Posts tagged ‘free geek’

What else has been keeping me busy. Part 3!

Somewhere, in amongst all this, I’ve been volunteering at Free Geek.

And, it must be said, having a fabulous time.

I spent last Thursday dismantling the computers that are being scrapped. Open the case, remove the power supply, remove the motherboard, remove the RAM, the battery, the processor and heatsink. Put it all in separate piles, grab the next machine off the rack and repeat.

Does that sound boring? Oh no – it’s great… every machine is different – some of them are 15 year old pre-ATX machines, some maybe as new as 5 years old. Every machine is put together differently, different challenges to getting the parts out. The more modern machines were interesting because of the economy of construction and, for the business oriented models, the mechanisms inside them designed to make it easier to change components. The older ones were equally fascinating… plenty of times I stopped to admire an ancient component and thought “wow – I used to have one of these” (and in many cases still do!).

I’ve been fiddling around inside PCs for almost 15 years now so I could pretty much do this with my eyes closed. I’ve also got several years experience with Ubuntu – Free Geek’s operating system of choice. So, with a bit of training, I’m someone they could easily use anywhere in the process.

Their volunteer co-ordinator said something about “fast tracking” me through the system which sounds great… give me a day or so in each position and then maybe find something challenging for me to do there. But first I need to spend time doing each of the jobs so I know how it all works.

I went back on Saturday and spent half the day at “eval 1”. This position is responsible for the initial assessment of the incoming machines. Open them up, remove memory, hard drives, addon cards, optical drives, vacuum them out and then decide if the machine is up-to-spec for re-use. If it is, it goes to “eval 2” where it’s tested to see if it actually works. If not it goes to dismantling.

Underneath the eval1 desk there’s a big plastic bin into which you drop all the removed cards – a fair mix of graphics cards, sound cards, network cards etc. This bin had reached overflowing so I offered to ‘deal with it’. Dealing with it involved sorting the cards… graphics cards in one pile, network cards in another, modem cards, sound cards etc. And then they’re very fussy about which cards of each type they can reuse. For example the Ubuntu install is done over the network so if you’re keeping a network card it has to be network bootable. Most motherboards already have sound built-in so if you’re keeping a sound card it better be a good one. And graphics cards… that’s where it gets really complicated. They have a very clever flow-chart to help non-technical people identify what to keep and what to bin but I’d seen all this stuff before so could whizz through the bin pretty quickly. Then back to eval1 to help out. Another great day.

I’m back there again tomorrow… officially a “floater” which might just mean I get to stand-in for someone who doesn’t show or (hopefully) it might mean I get to do a couple of different jobs.

Can you tell I’m enjoying this? *LOL*

24th September 2008 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

Free Geek

So it took rather longer than anticipated but I finally got to pay a visit to Free Geek Vancouver at the weekend for my introductory volunteer training session (and also to donate a trunk full of unwanted hardware of my own).

First impressions? Besides the rather unsavory neighbourhood (two blocks North of Hastings, just East of the docks). Bigger than I expected… a 60’x30′ receiving area stacked to the 12 foot high ceilings with cases and PCs, one person disassembling incoming PCs and cleaning them, another person testing the components and a third person disassembling the junk to be sent off for recycling. Then upstairs a 30’x10′ office that looks kinda like my study on a tidy day – components and part-built PCs everywhere! Four people in there building customer PCs and loading them up with Ubuntu (and presumably OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird).

They also have a little thrift store where they sell surplus components – if you want a 3GHz Athlon Thunderbird or 256MB of PC133 memory this is the place to go!

Amongst all the cookie-cutter PCs that people donate to them, there’s also a lot of historical gems… in the hour I was there I spotted a Commodore Pet 2001 (Qwerty keyboard, not the original chiclet keyboard), TRS-80 portable, Apple IIe, an original Macintosh and, something I didn’t even know existed, an extremely late model 8000series Commodore Pet looking remarkably like this.

One thing I hadn’t realized about their business model: the majority of their output goes to non-profit organizations who fill in a hardware grant request and get whatever they want built for free. The rest goes for free or ultra-cheap to individuals who want to get online but can’t afford a new computer. As far as actual revenue to pay the rent, I think the majority of it comes from scrap sold for recycling and money from the thrift store.

I think I can be quite useful there – 15 years experience dismantling and rebuilding PCs for fun and 5 years experience in Linux. Now I’m ‘trained’ I can’t wait to get back there for a proper day’s “work”!

4th September 2008 at 1:49 am Leave a comment

Building computers for other people

I was at the Vancouver Folk Music Festival at the weekend and ran across a stall for Free Geek.

They’re a volunteer organization that takes people’s unwanted old computers, strips them down, ethically recycles the unusable parts, takes the reusable parts and builds them into fresh computers. Then loads Ubuntu onto them and sells them dirt cheap or gives them away to people who need access to a computer but can’t afford one.

Sounds like a damn fine organization to me. And, given that this is the sort of thing I do for myself all the time, it sounds like somewhere I should be able to do some useful volunteer work.

If the planets align, I’ll go down there next Wednesday and see what it’s all about.

22nd July 2008 at 11:39 pm Leave a comment


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