Dust & power surges – two biggest laptop enemies in Uganda
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/05/dust-power-surges-two-biggest-laptop-enemies-in-uganda/
(Note: Technology use is growing in East Africa, including in Uganda. But the country’s infrastructure and population understanding of care connected to a personal computer have not kept pace. This story is provided to inform readers both in Africa and the Western world of the all-too-frequent negative consequence of owning a laptop in Uganda.)
By Patty Huston-Holm
On the morning that I was walking to meet one of the guys who knows more about computers than anyone on the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Mukono campus, I witnessed spoilage.
A male student, talking into his phone that was sandwiched between his right shoulder and ear, accidently dropped his laptop computer (followed by the phone) into the gravel and dust below.
“Sorry,” I said, watching him retrieve both devices from the stony slope along the Science and Technology building. “I hope they aren’t spoiled.”
While Americans only refer to children and food as spoiled, spoilage in Uganda means damaged goods, namely electronics. Having worked with UCU students since 2012 and having one of my own Ugandan daughters show up with a fairly new, expensive and ruined Mac Air in 2018, I have heard and seen my share of spoiled computer woes.
The UCU Director of University ICT Services (UIS), Perez M. Matsiko, has seen and heard more. Despite the sign that clearly states UIS is not a center for computer repairs, students and staff descend on him and other library third-floor information technology geeks with their puzzled looks, begging tactics and broken devices.
Matsiko and UCU’s electrical technician, Simon Kyalahansi, get it. If students did, too, it would save time, frustration and money. While a computer’s age and careless dropping can certainly impact its performance, much of the malfunction can be avoided.
Five tips to protect computers
Together, UCU’s information technology and electrical experts, offer five tips with added insights on the top two:
- Dust – Protect your computer with a cover, and clean it often.
- Power stability – Charge technology only in locations where power is stable to avoid power surges and voltage instability. When powering up, use both voltage converters and surge protectors, and avoid plugging too many gadgets into a power strip.
- Overloaded Data – Clean out old files, especially entertainment media, to allow more storage space for data that matters.
- Temperature – Protect your computer from the cold and heat. It should not get colder than 18 celcius (64 Fahrenheit) or hotter than 30 celcius (86 Fahrenheit).
- Food and drink – Spilled beverages and cake crumbs can damage the keyboard and inside components.
Electrical current – ‘hot and dirty, like the roads’
Dust, which Uganda has a lot of, combined with electricity, which Uganda doesn’t have enough of, is the biggest problem, according to Matsiko. Dust gets into the computer motherboard, which holds together the main components of a computer, and can cause overheating and a short circuit.
“The fan starts working hard,” he said. “It tries to cool everything down, but sometimes it can’t. Uganda’s electrical current is hot and dirty like the roads.”
“Dirty energy” is a term applied to power in developing countries like Uganda, according to Simon. Most of the country is hydro-powered by dams in Jinja with anticipation that the government will soon generate more from Isimba and Karuma areas. Roughly 20 percent of Ugandans have access to electricity. Access drops to 10 percent in rural areas.
The cleanest energy such as solar power and wind turbines has not caught up with widespread implementation in Uganda. Dirty, electric power stability is the second largest reason for the country’s personal device breakdowns.
“It’s ‘dirty’ here because of high voltage and lack of regulations,” Simon said. “We have regulations on campus, but not so if you are powering up a device outside our gates. Non-regulated power outlets are likely not surge protected.”
Voltage is the push that causes a charge to move through a wire and into a phone or computer. At 240 volts, the electrical energy capacity in Uganda is higher and hotter than, for instance, in the United States where voltage is regulated at 120 and in Europe, where voltage is 220.
Charge on and not off campus
“Our electrical lines are above the ground and impacted by weather,” Simon explained. “If you live on campus and are charging from here, we have a system that adjusts for that.”
Simon, who has worked at UCU for eight years, explained the basic workings of the Mukono campus power system, identified by wires from and cables surrounding a building near the library. Realizing that “above 240 volts, a computer will burn,” the UCU system is designed to “step down” voltage. Just as with a personal computer, a mainframe motherboard does its work, including a shift to a generator to protect a power surge.
“If the lights go out, the generator kicks in for 36 seconds to give the main system time to adjust,” he said. At that, he added, adjustment is harder if multiple devices are plugged into one power strip.
The motherboard works hardest during the season of strong winds and heavy rain, generally February, April and November. When it’s dry, the equipment battles dirt and dust.
“She is bigger than yours,” Simon said, comparing the UCU motherboard inside the UCU mainframe equipment to one inside a personal computer. “But she still gets dusted and cleaned.”
Like spoiled food that makes us sick or spoiled children whose demands annoy us, it is technology’s insides and how we protect them that really count.
To support UCU programs related to technology, for student scholarships and more, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button or contact Uganda Christian Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at firstname.lastname@example.org.