Saturday, February 17, 2018

Camosun student data crunches for causes with old computers

November 15, 2017 by Adam Marsh, student editor 

Those who have the ability to manipulate and change technology have power in today’s technology-driven society. And Camosun Computer Networks Electronic Technician student Triston Line is using that power for good.

Line collects old computers—he has over 60 at his house—from organizations and uses their data-crunching power for research projects. The projects—which Line has done for organizations as large as Harvard—have focused on cancer cell mapping, HIV/AIDS research, and childhood cancer research, among other things. (A representative from Harvard did not return a request for comment.)

“When the data comes in to me, it’s very mechanical,” says Line, who is 18. “I don’t have to know, really, what it means; however, I do have to know how the programs work, I have to know how to optimize their functionality within the systems so that their mechanical work can be done as best as possible. So, from my point of view, it’s more of a computer science point of view.”

Camosun student Triston Line is using old computers for a good cause (photo provided).

Line says that sometimes he likes to look at the results after the institution he provided the data to has published the findings. He adds that without the data, there is no research.

“They could not have published it without the data I processed,” says Line.

He could be doing this work for his own entertainment, but, for Line, the fulfillment lies in helping others.

“Childhood cancer is something that I really find touching, and I don’t really like the idea of people being affected by such diseases, especially at a young age,” he says.

The biggest challenge for Line has been power—not the kind people sometimes crave, but electricity.

“A house is not meant to have 60 or 70 computers running all at the same time. Right now I have about 30 going, and I actually have had to cut that down because I’m a student. I live off oatmeal,” he says with a laugh.

Line’s data-crunching pastime also contributes to another passion of his: keeping e-waste out of the landfills. Line says that e-waste is an $18-billion-a-year industry, and it’s not right that so much potential gets thrown away.

“Electronics should not be going to third world countries and, basically, being dumped into a landfill and harming people. There are a few towns in China where there isn’t clean water for about 50 kilometres. They actually have to truck in clean water. That’s disgraceful,” says Line. “We shouldn’t be doing that. There’s black fields out in Africa where they just burn the electronics. I don’t think that’s very nice.”

Even recycling programs don’t cut it for Line—he says the companies get grants and use most of their money to ship the e-waste to another country and still have money left over.

“That’s where that $18 billion comes in,” he says. “It costs a lot less to ship them to someone else and make it someone else’s problem than it costs to recycle them responsibly.”

So Line does what he can to reduce his role in e-waste by finding a role for computers that others deem junk and fixing them up to become fully functioning machines. When he can’t make use of certain parts, he takes those parts to certified recycling depots. It’s behind-the-scenes work, but that’s how it goes: the data processing industry tends to focus on the process instead of the people, but that’s fine by Line.

“There’s not a whole lot of display on that front,” says Line. “[People] more or less talk about how it’s done more than who did it, which is a little bit unfortunate for me, but in the end, it’s all going to a good cause.”

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