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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.

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