Old Computer Turned Arcade Machine Delights at SXSW

Made of 10,000-plus keyboard keys, the Dell logo wall was a picture-perfect backdrop. Photo: Haley Shapley

Made of 10,000-plus keyboard keys, the Dell logo wall was a picture-perfect backdrop. Photo: Haley Shapley

At the preview night of Fader Fort, one of the premier parties of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas, blue drinks flowed, Chromeo laid down their brand of electrofunk, and even P. Diddy stopped by to say hello, but there was perhaps no bigger star than a 14-year-old computer.

And while it looked exactly like the computer you had a decade and a half ago, it wasn’t just any 14-year-old machine — this former Dell desktop had been transformed into a gametop with around 50 retro games (think Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and lots of Mario Bros.) with the goal of highlighting Dell Reconnect, a partnership between Dell and Goodwill that provides consumers free and convenient computer recycling. The program reaches more than 166 million people throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The benefits of recycling a computer go far beyond the materials saved. Photo: Haley Shapley

The benefits of recycling a computer go far beyond the materials saved. Photo: Haley Shapley

Refurbish to Fabulous

“Consumers are good in the U.S. about donating old goods, and we’ve made it convenient to take back not only household goods, but also electronics,” says Beth Johnson, manager of U.S. recycling programs for Dell. “It starts with Michael Dell — he allowed us the flexibility to go make it convenient.”

The Dell Reconnect program started in Austin 10 years ago, so exhibiting at SXSW is like home. Other displays around Fader Fort included a Dell logo sign made from more than 10,000 keyboard keys, wood pallets recycled into seating for standing-weary festivalgoers, tables and planters fashioned out of a variety of computer parts, and placards toting fun facts about the program — for instance, donating one working computer to Dell Reconnect equates to 6.8 hours of job training for a Goodwill employee.

Though recycling is always top of mind, reuse is even more important. “We want to be able to provide affordable computers to more families in our community,” says Sarah Gilliam, global brand marketing manager for Dell. “Being able to refurbish something that’s two or three years old and load it with the latest software really gives opportunities for [people] to continue to learn and excel.”

A Dell staffer tests her skills at Galaga. Photo: Haley Shapley

A Dell staffer tests her skills at Galaga. Photo: Haley Shapley

An Oldie but a Goodie

What the gametop proved is that old isn’t necessarily bad — there is value in using the resources we already have. Brothers Brent and Jerry Nettles couldn’t get enough of Galaga, a spaceship shooting game that debuted in the early 1980s. When asked if he’d ever keep a 14-year-old computer hanging around his house, Brent responded: “I would if I knew I could use it like this.”

Refurbished by the Computer Works store at the Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, the machine elicited responses from “oh my God, this is so cool” to “my dentist had this game!” to “it’s amazing.” Austinite Joey Kazzaun’s response was a simple “that thing’s older than I am!” (In the computer’s defense, that’s not true.)

When Brent, who works for a Swedish record company, texted a photo to his wife of his brother on the gametop, she texted back: “Bring one of those home.”

With consumers around North America donating the computers they aren’t using anymore and Dell Reconnect employees putting in the effort to refurbish them, that’s actually a possibility.

In Austin and want to check it out yourself? Fader Fort runs until Saturday, March 15. A wristband is required.

Fader Fort continues through March 15. Photo: Haley Shapley

Fader Fort continues through March 15. Photo: Haley Shapley

The Case for Reuse Bins

Earth911, Inc.

Earth911, Inc.

By now, most of us are used to the idea of the recycling bin. Whether it’s at home, at work or in public areas like shopping malls, when we see a blue bin or cart with the recycling symbol on it, we know that bin is meant for our paper and bottles/cans.

But what about materials that don’t belong in the recycling bin? Before tossing them in a landfill, consider a new bin for your house: the reuse bin. This is an area where you can store products that will likely have later value, such as hardware (nails/screws, paper clips), packaging materials (packing peanuts, air pillows) and sealers (corks, twisty ties). The reuse bin opportunities are endless.

Here’s a few helpful tips for creating your own reuse bin:

1. Decide What to Collect

Your local recycling program chooses what materials to accept based on the local recycling market, and you should do the same when creating a home/office reuse bin. Start asking questions like:

  • What materials am I constantly throwing away?
  • What materials am I constantly in need of?

A great example is plastic bags. Even if you bring your own canvas bags to the grocery store, you probably still have several plastic bags in your kitchen. Instead of throwing them away, put them in the reuse bin instead.

Note: there’s a fine line between creative reuse and hoarding. Only include materials you know you’ll actually use in the future.

2. Pick a Location

You don’t just want a convenient area in the house/office (hint: should be close to the main garbage can), but also a recognizable storage bin. Maybe label a drawer in your kitchen as “Reuse” or designate an old Tupperware container. Labeling will allow others in your family/office to correctly use the bin.

3. Get Organized

Within your reuse bin, include smaller bins to store specific materials. Mint tins are great for storing screws and push-pins, while a coffee can is ideal for storing corks or caps. You can even combine your twisty ties into a ball.

4. Search for Inventory

While your reuse bin is ready for new material, you likely have existing products to put in there. Think about all the spare buttons on your shirts and jackets, or miscellaneous items in the garage. Starting a reuse bin is a great excuse for spring cleaning.

5. Know When to Throw

For some items, it’s best to dispose instead of reuse. Examples include:

  • Items with Personal Information: Don’t put expired credit cards or medication containers in your reuse bin. You don’t want this information getting in the wrong hands.
  • Hazardous/Expired Products: The reuse bin is not a place for stale bread or burnt out light bulbs, even if you have a reuse option for these items. Safety always trumps sustainability.

Looking for inspired uses for all the products you’re collecting? Check out Earth911’s crafts section for all sorts of cool products you can make from materials around the house.