Monthly Archives: May 2016

Software monopolies and enforced consumption in schools

What would you think if you got a letter from your (or your child’s) school telling you that kids could only take part in the gym class if they had a particular brand of trainers? Or if they could only take part in the art class if they bought a particular brand of paints? You’d be pretty cross, right? Continue reading Software monopolies and enforced consumption in schools

BIOS updates

All the laptops we’ve supplied contain some programs that are built-in to the chips and can’t be easily updated in the way you would update your other software, which lives on the hard drive. This category of programs generally is known as firmware, and the component we’re talking about now is called the BIOS (basic input-output system.)

Like all programs, they contain bugs despite being extensively tested before release. Most of the time, these bugs are so trivial that they won’t affect you however sometimes situations arise when you might want to update it to the latest version.

Continue reading BIOS updates

Welcome to the new website. It’s not quite finished yet so don’t panic if you get error messages in your browser, particularly if you’re trying to use https rather than http.

Below this post, you should be able to find the first two issues of Utter Pie, the newsletter, archived in their original ASCII format. Future newsletters will include posts from this blog. If you’d like to subscribe to the blog you can use the RSS feed from this page, or to receive a once-monthly newsletter by email, please sign up by emailing

Utter Pie issue 2

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For all customers who wanted some training on computer security and on-line privacy, have a look at the CryptoParty event in the diary section...


* passes its first tonne of CO2 saving
* Live-coding music on a X200s
* What's wrong with WEEE?
* Could your business partner with
* Dates for your diary
* Season's greetings

Celebrating the first tonne of CO2 saved by

Because one of's goals is to reduce CO2 emissions caused by excessive consumption of new electronics, it makes sense to track how much has been saved by the project so far. At the AGM of Transition Durham [0], a local organisation concerned with energy descent, was please to announce that an estimated 1,125kg CO2 (eq) emission has been avoided. This is really a conservative estimate, as it doesn't account for things like the energy saved in data centres by our customers blocking unwanted adverstising and not being pushed into further unnecessary consumption.

A prize of two hours free labour (enough for a typical windows-to-linux conversion) was won by the secretary of Transition Durham, Charlotte Lee, for guessing the closest to the actual figure. This was possible because we used standard methods of life-cycle assessment [1] and gave clues in our previous emails - well done Charlotte.

In addition to that competition and announcement, we went to join in a celebration with the local Social Entrepeneurs' Network to join some other people who were marking their acheivements at an event last Wednesday. It seems like was the first project to report CO2 savings as a social outcome there: THAT'S what we're talking about when we talk about laptops with ethics to be proud of, and ALL of our customers have played a part in this acheivement, so well done all of you!

Live-coding music on a X200s

We often get asked what our low-voltage repurposed laptops, such as the ThinkPad X200s, are capable of. The short answer is "most things that normal people do on computers", but it's good to have some examples of unusual things too.

Last month, one of our laptops went on a mission to a live-coding workshop at Newcastle Library. Live-coding is a musical discipline in which the computer is programmed to produce music and the programme is altered while it runs, as a performance piece.

We are happy to report that the X200s is comfortably capable of running "audacity", a sound editor, and "sonic pi", a live-coding environment, so we can add these to the list. There is even some blurry video evidence to prove it [2]. 

What's wrong with WEEE?

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment ("WEEE" a.k.a. e-waste) is subject to strict European guidelines to ensure that the materials that stuff is made from are recycled. Sounds good? Well, better than putting it in landfill, but in the case of making laptops, it doesn't save any energy to start with recycled materials rather than newly-extracted minerals. And there are other problems too: Because the system of payments and incentives behind WEEE processing is obscure and poorly enforced, only a third of e-waste even gets as far as the officially regulated recycling process.

What this means is that manufacturers can keep the pressure on for people to consume more and more disposable stuff, rather than developing a truly circular economy with emphasis on long-lived, easily repaired goods. is one of a growing number of projects aiming to tackle this problem by repairing, re-purposing and upcycling stuff - recycling alone is not enough. 

The re-start project recently produced a video from a special trip to an e-waste recycling facility in Kent. Why not watch it and invite your friends and family to do the same [3] - "The feeling of seeing this mountain of discarded, recently useful stuff could only be compared to the devastating feeling of seeing a clear-cut forest."

Could your business partner with

We want to develop a genuinely sustainable, local, circular economy for electronic goods and that's a huge task so we need your help! is currently seeking partner organisations who would prefer their old business laptops to be re-used in the local area, rather than going into the official or unofficial e-waste streams. We're open to discussions about what you might get in return - for example, we could offer certificates of data destruction, publicise your organisation as our sponsor, or offer staff training.

Interested? Know an organisation that wants to help the environment and to build a circular economy? Get in touch with

Dates for your diary

7th May 2016 (Saturday), 11 AM - 1 PM, and the 1st Saturday each month computer support club
Room 2, Alington House Community Association, 4 North Bailey, Durham

Bring a Linux-related project, a support question, a friend or just yourself!

This month we'll be trying to turn an old laptop with broken screen and keyboard into a home server. Can the regulars rise to the challenge? Who knows! Come and join in!

Cafe will be open

17th May 2016 (Tuesday), 7.30 PM - 10.30(ish), and the 3rd Tuesday each month

Durham Linux User Group
Bar, Durham Amateur Rowing Club, Green Lane, Durham

Informal meeting open to anyone interested in Linux

Bar will be open

22nd May 2016 (Sunday), 1 PM - 3 PM

CryptoParty Newcastle [5]
In the former crèche room, Level 2, Newcastle Library, Newbridge Street, Newcastle

Learn how to protect your privacy on-line using simple cryptographic tools
(please help publicise by sharing or displaying posters/fliers [6])

There will be cake

Season's greetings

Whether you've been celebrating Beltane or May Day, or just enjoying the longer days, you must have noticed we've had a fairly cold April locally (in contrast to global average temperatures, which so far this year have been the hottest ever recorded).

If you've been postponing the start of your outdoor year until the temperature went up, the good news is that there's still plenty of time to have a go at growing your own veg. There's even some guidance that's adapted specifically to growing in the North-East to help you [4] when you feel you need a break from the computer.

Best wishes from


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