Dock of the Bay
Vol. 9, No. 14
April 5-11, 2001
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What’re You Going to Do with That Old Computer?

You need to be a sprinter to keep up with today's technology.

It's I, II, III and now Pentium IV that gives us faster-than-ever information and super-graphics, connecting us to the wide world in which we live in seconds.

So what's a consumer to do?

Head to your favorite supplier and purchase a new computer, of course. But don't take that old one with you. They won't take it as a trade-in like your car dealership.

Ever wonder where old computers go when they've outlived their usefulness?

Some 45 million will find their way into America's landfills by 2005 — along with 500 million televisions — according to a study commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That's a lot of "new trash."

Concerns run beyond the space this new trash will consume in landfills to what may happen when their interior components get out. Both computers and televisions contain cathode ray tubes, CRTs, which contain high levels of lead. It's there to protect viewers and users from radiation. When you throw the machine away, that lead stops being a protection and becomes a problem.

Promoting recycling rather than trashing is why, since 1996, the EPA has donated more than 800 old computers to school districts and worthy organizations throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

"Everyone wins when we recycle," says EPA regional administrator Thomas Voltaggio. "The students and community organizations get access to the information superhighway, EPA sets a good example and the environment wins because we keep these materials out of landfills."

Keeping computers out of Maryland's landfills has become a personal issue for some, a business for others.

Four years ago, Farley Peters, of Fairhaven, replaced her in-home office computer. She had high hopes of finding a new home for her old model. But hope faded as she faced one obstacle after another.

"It was terrible," recalls Peters. "I called around to look for places to recycle my old computer. I found a few interested takers but they were very picky. It had to be a [Pentium] 386 or newer, said one organization. 'We don't take outdated electronic equipment,' said another."

Frustrated but determined, Peters finally found an alternative to the landfill. She carried her computer from Fairhaven to a warehouse above Baltimore that auctions off obsolete computers for parts.

"It was a real hassle from beginning to end," said Peters who, four years later, is facing the same dilemma.

This time Peters will keep her old machine.

"It's easier for me to keep my old computer and call it my backup machine," said Peters. "I'll just wait for recycling to get easier."

Her wait may be a short one. In Maryland, computer recycling is getting simpler. Five businesses now accept your old computer. Some recycle. Others scrap.

  • Computer Reclamation Inc.: 301/495-0280; 8880 Monard Dr., Silver Spring
  • DMC The Electronics Recycling Company: 301/582-6190; 11710 Hopewell Rd., Hagerstown
  • The Phoenix Project: 410/750-2435; 8623 Spruce Run Ct. Ellicott City
  • Subtractions LLC: 301/924-0605; 7202 Mink Hollow Rd., Highland

Some of the companies are already working together — in computer lingo, that's networking.

Subtractions LLC recycles 90 to 95 percent of all the computers they receive at their Jessup warehouse. In 2000, they recycled one-half million pounds of computers and electronics as well as 99,000 pounds of monitors. That's saving 800 tons from our landfills.

Some of those computers found their way to another recycling pioneer, The Lazarus Foundation. Originally known as the Resurrection of Old and Obsolete Computers, the company honors two namesakes in its shorter name: Lazarus, whose resurrection is chronicled in the Bible; and the poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote "The New Colossus" from which they adapted their motto: "Give me your tired, your broken, your huddled computers yearning to breathe again."

Located in Columbia, this nonprofit charitable organization accepts tax-deductible donations of surplus computers (Pentium 75 or higher). Their volunteers test and restore outdated machines to working condition, install donated software, then distribute the recycled computers to other charitable organizations and schools.

Some of their recipients are the Howard County Association for Retarded Kids, the Black Education AIDS Project, the Florence Bain Senior Center and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

For more solutions, plug in your new speed-of-light computer and type "computer recycling" into your favorite web search engine. Or resort to primitive measures. Use the old-fashioned telephone. EPA 215/814-3298 · Anne Arundel County Recycling: 410/222-7951; Calvert County Recycling: 800/560-1004.

-Connie Darago

Diane Rehm's Local Tales Win Calvert County

Judging by the way WAMU-National Public Radio talk show host Diane Rehm played in Calvert County, you'd never believe she had a guest or audience she couldn't charm. Not so, said the elegant, animated Rehm, who had come to Solomons to raise some $3,000 for the county library in the second of its Authors by the Bay lecture series.

Proclaiming herself no fan of podiums or speeches, she'd promptly "opened the phones" at Calvert Marine Museum. Then, when a listener in her rapt audience of 120 asked "difficult?" Rehm answered "Clancy."

The insurance man turned phenomenally successful novelist is, of course, a Calvert local. Among Calvert Countians, Rehm's question, "How many of you know Tom Clancy?" went down like cream among cats. Amid laugher rose the reply "no need to say more."

But, pledged Rehm, "I am going to say more."

So here's her story.

"When I was a very fresh, naive broadcaster, Tom Clancy came into the studio. As usual, I went out and greeted him warmly. It was odd, I thought, that he had on these dark aviator glasses," Rehm narrated, living up to her reputation for wit and timing.

In the studio, Rehm continued, Clancy not only kept on his glasses but dropped his head into his hand — a position she dramatized — so she could not see his face.

Then, to her "very broad" opening question, he answered "yup."

Taking another tack, she got a "nope."

Clearly, neither was "comfortable." Nowadays, Rehm said, such a guest would be off the air, for her philosophy is that "airtime is a privilege, not a right."

But that was 15 years ago, and gaining confidence in your instincts — and courage to act on them — takes time.

Instead, she said, "I threw open the phone lines.

"The first caller, a man, says 'Tom, I love your books, but you sure are being arrogant with our Diane.'"

Clancy, Rehm reported, pulled off his sunglasses and denied the charge, claiming he and Diane were "having fun."

But the listener got the last word. "That's not what is sounds like out here," he said.

"After that," Rehm told her chuckling audience, "Clancy was a pussycat."

So was Calvert County.


Running In Memory of Robbie

Kate Miles has run her entire life. Her lengthy frame merges with the winds as they blow around the tracks she has covered. She runs to feel fit, she runs to release stress, and on Saturday May 5, she will run in memory of her son Robbie, who passed away May 6, 2000.

"I want this first anniversary to mean something," Miles says. "Robbie gave so much to so many people in his 15 short years here on earth."

For 13 and a half years, Miles, of Lusby, consumed her life with the care of her son, who developed an uncontrolled seizure disorder that left him both mentally retarded and physically handicapped.

Robbie's mom hasn't always run her races on asphalt tracks or cross-country. There have been other marathons. She's run long and hard for health-care reform, hand in hand with Sen. Ted Kennedy and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

By special invitation she and her family - husband Tom, daughter Kimberly and son Robbie - testified before Congress about insurance coverage for preexisting conditions, the epilepsy that robbed two-year-old Robbie of a normal life - and about having to consider institutionalizing her son because they did not qualify for assistance.

Robbie and Kate became familiar faces to our nation's leaders, and they would call upon the family frequently when health care issues needed a push.

On one private visit with the president, Robbie looked up at Bill Clinton and in a determined tone stated, "I want to go home!" Clinton smiled as if he truly understood how many obligations had been placed on this young man's shoulders. "So do I Robbie, so do I," he said.

Last May, instead of pushing Robbie in his wheelchair through the halls of the White House, Congress or on the mall for a rally, Kate held him in her arms while he pushed himself through the gates of heaven.

Friends and family were with Kate, Tom and Kimberly as they let him go. These same friends will join together again in memory of Robbie for the First Annual Robbie Miles 5K family run/walk, scheduled just one day shy of the anniversary of his passing.

"I believe that this event was just like Robbie, divine," says Miles. "Two weeks after Robbie passed, I was running the track at Patuxent High School and I just could not make that last lap. I used his memory as my inspiration and then the idea hit me."

It's an idea that has since consumed the time and effort of many helpers. But they need still more help by April 14. "We have to have more donations and sponsors," says Miles, "but time seems to be winning this race."

Any funds left over will go to Calvert Hospice which, Miles says, "was there for us in his last few months."

Since 1984, Calvert Hospice has been helping families deal with the end of life. Volunteer coordinator Melissa Simpson says their work isn't always what people think. "It is more than just medical; it is spiritual and emotional, and the care continues long after the loved one passes," she explains.

Insurance or not, hospice will help. "Most major insurance companies, along with Medicare, will cover hospice expenses, but some people don't even have that to fall back on," Simpson says. "We would never turn anyone away. We are non-profit and we count on private funding and donations to keep us going."

So a contribution to Robbie's run is also a gift to hospice. "We hope that this run/walk will be such a success not only for us here at Hospice but for Robbie's family to give back while keeping his spirit alive," Simpson says.

The event will feature Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Early registration will award special T-shirts and memorial azaleas for planting in honor of a loved one. Additional azaleas can be purchased for $5.

The track at Calvert High in Prince Frederick is wheelchair accessible; prizes will be awarded by age and place in the run/walk.

Register by April 14: 410/535-0892.

-Lori Sikorski

Earth Journal: Spring's Peeping

It is Officially Spring, the vernal equinox is being heralded by a chorus of frogs, chief among them the Spring Peeper: Pseudacris crucifer. Pseudacris is a new name for the genera - or group - of frogs commonly called chorus frogs. It used to be that peepers were placed in the genera Hyla, or tree frogs; that has changed.

Robert Frost knew them as " the Hyla breed" in his poem Hyla Brook, which is about a stream that dries up in early summer, "taking with it all the Hyla breed that shouted in the mist a month ago, like ghost of sleigh-bells in ghost of snow." I can't hear them now without thinking of that line, it seems to perfectly describe their chorus, which is made up like a pointillist painting with thousands of peeps for dots.

If you go down to a wet place where the peepers sing, you may hear some of the individual notes: each is a near-identical, loud, clear, ascending peep. Peepers are not just small, they are tiny. Small as they are, an individual frog can be heard a mile away. Judy Hawes, in her excellent children's book Spring Peepers, gives instructions to follow in looking for peepers. Take a flashlight and go down to the a wet place where they are calling. when you get close they will get quiet. Wait there, be still and quiet. Soon they will resume singing. When you hear one that is in flashlight range, turn on the light and you will see mud and vegetation. Look for a tiny frog that is the color of a muddy branch. When the male peeper sings it's throat swells like a huge bubble. Look for a reflection off of this vocal sac. Be patient, keep looking , they are there.

Peepers, like most frogs, lay their eggs in water. Vernal pools are seasonal wetlands - wet places of standing water that tend to dry up in summer. They are analogous to Frost's brook, which by June "has run out of song and speed." Peepers, wood frogs and other species need vernal pools to lay their eggs in, but they live in forests. So they need two kinds of habitat each accessible to the other. Sadly, amphibians are experiencing declining populations on a global scale. Scientists suggest a host of reasons: acid rain, pesticides, increased ultra-violet radiation caused by the weakening ozone layer, invasive exotic predators such as small mouth bass. Habitat loss is probably a significant factor on the East Coast. For peepers, the twin threats of forest destruction and loss of wetlands portend concern for their future.

-Gary Pendleton

Way Downstream ...

In California, biologists who released giant condors into the wild are rejoicing. A researcher discovered what is thought to be the first egg laid by a condor outside captivity, offering hope that the majestic and endangered bird can survive ...

In Norway, killer algae off the coast has done in nearly 1,000 tons of farmed salmon in two weeks. Authorities suspect that the chattonella algae, which blooms in the spring, came from a ship that loaded water for ballast in Japan and then flushed its tanks in Norway ...

In Nepal, climbers are preparing to ascend Mount Everest with an unusual cargo: They're carrying 200 empty plastic bags to carry back garbage that includes ropes, ladders, oxygen bottles and human waste from previous expeditions. One of the climbers referred to Mount Everest as "the world's highest garbage site" ...

In Spain, Antonio Villalba couldn't seem to remember to take out the trash. Finally, after a court order, a legion of city workers showed up last week to do it for him. They hauled away 30 truckloads of garbage from his house outside Madrid. According to the Associated Press, the 58-year-old man had been living in a tiny space he reached through a tunnel carved out of the trash ...

Our Creature Feature this week is a wild one from Florida. In Tampa, a radio personality who goes by "Bubba the Love Sponge" was charged with animal cruelty after a wild boar was castrated and killed on his program.

Bubba, actually Todd Clem, had invited listeners to bring dead animals to WXTB-FM for a "roadkill barbecue" in the parking lot. Things got out of hand when somebody brought in a live wild boar that had been trapped and its ensuing fate was described on the radio amid the taped sound of pig squeals, Reuters reported. Three other people, among them the producer, were charged. Bubba was off the air for two weeks.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly