How to make the governor a happy man

With the power problems in California, there are a few questions as computer owners that we should be asking ourselves. How much does it cost to operate a computer and how do we protect our computers from blackouts and brownouts?

My own computer is a couple of years old and probably is typical of most home computers. The specifications indicate that the machine uses two hundred watts of electrical power while it is operating. The monitor nameplate information says that it also uses about two hundred watts. This is a total of 400 watts or about what it takes to light four, one hundred watt electric light bulbs. This is equal to about 10 kilowatt-hours per day.

Southern California Edison currently charges me about twelve cents per kilowatt-hour. So it would cost me about five cents per hour or $1.20 per day if I operated my computer and monitor continuously. But most modern computers "go to sleep" when not in use, so the real cost is much less than this.

If I only use my computer four hours per day and let it sleep the rest of the time, my cost is closer to seventy cents per day and I use less than six kilowatt-hours of electricity. I'm sure the Governor would be happy to let my computer sleep.

For those older computers that don't have "sleep modes," turning them off when finished with their use saves both money and electricity. Four hours a day of operation would cost around twenty cents and would only use about two kilowatt-hours. The Governor would even be happier.

To put this all in perspective, a typical swimming pool motor running eight hours per day would cost about $1.10 per day to operate.

But what if we are using our computers and experience a blackout? The computer would shut down and we would lose anything that we were doing that had not been saved.

Would anything bad happen to our computers? Not likely. We shouldn't experience any power spikes either when the power goes off or comes back on. The Edison system is pretty good and unless you have your computer inside a factory that uses a lot of large electric motors, no problems should be encountered.

However, what if you are writing the "great American novel," and don't want to lose that last page or paragraph? You could purchase a UPS, or uninterruptible power supply. These devices sound an alarm when power fails and gives us about an hour to finish our work and shut down the computer. Some even automatically shut down the computer even if we're not there to hear the alarm.

American Power Conversion Company, or APC, builds a line of good power supplies. Visit their web site at or see the devices at MicroCenter. They are a little expensive but offer good protection.

So far I haven't heard anything about "brownouts." These are a little more complicated and entail lowering the electric voltage so that light bulbs and similar things use less energy. Unfortunately, electric motors like those in refrigerators don't like this one bit. I'm really not sure how they affect computers but assume that at some point the computer just shuts down without any damage. Because of these undesirable side affects, Edison seems to be using blackouts instead. Not desirable either, but not damaging.

To discuss conservation, blackouts or other computer problems, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center any Friday morning from 9 a.m. until around noon. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

Also, a reminder, a new series of computer classes starts the first week of February. Visit the Senior Center for details and to sign up.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, the synapses snapping and enjoy computing.


Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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