29 October 2006

All Hands On Deck

I used to volunteer regularly for various organizations. Central Park L.I.V.E., Queens Library, Amiga computer club, etc., but since being married with one Kid, plus longer hours at work and a longer commute, I no longer have time to commit time every week for volunteering work. So when that there was a one-shot volunteering opportunity with ON DEC (Our Neighborhood Digital Education Community), I jumped at the chance. The work was needed over just one weekend, either both days or one day out of the two. The ON DEC program involves a big financial firm donating money for the purchase of Gateway Windoze PCs to give away to students at the target school, with training for the parents to use email (via Yahoo! and MetConnect free ISP). I signed on as an installer and was accompanied by an assistant installer, a teacher at the school. Together we visited the homes of four students, all in the same apartment building. It was an interesting experience, somewhat a glimpse into the lives of people I would otherwise may not know. Two of the families were Hindus and were related. At one of the apartments, there was a small bed in the living room. The arrangement reminded me of my own family shortly after we first came to America. Six people in a two-bedroom apartment, naturally the living room also served as the bedroom for us four kids. To be qualified for the program, the student must have no existing computers in the household, but at one of the family we visited, they already had TWO computers, one heavily modded desktop and a laptop elsewhere - I knew about the laptop because the Linksys router had a long Ethernet cable running off to somewhere else in the apartment. I was supposed to hook up their RJ-11 phone cable to a nearby phone jack, but at that apartment, there was no way to do so. It would be silly to do it, even if it was possible, because they already had broadband Internet access via cable modem. The PeeCee already had a built-in network port, so I sent one of the student's sister out to buy an Ethernet cable and just joined the new PeeCee to the existing network. In another apartment, the family only used cell phone and had no land line so we couldn't do anything about the Internet setup. Supposedly the mother would order phone service from Sprint (!). She probably has Sprint as her cell phone provider so she thought it would provide land line service, too. In that same apartment, the computer at first wouldn't boot up but beeped incessantly, with no video output. We called our tech guru and were told to re-seat the memory module. I asked for a screw driver to open the CPU case, but the family didn't even have that. My partner went next door to borrow one, but by the time she came back I managed to use a quarter coin to open the two large screws. I moved the memory module to another slot and at the next bootup, all was well.

I enjoyed the experience. I usually volunteer for works that involve learning something new, but in this case, my computer expertise was helpful, so I made an exception for that. It was good to be welcomed into the students' homes, some more welcoming than others. With almost everything being done on computers, hopefully these student will make the most of the free computers to keep up with technology.

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