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”!

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