Digital Divide: Taking Stock

February 18, 2009

This past Monday we took our first concrete steps towards our first workshop. Six people came together to deal with half a living room of computer parts. We took apart the computers, sorted and labeled the parts, set up a test machine and sneezed a lot thanks to all the dust!

We also took the initiative to do some organizational work, starting with a new email account. You can reach our group at digitaldivide.tlh@gmail.com

We are keeping close tabs on our inventory, so table_of_partswe can also give some of our initial numbers in regards to donations:

  • 8x Power Supplies and cases
  • 16x Sticks of RAM (average of 256MB)
  • 10x Video cards
  • 16x Ethernet/Modem cards
  • 10x Hard Drives (average of 40GB)
  • 9x Motherboards (7x with processors)

With our initial goal of 5 computers for 5 children we have way more than enough parts to build them suitable machines! We will be having another meeting next week to test parts and prepare for our event on the 28th!

boxen

A big thanks to Rob, Nathan, Ana, Michelle and Raymond for coming out and working hard! I know a few people could not make it because of class so we look forward to seeing you guys next week!

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Digital Divide: first steps

February 4, 2009

My idea for the Digital Divide project has taken root, and the first steps are laid out for us. Recently I spoke with Aurora Hansen from the Palmer Munroe Community Center and we have set a date for our first workshop and computer giveaway! On February 21st from 1-5pm we will be teaching 5 kids how to build and use their new computers. We are starting with 5 as a sort of test run. It should be a suitably small number to manage, since this will be the first time for most of us teaching kids, and it will be the first time for many of us doing this sort of project.

Sitting in my living room are 8 computers in various states of being. Some have all their parts and will work right now, others have more parts than they should and others still are missing pieces. We will meet up a day or two in advance and test components and select the hardware. We will also want to choose and test a good linux distribution as well as find some good educational and fun content to install. If there is one thing I’ve learned from all the student activities I’ve done it’s that preperation makes for a successful event.

This event will give the cause a solid foundation. How it turns out will determine where we can take this project. The experience we gain will let us know if we want to broaden our focus or scale up our efforts. The more help we have the smoother this event will go, and the smoother it goes the more we can do. I envision that success on February 21st could mean publicity which could mean a large increase in donations. The management of this hardware, as well as proactively seeking out donations and support will become essential to our growth. Already I am running out of space for the donations I have collected from personal connections, so the next step might be to obtain a charitable donation of space.

Like with all ideas, this project is what we make of it. I am really excited about all of the positive feedback I have recieved from friends, family, co-workers and community members. I’m looking forward to the 21st to turn this idea into reality!

For those that don’t know, the term Digital Divide describes the gap in skills between those with access to computers and digital technology and those without. I propose a way to build a bridge. The great thing about computers for the last decade is that they are mostly modular and they keep getting cheaper. Computers have gotten so cheap that there are completely usable machines out there that you just can’t sell because they are over 2 years old.

That’s where we come in. I personally have 2 desktop towers and a laptop that I don’t use because they are much slower than the computer I do use. They just sit in my closet collecting dust, even though all the parts work, and they would be perfectly suitable for a large amount of common computing tasks such as web browsing, emailing and word processing. All they really need is a sponge bath, a fresh install of a light-weight linux operating system and a little bit of loving and they would be ready for a new home. I know I am not the only one with computers like this, and even more so, many people have older windows computers that they think are broken because of all the spyware and viruses, but will be good as new after a cleansing format and fresh install of linux. For those computers that are really broken, there is a good chance that only one or two essential components are unusable, but the rest of the pieces are in perfect working order. From these we can create frankenstien machines that are stronger, better, faster… (queue your choice of daft punk or kanye west)

And this is where the real fun comes in. I’m not just talking about assembling a couple nerds like myself to process and distribute these computers, but starting a workshop for the very kids at the bottom of the digital divide. For those of us who grew up upgrading our video card for the latest video game, and putting in more RAM or installing that internal burner so we could share our pirated music, pulling apart and putting together a computer is no sweat. That means we should have no problem showing a few kids how to do the same. Then we give them an Ubuntu live cd and watch as they learn.

I know personally several people with the technical skills and the heart to support this effort, in the beginning we need not be too ambitious. As long as we can put a few keyboards infront of the hands of a few kids who wouldn’t have had the chance, we will have made a difference. I think there are several places this could take place, either at a local community center, or even on Campus. If we find ourselves getting more donations, we should be able to recruit more volunteers from the IT department at FSU. If we can start a sort of organization, perhaps we could raise a few funds from technology companies like Comcast that we could use to shop at the FSU Surplus Auctions for spare parts and extra monitors. We can also take this opportunity to responsibly recycle waste materials, which is not hard to do, but most people don’t know how.

So if you have an old or broken computer, let me know. If you want to help put together computers and teach some kids at the same time, let me know. If you want to help tweak a custom linux distribution and pack it with fun and educational software, let me know. If there is anything I didn’t think of, let me know!

Even if we are just throwing a few rocks into the river, lets start building this bridge!