You make many good points about the harm done by the "lead out of solder" laws. Your column seems to assume that the environmentalists who fight for these laws are open to reason and are guided by concern for humanity, but they are not. They want to protect the earth from man, not for man.
Reading your column, I wondered what to change in order not to play into the hands of the environmentalists. That isn't an easy task. But if we care about human happiness on earth, then we must take the moral high ground from under the environmentalists who value rats more than humans. To not do so is deadly, as those firefighters learned too late.
Author's reply: Thanks for the news item you provided. It was a compelling story of how we loose sight of our true goals and objectives in the face of ill-conceived legislation. There's an excellent book titled The Death of Common Sense, by Philip K. Howard. In it, he examines how law written with good intentions prohibits us from acting responsibly and with reason. He wrote numerous stories, including some related to lead in paint.
I have been very frustrated with the current activity in the lead-free efforts, but know that I'm not alone. Fortunately, because of my work, I won't be sanctioned by my company, as are many who might wish to express themselves.
It's a sad day when the truth and reason are set aside, and decisions are made without the benefit of scientific analysis as to the real impact. Laws in general are necessary, but bad laws must be challenged. Trying to find balance will forever be a challenge with so many competing agendas. But as your story points out, common sense will generally provide a path to a "golden mean" if we allow it.
Pacific Consultants LLC
I'm still using a 200-MHz computer at home, although friends and coworkers have upgraded to the new technology. My vehicles are eight years old, and I don't have digital TV or a DVD player (yes, I have seen them playing movies and they're very nice). I have found that the prior art technology serves me quite well, and I'm no longer pulled in by the new bells and whistles. In fact, I recently purchased a slide rule to brush up and explore the "ancient technology." This philosophy not only saves me money, but my electronic items continue to function well for my needs. (Of course, I understand that I may be forced to upgrade items if something slips into "obsolescence" or discontinues to function, and the repair is impossible or costly.)
But I have one long-standing vice—my passion for reading vintage science fiction books ('30s to '50s) and current books on astronomy and related sciences. So, I haven't completely curbed spending on all material items, except that I buy the vintage science fiction books at used book stores, and I sure get more for my money.
I too raise my hand as an upgrade junkie \["Raise Your Hand If You Are An Upgrade Junkie"\]. However, I disagree with your statement, "But do we really need the additional features or performance? In many cases, the answer is a resounding yes!" My answer is "yes" in only some cases. Those cases are where your current project exceeds your capacity/capability, especially in today's climate of shrinking budgets. Once you determine that your project exceeds your current capacity, which can be very subjective, the upgrade should be judged by money, availability, and future criteria.
At home, I only upgrade my PC when the game I just purchased won't run on my current machine. Then, I can justify purchasing a 1-GHz dual-processor system with RAID hard drives, 40-Gbyte (compressed) tape backup, 250-Mbyte ZIP, Soundblaster Live! platinum, DVD-RAM, CD-R/W, surroundsound speakers, etc. The justification is that I should be able to run any software there is for at least 10 years—probably longer. By using this method of computer upgrades, I usually skip two or three generations of hardware every time I purchase a new computer. Each computer purchase runs about $2500.
At work, this means convincing my boss that by spending the extra money for a device that exceeds the current requirements, as well as the bells and whistles that everyone won't need, future expenditures can be avoided. I have been successful, mostly because my organization has a large enough "corporate knowledge" to reasonably predict what kinds of projects will still be working in the next two fiscal years. This allows me to influence the budget process for the first fiscal year and provide enough money to purchase equipment to cover both fiscal years.