things like trying Linux or creating a network.

Conclusion
If you have private data like credit card numbers, security number, heck even your favorite pictures on the hard drive it is extremely important to make sure it is wiped out. If you need to recycle it, make sure it’s with a trustworthy company. Even if you donate or repurpose a computer, ultimately it will need to be disposed of but hopefully with more awareness we can help do it responsibly. Leave us a comment about how you get rid of your old machines.
Links
Download DBAN
Certified E-steward Recycling program
Full PBS Frontline Video About Digital Dumping In Ghana
60 Minutes Video about Toxic E-Waste

Own Your Domain Name & Aggregate All of Your Social Accounts with Chi.mp

Editor’s Note: Chi.mp is a free service, and we really like it, but this shouldn’t be considered an official How-To Geek endorsement.
Would you love to own your personal domain name, be able to blog, create photo albums, and aggregate all of your social accounts in one place? As impossible as it may sound, you can have all of that goodness in one place with Chi.mp (Content Hub & Identity Management Platform).
About Little Bit About Chi.mp



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You may be asking yourself “What makes Chi.mp special?” or “What do I get with an account?”. What you get is:

  • Your own personal domain name free with your website
  • Blog posting
  • Photo albums
  • Aggregation of all of your social accounts
  • Contact book and management system
  • Multiple profiles with customizable privacy settings for each
  • Detailed personal profile building (amount of detail based on personal preferences)
  • Personal VCard
  • Choice of preset or custom themes
  • No ads
  • The entire service is free

It is extremely easy to get started with Chi.mp…simply enter the domain name that you would like to use in the form to see if it is available. If it is available, you can immediately start the simple registration/setup process for your new site. No waiting periods and definitely no hassle!

Chi.mp is very straightforward in what your rights are and what you can expect from them. Notice that your personal data, information, and contacts are treated with respect. Another nice feature is that you are not forced to have advertising on your site unless you specifically desire it (that is very wonderful!).

Set up the profile (or profiles) that work best for you. Chi.mp starts with a default set of three…Public, Work and Friends. Use what you need and create as many additional ones as you need or desire. You can set different levels of privacy for each particular profile that you have.
Note: The privacy settings are also available for your contacts.

Once You Have an Account
After you get your personal domain registered and start working on your new site, you will see the following message on the Dashboard page (default page when you log in to your account). This really does work as an all purpose type of website for you (terrific!).

Here is a quick look at the menu toolbar that will at the top of your site while you are logged in. Each of these areas have a sub-menu toolbar to navigate through more options and settings for your site. Sub-menus are displayed below this menu toolbar.

Aggregating Your Social Accounts
Chi.mp allows you to aggregate the feeds from all of your favorite social services into a single stream on the main page. Adding new feeds is very easy to do. Notice the “Add a Feed” option on the right side…you just might be surprised by what you can actually add in (very nice!).

Here is what your services window will look like once you have added some services to your site. Notice the nice split between current services and the services that are available for you to add in. Current services also include icons to help differentiate between them.

Blogging and Photo Albums
If you would like to add blog posts to your site, this is what you will see. There is a very nice excerpt option that you can use to create “teasers” for your posts (nice!). The post toolbar has a nice selection of commands available and even includes superscript and subscript commands.
Note: If you wish, you will be able to view your blog posts separately (i.e. http://your-name.mp/blog/)

Want to create a new photo album? This is what you will see when creating one. You can easily select the profiles that blog posts and photo albums are viewable/available for.

Themes
You can have a lot of fun customizing how your site looks…choose between picture backgrounds, solid color backgrounds, or use a custom theme.

Here is an example of what a front page looks like with a picture background theme…

And an example of a front page with a solid color background theme.

Conclusion
Even though Chi.mp is still in the beta stage, it is already showing a phenomenal amount of potential as a way to centralize all of you internet activities. This is one web-service that is definitely worth taking a look at!
Links
Chi.mp Homepage
Getting started with Chi.mp Webpage
Check out Asian Angel and Mysticgeek’s sites below and join us for social networking, blogs and more!
Asian Angel@ chi.mp
Mysticgeek @ chi.mp

Find Domain Information the Easy Way with Win32Whois

Ever find yourself needing to acquire information about a particular domain but want an easy way to do it? Now you can with Win32Whois.
Setup
Getting started with Win32Whois is extremely simple. There is no install process to deal with, just place the exe file in a location of your choice and create a shortcut (terrific!). When you start Win32Whois, this is what you will see. To get started, enter the domain address that you are curious about and click “Go”.

For our example, we entered “www.howtogeek.com”. The results came up very quickly and as you can see by the scrollbar, there was quite a bit of information returned (very nice!).

Conclusion
Win32Whois can provide a quick and easy way to find the information that you need about a domain. This is definitely a nice reference tool to have on your system or USB drive.
Links
Download Win32Whois (version 0.9.14)

Turn Your Computer into a File, Music, and Web Server with Opera Unite

Want an easy way to share documents, photos, and other files with people over the web? Now you can with Opera Unite which is a new service to be included with the Opera 10 browser. Today we take a look the new Unite feature and what it has to offer.
According to their website, “Opera Unite is a collaborative technology that uses a compact server inside the Opera desktop browser to share data and services.” Essentially what this service does is turn your computer into a server where you can share documents and photos, stream music, create a chat room, host your own website and a lot more. You can make files available to the public or with a password protected invite link and the really cool thing is the person accessing it can use any browser they want.
Installation



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The first thing you will want to do is install Opera 10 which at the time of this writing we used Beta 3 Build 1708. The Unite feature is still in the Alpha stage of development and needs to be installed separately from the Opera Labs site (we included the link below). In fact at this stage of its development you can install just the Unite feature, but being a curious geek I figured seeing how it will operate with the new version of the browser would be best.

To start using Unite you will be prompted to create create an Opera account.

Customize settings and create a customized account based on where you will be using it from.

Advanced settings let you specify upload speeds, default port, and global visibility.

To complete the setup select a folder where you will keep the shared documents and files.

You’ll access it from the sidebar and clicking the Unite tab. Here you can turn the service on and off and there will be a list of other services you can add like Fridge, Media Player, Opera Messenger, Photo Sharing, The Lounge, and Web Server.

Unite Features
File Sharing allows you to easily share files and other documents.

The Fridge is a neat place where others you invite can save notes on your computer.

Media Player lets you listen to your entire music collection anywhere there is an Internet connection.

Photo Sharing allows you to share photos with your friends and family without having to upload them to a separate service first.

Each additional service or feature requires a quick installation…for example here we are installing Opera Messenger.

The Opera Unite Homepage will have a list of services that are running and it is where you will find the URL for friends can access the site.

You will probably want to set up separate directories for each of the services that you run to keep things organized an secure. For instance you wouldn’t want everyone to access personal information in your My Documents folder.

Here is an example of accessing another user’s Unite page where they’re sharing an eBook on their File Sharing page, you can view documents in the browser or download the file to your hard drive.

Conclusion
Opera Unite is a very cool feature that will be added to the new Opera Browser. It allows anyone to become their own webmaster of sorts and makes it extremely simple. One thing that raised concerns about this service is its level of security. According to their site and the Terms of Service, “Opera Unite runs in a “secured sandbox”, where only the files or folders you select can be accessed; nothing else on your computer is accessible to anyone else. You grant access to specified files, such as a directory of data you want to share, without allowing access to anything outside the specified area.” Also, they do not keep a log of what files your sharing and do not claim any rights to it. It is essentially up to you not to share unwanted data.
Opera definitely doesn’t get much love in the tech world but you might want to revisit it and check out the newest version as another alternative to Internet Explorer.
Download Opera 10 Beta
Download Opera Unite

Access Frequently Used Items in Windows 7 with Jump Lists

Finding a way to easily access recently used files, folders, and websites could be annoying in previous versions of Windows. Today we take a look at the new Jump List feature in Windows 7 that allows you to quickly access recently used items.
Using Jump lists
To access jump lists Right-click a program icon on the Taskbar, like in this example of Internet Explorer. Notice too that you can pin those items to the Taskbar if you wish.

When you have the jump list open click the first letter of an item to jump between them.

Here is an example of the Jump List feature in the Start Menu. This makes it easy to access recently opened items as well.

Periodically you might want to clear out the jump list history, to do this Right-click on Start and choose Properties.

Now under the Start Menu tab uncheck one or both boxes under Privacy to clear the Taskbar or Start menu item history or both.

This is an awesome new feature in Windows 7 that makes navigating items a lot faster.

Access Multiple Online Services for Documents & Images with Open IT Online

Ever find yourself needing to make a last minute change to a document, spreadsheet, presentation, or image but you do not have access to regular software suites? Now you can easily remedy that situation with Open IT Online.
Note: Open IT Online works with the following file types:

  • Documents (.doc, .docx, .rtf, .odt, .sxw)
  • Spreadsheets (.xls, .xlsx, .csv, .ods, .sxc)
  • Presentations (.ppt, .pptx, .pps, .odp, .sxi)
  • Images (.jpg, .gif, .png)

Setup for Open IT Online



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Note: All screenshots shown are for the Firefox installation of Open IT Online.
Once you have installed the extension and restarted Firefox, you will be presented with the Configuration Wizard.

In the second window, you can make easy choices about the two main services that you would like to use for documents and images. The default setup is pictured here and you will not be able to access the Advanced Settings or move forward until you select an image service.
Once you have selected one of the image services, it is recommended that you access the Advanced Settings if you would like to fine-tune which services are used for particular document and/or image types. Otherwise click “Next” to go directly to the final configuration window.

Choose particular online services to use for your documents…

Select for particular spreadsheet document types…

And for your presentation documents.

Decide which online services to use for your images.

Once you have finished making specialized online service choices for document and image types, you will need to accept the Terms Of Use in order to finish the configuration process. Click “Finish” to close the Configuration Window.

After the Setup Wizard is Finished
Once you have closed the Configuration Window, you will see the “new install” page for Open IT Online. It will provide basic information and the news that you can now also save your files online at Box.net.

Options for Open IT Online
If you decide that you want to make changes to the configuration, you can do so easily using the Options Window. In the first Tab Area, you can select where to open the online services that you want to use and make choices concerning Interface Integration.

If you want to modify your choices for which online services to use for documents, you can do so in the second Tab Area…

Make any changes needed for spreadsheets in the third Tab Area…

And changes needed for presentations in the fourth Tab Area.

Modify services used for images in the last Tab Area.

Access Through the Tools Menu
You can access Open IT Online through the Tools Menu if needed…

A Sample of Open IT Online in Action
Use the Right Click Menu to access Open IT Online… For our example we are using the Right Click Menu to work with an image.

You will see the following window when using the Save or Save As Commands. Notice that you have multiple options to choose from for the action that you wish to perform. Here we are working with a Microsoft Word document.

Conclusion
If you find yourself needing to suddenly fix something or prefer to use online services to work with documents and images, Open IT Online can provide a quick and easy way to access the tools that you need to get your work done.
Note: In our testing, the Internet Explorer Lite version did not appear to have as many functions/options as the Firefox version.
Links
Download Open IT Online for Firefox (Mozilla Add-ons)
Download Open IT Online for Firefox (Open IT Online Homepage)
Download Open IT Online Lite for Internet Explorer (Internet Explorer Add-ons Gallery)

Friday Fun: Bricks Breaking & Cube Crash

For today’s Friday Fun we take a look at a couple of simple but addicting flash games based on collapsing colored bricks.  It has been a tough week and you have given enough of your time to the company, so relax and have fun with these games.
Bricks Breaking
With this one you need to select 2 or more bricks of like color that are connected to start collapsing them. If you want to remove a single brick you will need to use one of the magic wands but will want to use them sparingly.

Play Bricks Breaking
Cube Crash
This one is similar to Breaking Bricks however you don’t get any magic wands.  To clear a set of bricks there must be three of the same color.  On the left hand side it shows you the number of bricks that need to be crashed before moving to the next level.

Play Cube Crash
Awesome.  Who knew clicking on colored bricks could be so addicting and fun!?

OpenShot is Video Editing Software for Ubuntu

Video editing is an important aspect of our work. I was looking for some video editing solution for my Ubuntu machine and came across this useful piece of software which makes the editing of videos a very easy. The software is called OpenShot and is a free and open source solution for editing videos on Linux environment.
Earlier you had to compile the program on your Linux machine to be able to use it. However, the developer(s) have come out with an easy solution by releasing deb files for the same.



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Features of OpenShot

  • Support for many video, audio, and image formats (based on FFmpeg)
  • Gnome integration (drag and drop support)
  • Multiple tracks
  • Clip resizing, trimming, snapping, and cutting
  • Video transitions with real-time previews
  • Compositing, image overlays, watermarks
  • Title templates, title creation
  • Solid color clips (including alpha compositing)
  • Support for Rotoscoping / Image sequences
  • Drag and drop timeline
  • Frame stepping, key-mappings: J,K, and L keys
  • Video encoding (based on FFmpeg)

Download and Install OpenShot on Ubuntu

In order to run and start using OpenShot on Ubuntu we will have to download the respective deb file and install it. Download the respective deb file based on the version of your Ubuntu and CPU from the download page (link below). You’ll also have to download the dependency package from the same page (dependencies_32_904.tar.gz)

Install OpenShot On Ubuntu

Once you have downloaded the respective deb files (The main package and dependency files) start the installation by installing the dependencies first. Double click the dependency package (dependencies_32_904.tar.gz) and install all the 4 deb files:

  1. openshot-ffmpeg_git-2623d8f-1_i386.deb
  2. openshot-frei0r_1.1.22-1_i386.deb
  3. openshot-mlt_0.4.3-1_i386.deb
  4. openshot-x264_0.67.1173-1_i386.deb

Once you have installed all the dependency package we’ll install the main package (openshot.deb). Double click the package to install it.

Running OpenShot

Once installed you can run the OpenShot video editor by going to Applications \ Sound & Video \ OpenShot Video Editor.

The main interface is nicely laid out and easy to use.

Importing the video in OpenShot

Importing videos for editing is very easy all you have to do is click File \ Import Files.

Exporting videos is very easy and you can export your video in multiple formats. Click the red button to export the edited video.

You can choose from several different effects and video settings.

List of Features
The following is an impressive full list of features for OpenShot:

  • Support for many video, audio, and image formats (based on FFmpeg)
  • Gnome integration (drag and drop support)
  • Multiple tracks
  • Clip resizing, trimming, snapping, and cutting
  • Video transitions with real-time previews
  • Compositing, image overlays, watermarks
  • Title templates, title creation
  • Solid color clips (including alpha compositing)
  • Support for Rotoscoping / Image sequences
  • Drag and drop timeline
  • Frame stepping, key-mappings: J,K, and L keys
  • Video encoding (based on FFmpeg)

OpenShot is a stable and easy to use video editor for Ubuntu and is also available in Spanish, French, and Italian.
Download OpenShot for Ubuntu Linux

Manage Files and Documents Easier with Libraries in Windows 7

In previous versions of Windows it can be a tedious task managing music, photos, documents and other files that are scattered in different directories on your hard drive. Today we take a look at the new Libraries feature in Windows 7 that allows you to organize folders from multiple locations in one spot.
Using Libraries
To access your Libraries click on Start then your user name to open up your personal folder.

Now in the left pane click on Libraries to view the four default Libraries which are Music, Pictures, Videos, and Documents.

Libraries show files that are stored in different locations on your computer as in this example of a Music Library.

You don’t have to limit yourself to just the four default Libraries by creating your own. When you click on Libraries in the left pane click on the New Libraries button.

A new Library comes up just like a new folder where you can label it.

When you go into your new Library you are prompted to add new folders and files to it.

If you want to add new folder locations to any of the Libraries just click on the hyperlink that shows the current number of locations.

You can then click the Add button to include other locations on the computer.

Right-click on the Library icon and select Properties and you can include a folder from here.

Also, while your navigating through explorer you can Right-click a folder and include it in a library.

This might seem like a subtle change to the user interface but it’s effective and makes navigating files and folders much easier.

Libraries will allow you to share your folders and files with your Homegroup network easier as well. Check out our look at sharing files and folders in Windows 7 with the Homegroup feature.

Enjoy Desktop Alt-Tab Style Navigation in Firefox with TabNavigator

Do you use Alt-Tab window switching for your Windows desktop and find yourself wishing for that same functionality in Firefox? Now you can enjoy all that switching goodness in your browser with TabNavigator.
Note: TabNavigator version 1.0.3 shown here.
Setup
Once you have the extension installed, you should take a moment to view the options. Here you can see the default setup for TabNavigator. You can make adjustments for Icon List Appearance (small, medium, or large), Preview Properties for open tabs, and make changes if desired for Keyboard Shortcuts.

TabNavigator in Action
Here you can see the Icon List Sub-window and Tab Previews both activated (very nice!). If you have a lot of tabs with identical icons open, then having the Tab Previews activated can be really helpful.
Use the keyboard shortcut (default or your own personal selection) to switch between tabs and when you have found the tab that you want to view, simply let go of the keys. For our example we have the Tab Preview set at 550 pixels in width.

If you prefer to use the Icon List Sub-window only, then it will appear in the middle of your browser window as shown below. Notice that webpage titles also display for the tab selected in the Icon List Sub-window. In both screenshots we have icon size set as Small.

TabNavigator with only the Tab Previews activated.

Conclusion
If you enjoy Alt-Tab style window switching, then TabNavigator is definitely an extension worth adding to your Firefox browser!
Links
Download the TabNavigator extension (Mozilla Add-ons)