Jeff and Kiefer on Front Page of Janesville Gazette

 

Men bridge digital divide, reduce electronic waste

By Anna Marie Lux

MILWAUKEE--Jeff Hanson could be working as an engineer.

Kiefer Stenseng could be attending graduate school in Norway.

Instead, the 2008 Janesville Craig High School graduates are committed to bridging the digital divide.

Five years ago, Hanson co-founded Project: Community Computers as a student group while attending the Milwaukee School of Engineering. The idea behind the project was to bring technology to people in need while reducing electronic waste.

Since then, the group has set up more than 20 computer labs with used equipment across three continents. Hanson currently is setting up a lab with about 35 donated computers at Njala University in Sierra Leone. Helping him are students from Lawrence University and MSOE.

The effort also provides technical service and computer lab donations to nonprofit groups close to home. In Milwaukee, the project has provided tools for people to find work in the inner city and supplied computers to students who cannot afford them.

Hanson also set up two used computers with a printer at a men's shelter in Janesville so people can work on resumes and gain online skills.

The young entrepreneurs eagerly pour energy and effort into the project, but they need money. By Dec. 31, they hope to raise $100,000 in donations to turn the start-up organization into a full-fledged nonprofit agency.

“The campaign has to succeed for us to keep going,” Hanson said. “It's impossible to say how many people we have impacted so far. If we raise the funds, we can do so much more.”

As a college freshman, Hanson made the first of three trips to Africa to help set up a computer lab in Kenya. Before coming home, he witnessed the positive impact technology had on people who previously had no computer access.

Hanson recently graduated with degrees in computer engineering and electrical engineering. Instead of looking for a job, he is working hard to keep the computer project alive.

“It's impossible to stop now,” Hanson said. “I see a lot of potential in it. There are so many people out there who don't have access to technology. At the same time, all these groups are constantly getting rid of tons of perfectly good computers.”

He teamed up with Stenseng, a recent UW-Madison graduate who has a passion for social welfare. Today, Hanson is director of operations and Stenseng is the agency's creative director.

“People don't understand how big a deal the computers are until you see how they impact lives,” Stenseng said. “It's the coolest thing in the world to be involved in this project.”

Both know that what they are doing is not a new idea. But they hope to be the ones who do it best.

“Our goal is to turn one person's trash into another's treasure,” Hanson said.

They cite telling statistics that support their effort: Of the more than 7 billion people on the planet, only about 2 billion have access to the Internet. In the United States alone, roughly 30 million people do not have access to computers. At the same time, companies, schools, businesses and citizens are throwing away tons of electronics annually because they are considered outdated.

Hanson installs the used computers with an operating system called Ubuntu, which was created for the purpose of free distribution.

“The project wouldn't be possible without the software, which is stable and secure,” he said.

On their website, the men explain that many people use computers and the Internet for education, to find work and to connect with friends and family.

When you think about all the ways that technology improves our lives, it is easy to see how a digital divide exists between the haves and the have-nots, they said.

The divide is not limited to the developing world. In fact, they explain that the divide is larger for those within developed communities without computer access than for those in developing countries without computer access.

“We're middle-class guys who can change the lives of so many people,” Stenseng said. “We just have to do it.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

 

- See more at: http://www.gazettextra.com/article/20131127/ARTICLES/131129748#sthash.lAHvM9fw.dpuf

Project:CC featured on Ubuntu Community Manager's Blog

Project:CC's indiegogo campaign featured on Jono Bacon's blog:

Project Community Computers

by JONO on NOVEMBER 13, 2013 in COMMUNITYUBUNTUUBUNTU LOCO TEAMS

Free Software is not just software or a philosophical attitude to freely available software. Free Software is a catalyst for change in a constantly evolving world that is becoming more and more dependent on technology. Unfortunately while many of us are getting faster and faster computers on our desktops and in our pockets, for many the digital divide is ever wide as it has always been.

I have always had a soft spot for those organizations who selflessly bring Free Software to those for whom technology is a missing link in their lives. I spent two years doing this with OpenAdvantage before I joined Canonical, bringing technology to a region where many manual labourers were out of work and needing access to technology and training to upskill and get new jobs to support their families. Likewise groups like A2RT, FreeGeek, Partimus and more doing similar great work.

When I was speaking at Ohio Linux Fest earlier this year I met the Project Community Computers. Emma from System76 told me they wanted to talk to me about their project (they use Ubuntu extensively across their projects) so I had a meeting with them. The project essentially takes Ubuntu and puts it on recycled computers and they have set up over 20 educational labs around the world.

All out of their own pocket. All on their own time.

I was blown away by their accomplishments.

The guys are smart, selfless, motivated, and harnessing the truest power of Free Software…to break down the digital divide. They are not just talking a big game…they are playing a big game with so many accomplishments so far. It is projects like this why I got involved in Free Software and Ubuntu in the first place.

The team were looking for opportunities for funding their continued work and I suggested they crowd-fund it, an idea that they had already thought about, so I am delighted to see they have kicked their campaign off at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-community-computers.

See their campaign video below:

Project: Community Computers Indiegogo Campaign Launch Video from Project: Community Computers on Vimeo.

Please go and invest in this tremendous team and project; I have no doubt that every penny will be put to good use.

 

Project: CC and System76 Featured on ILU

Project: Community Computers was thrilled to be featured on iloveubuntu.net with our friend System76

4-year-old computers installed with Ubuntu and sent by System76 to Project: Community Computers

Ubuntu is a vivid ecosystem where humanity is located at the very heart of the Ubuntu universe, overall caring-for-others attribute traversing users, developers and companies.

System76 is an experienced company rooted into selling computers powered by Ubuntu, offering laptops, netbooks, servers and desktops to users seeking both powerful and lightweight machines equipped with the latest versions of Ubuntu.

It seems that, along with selling computers, System76 is involved in reducing the gap between developed and undeveloped countries/regions/individuals (from an economic point of view) by offering computers powered by Ubuntu to in-development persons, and, therefore, increasing their ability to experience a more proper IT life and to benefit related effects (increased knowledge, Internet, communication across the world, etc).

System76 has shared on its official Google+ webpage several images with computers older than 4 years that have received an Ubuntu installation and have been sent to the Community Computers project, interesting project specialized in a wide range of activities, including improving education in Kenya, providing information and guidance to persons seeking employment in the city of Milwaukee, essentially, having an activity spanning three continents.

While 4 years may seem a long distance, the 4-year-old computers are sufficient and usable for multiple activities, including web browsing, media playing, reading books, editing images, computers that, bundled with Ubuntu, have been moved from a zero-activity stage to potentially empowering persons in improving their IT lives.

Jeff Talks P:CC with Xubuntu

Check out Jeff's interview with the team at Xubuntu, featured on Xubuntu.org:  

Xubuntu at Project: Community Computers in Milwaukee

Clomid online cheap Lasix Jeff Hanson of Project: Community Computers recently contacted the Xubuntu developers to introduce the work his organization is doing and ask about how best to give feedback. We took this opportunity to launch our“Xubuntu at…” series of interviews by asking him more about the organization!

Please tell us a bit about yourself and Project: Community Computers.

Mission Statement: “Project: Community Computers reduces e-waste and bridges the digital divide by reusing and recycling computers and bringing technology access to those in need.”

We started as a student group at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 2009. Our mission is to kill two birds with one stone. Millions of tons of working computer hardware are thrown away every year, and billions of people around the world are with extremely limited access to technology. If you think about all that having a computer and Internet access opens up for you in the 21st Century, you’d have to wonder how people without it ever compete. No doing your homework when you go home from school. No using it to search and apply for jobs. No using it the unlimited resources to expand your knowledge and skill sets. We aim to give people a critical tool to break the cycle of poverty.

This isn’t even a developing world problem, there are almost 30 million people in the United States alone that don’t have a computer at home. We aim to redirect computers from the landfill to people that use them around the world. We’ve set up public computer labs at schools, community centers, and churches in Kenya, Cameroon, Mexico, and China, just to name a few places, in addition to our growing body of work in inner city Milwaukee.

After being a student group for so many years, we’re currently working on turning Project:CC into an independent 501c(3) to expand and sustain our mission.

Read more about Project: Community Computers

What influenced your decision to use Open Source software in your organization?

There are both practical and ideological reasons for using open source software. Putting open source software on donated hardware allows us to give technology access to the people that need it for free. All we have to add are tech skills and time. Furthermore, what the open source movement is trying to do with software is the exact same idea as what we are trying to do with technology access: Democratization, equal access, and equal opportunity.

What made you select Xubuntu for your deployments?

It’s no secret that Ubuntu is one of the most user-friendly Linux distributions, if not operating systems, around, so using Ubuntu was a no-brainer for us, especially since many of our users have had very limited access to and experience with computers. This is not even to speak of stability and security inherent with Linux.

Since we use a lot of donated, older hardware, Xubuntu’s lightweight Xfce environment makes it so even 10 year old hardware runs smoothly. Occasionally, we’ll get some hardware so old that even Xubuntu won’t run and we have to recycle it, but Xubuntu allows us to get more donated hardware into the hands of people who need it.

Can you tell us a bit about your Xubuntu setup?

We start with the current Xubuntu LTS, and then we add all four Edubuntu packs from the software center. So you have all the educational content of Edubuntu with the lightweight stable interface of Xubuntu.

Recently we decided to add LibreOffice and remove Abiword and Gnumeric. I really enjoyed the simplicity of these two programs, however they were lacking some compatibility and the switch really came when we needed a presentation program and decided we should just move all productivity software to Libre to keep things as easy for our users as possible.

A few other programs are added as well such as Celestia, Xaos, Skype, Dropbox, and we continue to keep an eye out for good programs.

The rest is just little settings, like having the system autologin (so users in the lab don’t ever need a password unless changing settings.), frequency of getting updates, sending feedback, power settings, etc.

We do the whole install on something small like an 8gig flash drive and create the image off of this. Then we can throw the image on any usb drive or hard drive 8 gigs or more.

Imaging becomes overly simple by using Ubuntu because there really are no proprietary drivers. We have one image. The image can be put on any type of hard drive and into any computer and it will boot the same. (Just another example of how Ubuntu allows our project to work so effectively )

For us to image a drive it takes between 7 and 10 minutes depending on the connection. This means if we have a laptop donated for example, and say windows wasn’t booting properly, or it had a virus, it’s a matter of removing the hard drive, waiting 10 minutes for it to image, putting it back in and booting it up!

We use USB to Hard Drive adapters so we can image from a laptop to any type of drive. Many times around Milwaukee, we’ll be setting up a lab and they might already have computers that are just running slowly, so we’ll show up with a laptop and image the computers on site to save everyone time and keep reusing the same computers.

We are currently looking for a new open source solution for imaging drives, that includes allowing someone running a lab to easily reimage a computer without removing the hard drive or crawling through too many text based screens. We’d greatly appreciate any feedback on this matter.

Read more about their deployment.

Is there anything else you wish to share with us about your organization or how you use Xubuntu?

Thank you to everybody who has contributed to the development and creation of Xubuntu, we really appreciate it and love using it! Your work is having a real impact, both on the environment and the lives of people in need.

If you’d like to contribute either hardware or money, we’re happily accepting both. We’re planning trips to Sierra Leone and Jamaica later this year, so we need all of the computers we can get! Currently, we are raising funds to move out of our small student org office space that MSOE has graciously given us and into a bigger space.Details on how to donate can be found at our website.

If you think this is a great idea and you’d love to do it in your town, please contact us, we’d love to help you get started!

YMCA Sponsor-a-Scholar Project in the April 2013 Mozee Minute

Our YMCA Sponsor-a-Scholor project was featured in the April 2013 Mozee Minute.  The Mozee Minute is the monthly newsletter for the Milwaukee School of Engineering community.

MSOE student supports YMCA scholars

MSOE student Jeff Hanson, who coordinates Project Community Computers (PCC), refurbished and distributed 15 laptop computers to inner-city kids participating in the YMCA Sponsor-a-Scholar program. The computers were donated by MSOE's IT Department. Many of these students have no access to computer technology at home, but can now engage in homework assignments more easily and prepare for post-secondary education pursuits.

The full newsletter can be found here: Mozee Minute April 2013

St. Joseph's Comprehensive High School Project Featured in Winter 2012/2013 CampusTech

Our project at St. Joseph's Comprehensive High School in Cameroon was featured in the Winter 2012/2013 edition of CampusTech, the quarter newsletter from the Milwaukee School of Engineering's Information Technology department.

Computers in Cameroon

A group of MSOE students and faculty from Alverno College recently traveled to Africa to set up a computer lab for

students at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School in Mambu, Bafut, Cameroon. The initiative was spearheaded by Project Community Computers, an organization headed by Jeff Hanson, electrical engineering and computer engineering senior at MSOE. The used laptops, which otherwise would have been recycled, were donated by MSOE’s Information Technology Department and loaded with a free, open-source operating system...

You can read the full article here: CampusTech - Winter 2012-2013