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burning_laptopApparently age is not a guarantee of wisdom. I just finished reading an article I really thought I would never see, and may even be worthy of a Darwin Award. A 56-year-old man from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, died as a result of a fire caused by his laptop.

Was it near water? Did he spill gasoline on it? Maybe it was super defective? Um, no. He left it on his sofa, thus blocking off the ventilation and causing it to overheat. Which, in turn, burnt his home and him. Seriously, check it out.

So it seemed to me that if this person could have that happen, then there has to be a few more people out there that might do something similar. Hence this post on computer health and safety. Not safe computing as in saving your data, but safe as in saving your life. The apocalypse is upon us.

1. Provide Proper Ventilation for Your Computer and Peripherals

computer health and safetyWell, that should be obvious after that article above. If you’re not sure what a peripheral is, it’s anything that plugs into your computer.

Does your power cord have a big black block on it? It needs to be cooled by air too, so don’t cram it under those dust bunnies. Are your computer fans growing beards? Blow them out with canned air. Canned air – not an air compressor. You’re blowing dust, not torquing rusty lug nuts man! Dust is beyond flammable – it’s actually explosive.


On the topic of laptops, that’s not really a good name for them. You should use them on a hard surface and that does not include your lap. I don’t care how many times you’ve done the P90X program, your lap is not the kind of hard surface I mean. One, it could overheat – the laptop I mean. Two, it could overheat – your boys I mean, if you are a guy. Apparently using a notebook on your lap for too long can lead to a decreased sperm count.

2. Avoid Computing Near Liquids

computer health and safetyFun fact for you – most liquids are excellent conductors of electricity! And your computer runs on….electricity. I actually had a user tell me it was okay to drink around his laptop, while he used it, because it wasn’t plugged in. Have you ever touched a 9 volt battery to the tip of your tongue? Hold it there awhile and you’ll find out why a laptop that isn’t plugged in is still dangerous.

Spill-resistant keyboard? That’s for emergencies. Meaning if you accidentally spilled something on it, it might stop the liquid from getting into the vital parts. Maybe. Might. Possibly. In an accident. An accident is supposed to be something that doesn’t happen very often.

3. Don’t Try to Fix Your Own Computer

computer health and safetyThe exception here is if you are a computer professional, electronics technician, or something where you can identify the parts in your computer. Sure, you might know enough to not stick a butter knife in the power supply, but can you identify a capacitor? Do you know how to safely discharge a capacitor? Capacitors hold electrical charge, even after the device is unplugged. Think about the 9 v battery on the tongue again.

What if you create a short in a wire accidentally and it ignites something in your computer? Again, not a cool situation. Let me tell you a story of my misspent education. In electronics lab, we used to get a kick out of charging up a small capacitor and leaving it on the workbench until someone grabbed it. Zap! Just a little shock. Maybe 50 milliamps. Still not that bright, right? Sure, but practical jokes always escalate, as did the amperage. Did you know that it only takes about 2 amps to kill a human? Well, we didn’t go that far, but we did almost get kicked out of the class. ‘Nuff said.

4. Abuse is Not Tolerated Well

You’ve seen the videos where some person loses their mind and whacks their monitor with a keyboard? Well, that does happen. Sometimes it just gets you fired. Sometimes it results in smoke billowing from the back of your monitor. I saw it happen. Really. I was working for the Audio-Visual department of a college and saw someone smack the side of a CRT monitor. Rancid smoke started to come out of the top of the monitor.

You know, these things have dangerous heavy metals in them like lead and mercury that are stable, when they aren’t burning! I immediately unplugged the monitor and cleared the library. Disaster averted.

5. Dispose of Your Computer Properly

computer safetyRemember what I said above about heavy metals in computer equipment? Yep, well that’s why you must dispose of old computers properly. Don’t incinerate them, don’t use them for a boar anchor, and, it’s probably not a good idea to make some sort of pet cage or fishbowl out of them.

If you didn’t know, lead and mercury accumulate in your body and lead to all sorts of nasty things – including death. Well, and all those environmental hazards too. Can’t forget those.

If you can just follow these tips that some might consider common sense. you can enjoy safe computing too. And remember, he who geeks safest, geeks longest!

Image credits: rust.bucket, eurleif, annnna.

  1. thecrazyjogger
    August 31, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    why not compressed air?? I use it all the time :(

    • Guy McDowell
      August 31, 2009 at 8:47 pm

      Air from a compressor can have moisture and oils in it which can damage electronics. Also, some people may have the pressure set way too high.

      A lot of people, even those that use compressors everyday, don't understand all the risks of using compressed air. For example, some people still blow dust off their skin and clothes with industrial compressors. Not too safe at all.

  2. aeriose
    August 31, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    3. Don’t Try to Fix Your Own Computer

    Great. Way to encourage that people don't think for themselves.
    Don't bother fixing your surboard either because polyester resin is toxic. Don't replace a breaker in your house because it's too risky.

    Come on, give some people some credit here. If you want people to be safe. Tell them what a capacitor looks like, tell them what to watch out for. Don't tell them what to do.

    • Guy McDowell
      August 31, 2009 at 8:45 pm

      Uh, what? If a person wants to teach themselves to fix their computers themselves that's fine. I didn't say anything against that. I'm talking about the people that think they can open their case and just start doing stuff without thinking.

      • Xyzzy
        August 31, 2009 at 10:17 pm

        I interpreted that section of the article the same way aeriose did, and thought it odd that you'd be telling that to the smart & intellectually curious sort likely to read MakeUseOf. My impression was primarily because of the specific warning only people with a specific education/vocation should attempt to do repairs. There wasn't much room for "unless you're the kind of determined oddball that finds learning how to solder power jacks fun" qualifiers in that statement. :)

        (FWIW, I wasn't offended/upset at what I thought you'd intended, since in many cases I'd agree. Besides, after the sexism still endemic in the Linux community, I'm usually just relieved an article isn't taking the boys-only-no-girls-allowed stance.)

        • Guy McDowell
          August 31, 2009 at 11:22 pm

          I find it interesting that I have met more female Sys. Admins and engineers working with Linux or Unix systems than males. Just an observation.

      • aeriose
        September 1, 2009 at 3:41 am

        All I'm saying is that if you think it's fine for people to learn to fix computers, starting a section with something like this
        "3. Don’t Try to Fix Your Own Computer.."

        That generally leads people to believe you are encouraging people not to try and fix their own computers. As I said, perhaps, if as you replied, you have nothing against people fixing their own computers you could provide information as to what they should be aware of while they're doing it instead of a blanket statement about "unless you know what you're doing."

        • Guy McDowell
          September 12, 2009 at 10:41 am

          Point taken.

  3. Jersey Bob
    August 30, 2009 at 6:06 am

    Also, remember not to run with scissors. And don't stick your dick in a light socket.

    • Guy McDowell
      August 31, 2009 at 8:43 pm

      Some people DO need to be told that.

  4. HamalSharatan
    August 29, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    So, how do you dispose of computers properly?

    • Guy McDowell
      August 30, 2009 at 1:19 am

      Good question. Depends on where you live. Where I live there is an Electronics Disposal Depot that the county runs and is regulated by the province. We pay a tax on all electronics that is supposed to go to this program to help defray the cost of proper electronics disposal.

      In most developed countries there is most likely something like this. Unfortunately, I have read that some developed countries say they dispose of them safely but then just ship them to a developing nation to be dumped wherever. Disgusting really.

      • HamalSharatan
        August 30, 2009 at 10:00 am

        I see, thanks. It seems also Best Buy takes your electronics for free and recycle them; the exception is old TV's, they charge $10 for them, but give you a gift card to offset the cost.

      • HamalSharatan
        August 30, 2009 at 10:01 am

        Great articles, thanks!

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