Today’s Oakland Tribune has two good articles on computer reuse.
One of the articles describes how Oakland Technology Exchange-West, or OTX, has supplied over 5,000 computers to families who would have otherwise found it very difficult to afford a computer. While much of the benefit to these families is financial, I suspect that a first computer purchase is also very intimidating. I can easily imagine a first time buyer being worried about whether they were getting something their family could really use. Even if they could afford the purchase, they might be afraid that they would be overpaying with money that could have been better spent on other things. By OTX giving these families computers, a lot of that intimidation is removed.
The other article talks about the benefits of reuse over recycling. While there is a big push to recycle computer parts (although surprisingly not so much at Apple, at least according to people interviewed for the article), recycling items that contain heavy metals is very expensive. If at all possible, reuse is the better choice. Of course, there will always be some equipment that is either unrepairable or just so out of date that recycling is the only option to the landfill.
While the printed version of the Tribune contains a useful listing of Qualified Bay Area Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers, I couldn’t find the same listing online. That’s too bad, because it would be a great resource. Below are a few of the places that were listed. I tried to pick a few from each area.
- Alameda Unified School District – 2130 Clement Street, Alameda – (510) 337-2442
- Oakland Technology Exchange-West – 1680 14th St., Oakland – (510) 893-4822
- PC Community – 419 61st St., Oakland – (510) 652-1726
- Western Addition Beacon Center – 1430 Scott St. No. 8, San Francisco – (415) 749-2714
- Indigenous Society – 940 Sutter St., Suite 216, San Francisco – (415) 726-1926
- Resource Area for Teachers – 1355 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose – (408) 451-1420
- Street Tech – 2300 El Portal Drive, Suites F&G, San Pablo – (510) 234-1300 x1
- Silicon Vallet StRUT – 3000 Mission College Blvd, Santa Clara – (408) 316-0746
- Computer Recycling Center – 525 Los Coches St, Milpitas – (209) 992-6207
- Industrial Surplus Foundation – 7059-C Commerce Circle, Pleasanton – (925) 463-1430
A few years ago I was talking about computer use in schools with a friend of mine who teaches at a public elementary school in Oakland. I asked him about what type of software or hardware donations Oakland schools might need. He said that while material donations are always appreciated, that really wasn’t their biggest need. Even at a poorly funded school in Oakland, he said they actually had more computer tools than they could use. The problem was that the teachers didn’t know how to effectively use what little they already had.
He said that most donations were provided with no accompanying training or support. If they received a scanner and it “just worked”, that was great. If it wasn’t really plug and play, though, then it was no more useful than the box it came in. His school didn’t have anyone with the time or expertise to figure out how to get a lot of the donated equipment to work. As a result, they ended up feeling bad about having a big pile of stuff that either didn’t work at all or that they couldn’t figure out how to use properly.
So, if you’re in the computer business and you’re looking for a way to help out, even better than donating equipment is donating your time and expertise. My friend said that in addition to training or support, many schools could use advice on what hardware and software they should buy. While some schools are lucky enough to have a few teachers who keep up to date on computer product reviews, a lot of schools don’t have anyone with enough free time to do that. He said that at a lot of schools they would even appreciate just getting a second opinion on a planned purchase.
Michael M., if you happen to read this, I would love to hear your opinion on how computer geeks like myself could most help out schools.