The Gadget Bag: Secure Your Network, Go Greener
Posted Dec 31, 2008

In the previous installment of The Gadget Bag (November 2008), I talked about setting the security on your wireless network, and I made reference to a type of encryption called WEP (wired equivalent privacy). While this will provide some protection, a reader informed me that it can easily be bypassed, and it is really designed to keep neighbors from usurping your bandwidth rather than preventing hackers from accessing your data. I am compelled to better explain this issue.

WEP was the initial method of securing wireless networks and is the most common type available. It requires you to create a “Pass Phrase” that generates a key that must be installed in both the access point (the base unit) and the computer. This was the only method of security when Wi-Fi was first made available to the general public. But as with most security systems, it wasn’t long before someone found out how to bypass the lock.

WPA (Wi-Fi protected access) is a more secure method of protecting your wireless network, and using it is strongly recommended. Since this is a newer security protocol, older wireless systems may not have this feature. If this is the case, contact the manufacturer to see if a firmware upgrade is available or invest in a new access point. The latter is probably more cost-efficient, as you will most likely be increasing your wireless speed (as I did) at the same time.

So if your data and computer activities are important to you, upgrade your wireless security to the more robust WPA protocol.

A Brighter Shade of Green

Everyone is becoming more conscious of the environment for one reason or another, but being green is more than changing a couple of light bulbs or buying a hybrid car. It is a lifestyle. Sure, doing some things to reduce waste or conserve energy is better than doing nothing, but doing the job right requires some lifestyle changes. Bad habits are tough to break. We, as a whole, have become a throwaway society, which has in part created most of the problems that we are facing.

The funny part of the green trend is the skyrocketing price of energy and the tough economy. Going green has nothing to do with being responsible but rather with being greedy and trying to recoup the payouts of higher energy costs. Duh! Just imagine if we all had started conserving 2, 5, or 10 years ago. We could have thousands of dollars more in our pockets, our landfills would be far from full, and we probably would have a stronger economy (but that’s another story).

I’ve surprised myself with just how much energy I’ve been able to save and the amount of money I’ve saved in the process. With all that I have done, my last month’s electric bill was the lowest it has been in more than 10 years, and I’ve been able to reduce my carbon footprint as well.

For years, we’ve been told to replace our incandescent light bulbs with CFLs (compact fluorescent lights), caulk our leaky windows, and lower our thermostats (or raise them for you warm-weather folks). But most of us have never really paid attention to the advice.

Now we’ve seen gasoline hit $4-plus a gallon, home heating oil has hinted at $5 a gallon, and everyone is adding fuel surcharges to every form of transportation. All of a sudden we’re interested in conserving energy and reducing our oil dependence. (And, as our president-elect said on 60 Minutes, the price of gas dropping back down to the $2 range in November is, if anything, cause for even greater energy vigilance, lest we slip back into our gas-guzzling “trance.”)

I could provide you with a five-page list of everything that you could do to become green (and I will provide a much shorter list—restricted to stuff that applies to a business), but you can do that for yourself by simply looking at everything that you touch or do.

Recycle, reuse, conserve, plan, condense, and coordinate. These words are your “green” list.

Go-Green Suggestions
By planning errands, you can not only reduce mileage and gas consumption, but you can also reduce your car insurance costs (less miles traveled equals lower rates). You’ll also reduce wear and tear (and maintenance costs) on your vehicle.

Use your local association or other business group to bulk-purchase consumables. Not only will you probably get a quantity discount, but the delivery charge will also be significantly less going to a single location (saving fuel and packaging). This can include anything from videotapes and DVDs to office supplies.

Recycle instead of throwing away. Several ink cartridges are recyclable. HP, Lexmark, and others can be turned in for reuse. Some places will also give you store credit for every empty cartridge that you recycle.
Another option is to take that empty cartridge to a refill facility. Walgreens (the drug store chain) will take your cartridge and refill it on-site for $10–$15—a fraction of the cost of a new cartridge. Or you can buy refilled cartridges from a long list of companies from coast to coast. One refill cartridge provider, Cartridge World, provides some handy tips on cartridge maintenance and reuse here. The company website also includes a helpful section called “Cartridge Education.”

Enough talk—how about some hard facts? I spent a little time and took measurements of several pieces of equipment in my studio to see just how much electricity was being consumed during normal usage and how much I wasted when the same equipment was sitting idle.

The first things that I targeted were my wall warts, those little black lumps that seem to be attached to every electronic gadget. Generally, power consumption is a factor of the power output of the supply, but, surprisingly, the warts all continue to consume power when the attached device is shut off or disconnected (as with a cell phone).

Testing several power supplies, I found an average current draw of 0.01 amps at idle (no device attached or powered on), which equates to 1.2W. Over a 30-day month, that is 0.864 kilowatt hours (kWh). My local electrical provider charges me 17.39 cents per kWh, and that means that leaving that wall wart plugged in costs 15 cents per month.

Before you say “So what, that’s only 15 cents,” do the math: Ten wall warts means $1.50, and at the end of the year we are talking $18. The last time I looked, I had 16 devices that used external power supplies, which brings my total extra expenditure to $2.40 per month.

Now let’s move to the devices that don’t really turn off when you shut them off. Any device that can be powered on via a remote or that has a display that remains lit when off will continue to use electricity, much like the wall warts, at much the same rate. TVs, monitors, DVD decks, VCRs (yeah, some of us still use them)—the list goes on and on. Now we are talking easily $5 a month ($60 per year).

This is money that is simply going down the drain; this is electricity that is not being used to generate income but is still adding to your carbon footprint. And you are paying for it.

Now, on to the big bucks. Replacing regular incandescent bulbs with CFLs adds to the savings. Figuring 4 hours a day of use, a standard 100W incandescent bulb costs $1.95 per month to operate.
A comparable CLF uses approximately 25% of the power for the same amount of light and uses a mere 50 cents worth of electricity per month, a savings of $1.40 per month per bulb. Ten bulbs means $14 in savings.

For all of you who have complained that CFLs cost too much, doing the numbers calculates the ROI at 4–6 months—plus they last 5 years or more, so, in effect, they pay you to buy them.

Ed Wardyga (wardyga at kvimedia.com), owner of Keepsake Video and KVI Media in Rhode Island, has been producing event video since 1989, specializing in stage productions. He runs the website www.theGadgetBag.net and is the recipient of the WEVA Walter Bennett Service to Industry Award.