Jan 31, 2015

This Was Girl's Week for PC Donations

Four computers went out to local recipients this week, three of which are shown below. The common denominator were that each family had one or more school age girls who can take advantage of these PCs to do schoolwork and develop skills required in today's world.

Family in San Rafael Norte

Cousins of the kids above

Kassandra lives in our village of Matasanos

Kassandra received the penultimate laptop, just one left to donate now. In fact, we're at a standstill repairing more PCs until parts arrive and we find more monitors.

Jan 30, 2015

Two Happy Boys with the New-to-Them Computer

These brothers live in my neighborhood. Ketal is on the left, Yonatan on the right. They live in a very small house and just 20 feet away are the family hogs, around 20 of them, which are both a food and income source. They are happy campers with their new desktop PC that was donated from Jeffrey Alami up north in the Valle Central.

Two Costa Rican kids get their first PC
Ketal and Yonaton in front of their first PC
Their dad heard about our charity and decided that 20 thousand colones (about $38) was not too much to get the family their first ever PC. Actually, we give away the desktop machines, but charge 20 mil colones for the monitors when we have them. That goes for laptops now too as they come with a built-in monitor. Plus, they are the style most desired and they take the most work to get going again, if they can be saved.

Asking the families for a contribution is a great way for us to partially self-fund our need for more monitors and parts to keep fixing up the old machines.It's not quite enough to purchase a used monitor, however, which is why we run campaigns like the current one on Kapipal seeking outside donations as well.

Often, a fellow expat gringo will chip in the modest price for the monitor for a local Tico family they know whose kids need a computer for schoolwork or just exploration and, of course, games.I add those to the campaign as offline donations.

We are out of monitors now and laptops, so it's time for me to start in earnest to look for used ones in our area. Right now, we have enough in the kitty to purchase maybe 5 or 6 if we are lucky, but we'll still need more as there are about 12 machines ready, near-ready or waiting for parts in the stock that's currently left. Of course, the families are free to purchase a monitor on their own and that happens sometimes.

If you are a local reader, please keep your eyes out for flatscreen or the older CRT monitors that work well still. I'll take ones that show lines in the display but I won't pay for those as they need work. If they are dirty or missing cables, that's OK. My maximum budget for each monitor is $50 each or less. Thanks!

Jan 28, 2015

What I've Learned So Far Fixing Old PCs

I have been tinkering with PCs since the first Sinclair ZX81 came out around 1980. I even bought a 16 KB memory expansion unit and a tiny thermal printer. It was soon calculating prime numbers and I was constantly tuning that small program to make it faster at doing so.

Eight years later, I had a Masters in Computer Science and was off and running in a very hot job market for software and hardware engineers. Though I concentrated in software, I never lost my zest for monkeying around with personal computers. I don't think I ever bought a new one. I always favored being a few years down the depreciation curve, which for PCs is about as steep as the face of El Capitan.

Still, it was just a small, part-time hobby, nothing like the marathon of 40 or so desktop and laptop machines I have been going through since November. Besides a basket load of technical details I've acquired poring over and repairing these machines, here are a few general observations I'd like to share:
  • Far and away, the most common problems with these machines are the hard drive, the memory and the power supply, in that order. The CPU is indestructible. I have yet to replace a CPU in any of these recent machines.
  • There's a high correlation between laptops that can't be repaired and a high quantity of food crumbs and other human detritus in the keyboard. :)
  • I should take pictures, because you really cannot believe how much dust and carpet fiber builds up inside these boxes until you've seen it yourself. I've found CPU heat sinks that were covered with a 1/8" mat of dust. Zero airflow. It's a wonder they didn't catch on fire.
  • HP makes some nice machines, but Dell desktops and laptops are far and away the easiest to service. They really think about their design and how things are put together that make them easy to disassemble and reassemble. HP computers use a lot of non-standard parts, layouts, screws, etc. and these designs differ year by year.
  • Most of the machines I've received still have Windows XP on them and man are they slow and clunky. I replace the OS with some version of a light Linux and they fly again.
  • Linux is also far easier and faster to install than any Windows version. The Windows updates will kill you.
The final two things I've learned during this process so far are 1) how absolutely generous people can be in helping me out with donations, finding good recipients and offering heaps of moral support and 2) how gratifying it is to know we are doing some good whenever I donate a machine.

I feel the wind is at my back and that, combined with my love of tinkering with these machines, makes for a very satisfying period in my life. Thanks to everyone who helps make it all happen!

Jan 21, 2015

A Couple More PC Donations with Pictures of Smiling Faces

Costa Rica PC Rescue relies mainly on personal referrals from people we know well and who understand the mission, to bring a PC into the home of Tico families who have never had the advantage of a home computer. Here are a couple of photos of recent recipients.

Josue and Roy Esteban are cousins who were referred to us from our very good friend and neighbor, Luis Valverde. They are both in colegio equivalent to U.S. Jr./Sr. high school. They will find these laptops very useful to help them excel at their homework assignments and exams.

Melody was referred to us by another good friend, George Tracy, who we have known several years. When I told him about CRPCR, she came immediately to mind as someone who would benefit from a PC but whose family could scarcely afford one. Melody is the top student in her class in Buenos Aires, so we know it will be well utilized. She plans to share it among 3 other girls in her class.

I always ask third parties who help us distribute computers to share a photo of the receipient, but of course they forget sometimes or the handoff doesn't happen right away. But, I'm very grateful for the pictures we get. Since November, we have donated about 10 computers and have open requests for a few more that I'll fulfill this weekend.

Jan 17, 2015

A Local Tico Family Receives Their First Ever PC with Monitor

My wife and I just returned from donating another Costa Rica PC Rescue refurbished computer to a local family. Marta is the mother and Lelo (sic?) is the youngest of three boys in the family. They have never had a PC in the house before. I encountered Lelo while we were picking up organic veggies at a nearby farm. He just hangs out there sometimes. 

I asked him if they had a PC in their house and when he answered in the negative I found out where he lived and talked to his mom and left my number. I told her the computer and accessories are free, but since monitors are scarce I would have to charge her the lowest price for a used monitor so that I can acquire more for other families. That cost is 20 mil colones or about $37. She called a few days later to tell me they were ready.

This one is a nice looking Dell Dimension 5150 with a P4 3GHz CPU and a new hard drive, running Lubuntu. We set it up and I gave Lelo a quick tour of the OS and software, especially the games. He'll now have something to keep his growing mind active.

Lelo is in 5th grade and says there are no PCs at his school, a situation I hope to remedy when summer break is over. His next older brother will also be able to use it for his final year at high school.

Jan 15, 2015

Please Help Fund Our Monitor Drive by Buying This Great Computer

This desktop unit is the highest performance machine we have uncovered so far in our stock of used computers for donation. We want to sell this unit for funds to buy more flatscreen monitors for other units that we are donating.

HP desktop with triple-core processor for sale
100% of sales price goes to fund CRPCR

This is an HP Pavilion a6430f and meets all the original machine specs, which you can view here: http://h20564.www2.hp.com/hpsc/doc/public/display?docId=emr_na-c01409070 The only difference is that the original Vista OS is replaced with a clean install of Windows 7.

The price is $125 with keyboard/mouse, but without a monitor. It has a triple-core AMD processor with performance equal to the fastest Intel Core2Duo CPU, 3 GB of DDR2 memory, a 640 GB HD. It has been thoroughly cleaned, insptected, tested and is in excellent working order. All funds go to help Costa Rica PC Rescue provide free computers to struggling Tico families.