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APCUG Reports
July-September 2007

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Community Service and Jerry Award 2007
Don Singleton, APCUG President

When the Tulsa Computer Society was at its largest, in the late 90s, we had about 30 Special Interest Groups (SIGs). One of them was a Computer Refurbishing SIG, and while we had several people that would drop by to help from time to time, there were three main people involved: Gary Ludwig, Jim Erwin, and myself. Gary came up with a fantastic idea called the Master CD. It was one CD with the necessary software on it to install eight different variations on operating systems:

Yes I know those are very old, but this was something in the mid to late 90s, not yesterday. At that time it was a big deal, because we were still getting 8086 and 80286 systems in that needed DOS, and most of the machines either needed Win 3.1 or Win 95. Win 98 was the "new" system at the time. And Gary's invention meant that regardless of what level machine we were working on, there was one CD that would handle all of them.

There was no room on the CD for anything else, so we had a separate CD with public domain or shareware application software (word processors, games, utilities, bibles, etc.) The CDs were continually getting scratched, and we had to make new ones from the master set, so I came up with the idea of putting the Master CD and my application CD on a 2 Gig hard drive that we could temporarilly cable up to the machine we were working on. Then Jim discovered Ghost that we could use to install images of various configurations of OS/application software to machines, and we had a second hard drive with Ghost and its images (we tried a couple of similar programs, but preferred Ghost the best). So now we had two different hard drives. One we would use to customize a machine, and another to install copies of a configuration on multiple identical or similar machines. I then came up with the idea of using Partition Magic to allow me to have both capabilities on the same hard drive (we called that machine the Image Machine.)

For several years the three of us worked together. One of us would come up with an idea to improve what we were doing, and then another of us would come up with a way to improve even further on it, and after several years of doing that we really had a good way of refurbishing computers. We shared our ideas with other computer refurbishing projects, including one run by a Chicasaw Indian tribe in Ada, Oklahoma. One day I got a call from Larry Yost in Nebraska. He had heard from the Indians in Ada that we refurbished computers. His computer had broken, and he wanted to know if we could give him a replacement. I told him we could not ship computers but that if he could find someone here to ship it to him we might be able to help him out. However, if he wanted to learn how to refurbish computers, and if he could come down to Tulsa, we would show him how to do it and give him the tools (an Image Machine) to do it with. He took me up on the offer and came down two or three times, picking up more Image Machines each time, and he even persuaded me to come up there for a month -- something I had never done before (or since), because I am disabled and it is very hard for me to travel. But he was able to get a refurbishing project going in Superior, Nebraska.

When I was in Superior helping to train their people, I saw how they had workers from several of the small rural towns around Superior. They told me that when it snowed it might be a week or more before people in those areas could make it into Superior, so they wanted every volunteer to have his/her own Image Machine, so they could work on refurbishing when snowed in at home. The problem was the Image machine required an 8 Gig drive at the time, and we did not have enough to make one for each volunteer. It took me a couple of days thinking how to do it, but I came up with a way to do most of what they really needed done on a 2 to 4 Gig drive. When I got back to Tulsa I found that the volunteer I had left in charge while I was gone had donated out all of the machines we had in my garage, and he found a donor that had a bunch of machines, but they wanted them refurbished and given back to them. So rather than bring all of them to my house he took an Image machine to their building and worked on things there. There were a few things he found he needed, like drivers (since his work area did not include access to the internet). So when I got back to Tulsa I combined what I had done in Nebraska, with the things Lee needed but did not have, and came up with a new machine which we call the Road Warrior. It contains a search tool for drivers, a copy of our procedures manual (which is online, but if you don't have a connection to the net you can't get to it), and a few other things, like the ability to make any of the floppy disks we use.

If we can come up with this many improvements to the procedures just by having Gary, Jim, Larry, Lee, and Don working together, just think what we can do if we get all of the great minds in all of our User Groups working together.

In the Jerry Award 2004 contest, I instituted the HOW category, in which a community service project would be judged not just on WHAT they did, and how well they described WHAT they did, but also on HOW they did what they did, and on how well they described HOW they did it. We had an Ongoing Projects category and a New Projects category, just like we always did, but each had prizes awarded not just for WHAT they did, but also prizes for HOW they did it.

Different people were responsible for the 2005 and 2006 contests, and they maintained HOW, but for some reason, they made it a separate category, and they had three: Ongoing Projects, New Projects, and How.

There are some very good community service projects operated by User Groups, and when you read what they are doing you might think "I wish we could do something like that here." But most of the time that thought is going to be followed by "but I don't know how we would ever get something like that started; we just don't have the people to be able to put something like that together," and so you don't do it. I want to tell you that you are wrong. You do have the people that can do it, you just need a little help doing it.

As of the 2000 census, there were 2,055 people, 980 households, and 598 families residing in Superior, Nebraska, and yet the Superior Pawnee Computer Society just shipped two forty foot containers, with about 600 computers and monitors, plus a lot of books, clothing, and other material to Africa, to be used in Southern Sudan and a number of other African countries, plus they have probably provided an equal or greater number of refurbished computers all over Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

So you think your User Group is too small, or you live in an area that would not support a major community service project? Is your town smaller than 2,055 people, or is your vision just smaller than Larry's. There were not a lot of computers to be refurbished in Superior, but Larry did not let that stop him. He got computers from a hospital in Hastings, worked through the YWCA in Adams County to sponsor collection days for old computers, collected books with the help of the Evangelical Free Church in Grand Island, and eventually he had satellite refurbishing projects in several larger cities in Nebraska, including Omaha and Lincoln (the state capital). You don't have to be in a huge city to do a huge amount of good work. You just have to have a huge desire to help others.

You can go to http://comservice.apcug.org/ and see a lot of very valuable links to information about Computer Refurbishing and Community Service. One of them is http://comservice.apcug.org/jerry.htm which contains the winners of all 9 previous Jerry Award competitions, plus beginning in 2004 it contains all of the material submitted by every group that entered, whether they won or not. Our effort is to build a database with information about what is being done, and how it is being done, all over the country. I would say all over the world, except so far only groups in the USA have entered. I personally have sent Image Machines and Road Warriors to a number of other countries, and I would love to see User Groups all over the world doing community service projects.

It may seem that I use Community Service and Computer Refurbishing interchangeably. If I do, that is just because that is what the Tulsa Computer Society's community service project is focused on, and because most of the entries in the Jerry Award competition come from Computer Refurbishing projects. But we have had some entries from groups that do computer training (for seniors, or for the general public), as well as projects like “Free Wireless for Senior Center,” Cell Phone Collection Project, Scholarship Program, Computer Mentoring Program, etc. So the Jerry Award competition is open to all community service projects run by User Groups.

For the 2007 Jerry Award competition we are going back to emphasizing HOW TO. We will have categories for Ongoing Projects, Short Term Projects (that will exist for less than a year), and for New Projects. The judges will be provided with a ranking system where they will assign a certain number of points based on what a group is doing. A larger number of points will be give if their submission describes how they do what they do, in enough detail where another group can start a similar project in their city. Groups who have never won before will get a few extra points to help level the playing field with established groups who "seem to win all the time." Last year, under pressure from groups that said they did not enter because other groups always seemed to win, they set a rule that groups that won the previous year could not enter. We are not going to do that this time, but groups that have won multiple times will need to do an especially good job explaining exactly how they do what they do, in order to win this time, since groups that have never won before will have a leg up. I believe that is only fair.

If your project has been going on for many years, you probably have come up with a lot of improvements in tools and techniques, just as my group has done, and we want you to take the time to explain each of those tools and techniques, so that others can duplicate what you are doing. And as announced earlier, since I am encouraging other groups to do what we have done in terms of documenting exactly how we do what we do, my group will not be entering this competition. I will be one of the judges, and if you want to know what I will be looking for, check out http://helpingtulsa.org/howto/.

I would like to encourage your group to build a website, just as I have done, to document your procedures, and this will let you arrange them in a form to be most impressive to the judges. You need to guarantee us that the website will be maintained for at least five years. If you need space for a website, remember APCUG provides free webspace to member User Groups. If you just do not know how to build a website, and cannot find anyone in your group to do it, we will accept entries in a single Microsoft Word file (or an RTF file that can be read by MS Word). We will then do a “Save As Web Site” with the file, and the judges will be presented a list of URLs (web addresses) to judge. Once the judging has been finished, that list will then be added to http://comservice.apcug.org/jerry.htm so that next year groups will be able to see what you provided.

Please try to include every tool and technique you use in your submission, and make it easy for another group in another city to try to duplicate what you have done. Who knows, next year you may get extra points for each project in another city that has been successful at duplicating what you have done.

If you have any comments on this plan, please let me know at donsingleton@cox.net. Right now I am planning on having three or four main judges, but I also want to ask all of the submitters (if they are willing to do so), to judge everyone else's entry using the same point system that the main judges will be using. You can judge your own project if you wish, but that evaluation will not count when selecting the winners.

I am leaving things open right now for comments from everyone. Let me know if you like this idea, what points you think should be included in the ranking system, etc. Based on those comments I will have a webpage up by September 1 for you to use to submit your entries. The procrastinators will have from September 1 until October 15, 2007, the absolute deadline to get their entries in. The judging period will run from November 1 until December 15, 2007, and if you entered and said that you would be willing to be a judge, that is when you will be given access to a private website with all of the entries.