Frequently Asked Questions

What prompted you to start Costa Rica PC Rescue?

The main goals of the project are to:
  1. Take discarded machines out of the local waste stream. Most recycling and garbage haulers cannot effectively deal with PCs because of the variety of plastics and metals they contain.
  2. Get working machines into the hands of economically challenged families who do not have or never had a home PC. Many rural Costa Ricans have limited exposure to the Internet or software programs that can help their kids with schoolwork, computer literacy and global interaction. Many of the rural elementary schools have few, if any, working computers that students can use.
  3. Satisfy both my geeky and frugal tendencies. :) I derive satisfaction restoring these machines to good order at minimum cost and donating them where they are needed most.

What can I do to help?

Monetary donations to one of the fundraising campaigns may be the easiest way for you to help at any time, but it's certainly not the only assistance that is valuable.
  • If you are an expat living in Costa Rica, please consider donating your old PC, laptop or other parts to Costa Rica PC Rescue rather than throwing them out. We can arrange to meet in San Isidro de El General or, if available, consider using encomiendas (bus parcel service) to send machines or parts to our area of the country.
  • If you are local and making a Stateside run or just coming to visit Costa Rica, consider "muling" in spare parts. These could be used parts that you already have or new parts such as motherboards or power supplies that are more difficult and expensive to ship in. If you have some suitcase room, contact me and I can order parts sent to your home before you depart for Costa Rica.
  • If you can offer technical help, I welcome it. I am not an electronics expert, just a hobbyist, and sometimes the problems with these machines stump me. For instance, I don't have the proper skills to diagnose motherboard problems, so when I narrow it down to that component, I usually discard them. I do have meters and a scope, but need help knowing how to apply them.
  • If you reside in the U.S. or Canada, look out for quantity deals for working machines. Typically, used computers, such as those that come off-lease, are less than half the price you'd pay here. I may be able to run a short fundraiser to pay for the machines or at least the shipping. We have a good deal with a broker who can ship small loads such as this from FL to Costa Rica at a rock-bottom rate.
  • Please share information about Costa Rica PC Rescue with friends and your extended social networks. Talk to me if you would like to put together a short presentation about what we do, how we do it and what we need to keep placing PCs with needy Tico families.

What kinds of parts can you use?

You name it, we probably need it. Here's a partial list:

Higher Priority -

  • DDR, DDR2, DDR3 memory sticks
  • Hard drives as small as 20GB and in either 3.5" or 2.5" format
  • CD/DVD drives, USB flash drives
  • Video, sound, USB and network cards in PCI or PCI-E format
  • Keyboards and mice
  • Power supplies and case fans
  • Motherboards, CPUs, heatsinks, CPU fans
  • Monitors - yes, I know, that's a tough one, which is why we've only received one

 Lower Priority -

  • 3-pronged female power cords
  • Video/monitor cables
  • WiFi modems or network hubs

Should I be concerned about security with my donated PC?

Most PCs with working hard drives that are donated, probably have personal data on the drive. I have zero interest in that data and one of the first things I do when assembling a machine is to use a "wiper" program such as DBAN that overwrites any data several times such that it cannot be recovered. If a hard drive is not operable, then I dismantle it and destroy the magnetic platter(s) to ensure they cannot be read. Some people prefer to retain their hard drives so that they can use them in a new machine or so that they can personally oversee wiping the data or disposing of the drive.

How much of my monetary donation goes to your overhead costs?

Zero percent. I donate all my time without compensation. Donations that come through Paypal do incur a service fee of about 3%, but I make up for that out of my own pocket so that 100% of donors' money goes to work restoring and donating PCs. I don't reimburse myself for tools, materials, parts on hand, fuel, etc. That's how it's been since I started this program 6 years ago and I don't see that ever changing.

Since I only recently began fundraising, there was no need to keep records of costs, but now that I am using other people's generously donated funds, I will begin keeping tallies of what's coming in and going out and I'll post those on this blog site.

How do you determine who receives a computer?

Who receives, or rather who deserves a donated computer is not an easy thing to determine yet. As we grow, I'm going to develop more stringent qualification standards, but for now the qualifications are perceived need and personal references.

I have come to know and trust several Ticos during our time here and I usually ask them who they know that needs a PC when one is available. The family has to have children who can use the computer, not have another computer in the home and must agree not to sell it. The latter is impossible to enforce of course, but so far it's worked out. One thing I often do is to make sure they first purchase a keyboard, mouse and monitor (which I often don't have) before I give them the PC,which demonstrates some level of motivation on their part.

Can the people who receive these PCs afford Internet access?

Good question. In Costa Rica, Internet access is still hit and miss outside of the Central Valley where half the country's population live. Fortunately, most people are now beyond having to put up with only dial-up connections, and the cellular network is growing rapidly. Unlike in the U.S., it's easy to acquire Internet access without having to pay for a bundle that includes phone and TV.

With a cell phone as a modem or a USB modem dongle, a prepaid SIM account can be bought for only 1,000 Colones, which is less than $2. Carriers offer tiered Internet service that vary by the amount of data one can download and the maximum download speed available. Access is purchased 24 hours at a time. The cheapest of these is just 100 colones for 60MB of data and 1Mbit speed. That's less than 20 cents U.S.

So, access is not a real burden, but purchasing a modem could be unless someone has a cell phone and modem software in the family. I do not think it is out of the scope of Costa Rica PC Rescue to start a program that offers USB modem dongles, but it's not on the drawing board yet.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Casey, I used to volunteer at a PC recycling place in Nor Cal that did pretty much the same thing you are doing. They quit when it really became uneconomical.
    One thing you might check into is finding a local computer store, and see if anybody there might be interested in volunteering to help you, or if they will offer to check out iffy mother boards for free. Here, its probably not the MB, but the power supply that gets fried by a power surge in a T-storm. PSs are easier to replace than a MB.
    Good luck. Dana

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    Replies
    1. Hi Dana,

      Most (like 99.9%) of people have no real surge protection and lightning is everywhere in the rainy season, so yeah, that's usually the problem, though I find the MB gets whacked as often as the PS.

      What I'd really like is to find a tech who can show me how to troubleshoot an MB properly. My method is one of elimination. If everything else checks out, then it must be the MB! I have some electronics experience, but I don't know how to pinpoint a problem on the MB (unless it's obvious) or even if it's worthwhile to repair it.

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