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Re: Proposals and information

Well these are my comments on bits and pieces and reworked bits where I couldn't
resist fiddling:

> Hardware and software is not cheap, it is this that prevents many people being 
> able to afford computers. Information technologies are such that advancements 
> are always occurring. What was once zippy and fast last year became obsolete 
> and slow this year. Those that can afford to stay on the advancing roller coaster 
> keep on upgrading to the latest technologies, thus getting rid of outdated parts. 
> Many of these parts are thrown away and discarded. Many of these parts can be 
> recycled. Working computers, albeit limited in capacity, can be assembled with 
> old parts. Further, people can use these recycled computers to gain access to 
> information and to communicate with others. 

Hardware and software are not cheap, and thus many people cannot afford computers.
Despite this, there is wastage occuring among those who can. Information technologies
are such that advancements are always occurring so what was zippy and fast last year
became obsolete and slow this year. Those that can afford to stay on the advancing
roller coaster constantly upgrade to the latest technologies, leaving outdated parts
to be discarded. Many of these parts can be recycled. Working computers can be
assembled from old parts. Although limited in capacity such recycled computers are
sufficient for people to gain access to information and to communicate with others.

> All computer hardware that shows functionality for 
> the purpose of the end users would be sought after. These computers need to 
> have Internet-connectivity; thus they need to be able to talk TCP/IP.

TCP/IP is really a software issue and it has been tossed in beside hardware
issues here, maybe that doesn't really matter.

> It may be 
> that Internet service technologies soon become affordable for everyone, in the 
> meantime it may be necessary to facilitate a cheaper alternate solution for those 
> that can not afford to pay the costs associated with connecting. The 'Computer 
> Bank' may be in a good position to fulfil this need. This is certainly an area that 
> would need to be considered carefully.

Does that mean setting up as an ISP or having a small internet cafe?
This bit seems a bit vague, I guess that's why it asks for further consideration.

> The problem of proprietary software is easily overcome with the use of the 
> GNU/Linux operating system. GNU/Linux is scalable enough to meet the needs of 
> the computer bank users, unlike Windows which require expanding computer 
> resources to make it work effectively. Windows costs money, where in stark 
> contrast GNU/Linux does not.

Nothing is really without cost including GNU/Linux software, it's generally
confusing to associate free software with zero cost. Probably more reasonable to
say the main cost of Microsoft Windows software is the licensing fees that must
be paid on every single installation while the main cost of GNU/Linux and X-windows
is the time spent doing configuration and installation which is much lower and
continues to get lower as more installations are done.

> The Linux kernel was developed originally by Linus 
> Torvlalds and was distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL). 

> The computer bank will not accept anything faulty, and would prefer to receive 
> computers that are EPA compliant. Thus equipment that emits 'radiation vibes' 
> is considered not useful, however it may be that parts from those computers 
> have functionality.

The only choice is to accept everything and test it yourself, with no idea
of where it's comming from there is no way to guarantee quality of supply.
Most dealers of NEW equipment can't guarantee quality of supply!

> With this in mind then:
> - Anything above and including 386's

You mention 286 machines below. They are usable, they can run either minix or
an open-source DOS clone, also the NCSA TCP/IP stack is freely distributable
(maybe source is still available?) and works with SLIP (not PPP but I may be wrong
here). We have to decide whether to chase up the 286 machines, there are plenty
of potential technical hassles and they are more maintenance headache that the
386 machines. Whatever way people want to go on the 286 machines, the organisation
aims should not be wishy-washy about it.

> - Hardrives, floppy drives, memory, fans, power supplies (checked to ensure 
> safety), mice, monitors, video graphics cards, sound cards.
> - Modems (greater then 9600 baud), cables, terminal servers, uplink (ISDN 
> connection), routers, rotary line system, some powerful computer servers 
> (XEON or DEC APLHA), phone service.
> - Computer peripherals such as printers, scanners, speakers, cables.

I'd say that any modem 2400 and over is usable for email, IRC, lynx, etc.
I got by on a 2400 for quite a while...

> It is also envisaged that people 
> with 'Computer Bank' computers may become more resourceful or learn new 
> skills that may be of monetary benefit (securing a job), which would see them 
> eventually wanting to purchase a computer with greater capacities.

One of the advantages of open-source software is that having visible source code
is an aid to learning. I realise this is understood but it's not made clear
by this document.

> 'Computer Bank' could eventually offer Internet web services to paying clients. 

Another suggestion of becoming an ISP, I would suggest this is a bad
distraction from the main activity and aims.

> The 'Computer Bank' would also like to be able to support Internet Development
> under GNU/Linux.

The bounties on <http://visar.csustan.edu/bazaar/> might make useful
fodder for Computer Bank clients who are learning to program and want to
turn it to profit. The bazaar is still pretty new so who knows if it will
take off?

> This could also have positive implications in that they 
> could gain future employment in the area. It is also an area where there has 
> been and will continue to have marked employment growth. 

Not to mention when 2000 clocks around and everyone is called to arms to man the
keyboards (if you believe the doomsayers), this should be about the time we
run out of IP numbers and need to switch to V6 and may even see intel finally
manage to release a 64 bit Pentium. Confusion should be rampant. Employment
possibilities, brilliant (don't say this in the proposal, it will only upset people).

> Those people on low incomes would be encouraged to approach the 'Computer 
> Bank' for computers. The unemployed, single parents, sick people, families with 
> school-aged children, students, etc would be the target group for such a service. 
> Community Groups would also be encouraged to apply for computers and small 
> networks. If demand exceeds supply, we may need to be selective about who we 
> give the computers to.

This is a difficult area. What other social institutions have a distribution model
which can be adapted to the Computer Bank purpose? I was thinking something along
similar lines to TV and video rental with rental rates being determined on a case
by case basis depending on ability to pay. This gives it a bit of a commercial
direction but still gives some concession to the needy. It's unlikely to be abused
by high income folks because they want the latest and greatest machines.

Maybe rental companies might be a source of parts, it would be good to get a
few onside. Computer Bank doesn't really compete with their market because it
is offering lower grade equipment at lower prices, most rental companies aren't
too interested in gear that's more than a few years old.

> Goals: { Identified as either Short Term (S) or Long Term (L) }
> ------

* Establish a technical library
--- references to hardware device information, motherboards, controllers, drives, etc.
--- copies of hardware documentation where that is possible.
--- documenting techniques that do and don't work to enable experience to be passed on.
--- documentation of each completed project.

> * Train them in the support of end-user software. (S)

sub-goal, encourage self-sufficiency among users and coordinate sharing of experience.

> * Provide refurbished computer hardware to needy aid organisations,
>   both in Australia and in third-world countries. (S)

the overseas side of things is a good principle but really difficult,
we need international versions of software and translators to drive them,
we need transport for delicate equipment over long distance.
At least make the overseas part into a (L) if not drop it as too hard.

> * Provides an opportunity to acknowledge donations via local and
>   state newspapers. Such acknowledgement will inform the greater
>   community, and will hopefully encourage further donations. 
>   ... could align such donation acknowledgement's
>   with a ATO approved tax deduction system (assuming such a system
>   exists). (S)

Maybe (M)

> * Promote the use of open-source software, thereby using the technical
>   skills of locally available expertise while minimising total and
>   ongoing end-user costs. (S)

Probably (L). Computer Bank should be seeing GNU/Linux, etc as a
means to an end not an end in itself, even though individuals may see
it the other way around. Maybe this goal shouldn't even be here.

> * Provide an accredited training path that supplements formal training
>   (ie: at TAFE, or self study), targetting customer and technical
>   experience which will assist trainee's in obtaining industry 
>   work. (S)

Definately (L)

> * A designated lockable workshop area of approx 150 sq meters.
>   Provided with electrical power points, work benches, shelving,
>   rubber carpeting for electrical isolation at work benches.

rubber carpeting? Static electricity is probably going to be the
main problem. If electrocution is a worry then better than rubber
carpet are RCD (earth leakage) switches on each circuit and a big
red OFF button in easy reach on each bench to kill the power at that
bench. Also some safety procedures that are written up nicely around
the place: e.g. spend the last 15 minutes of each shift tidying up
the benches, keep walkways clear at all times, equipment found to
be faulty should immediately be labeled -- there are plenty of these
kind of documents floating around in industry (though I'd guess that
most of the computer assemblers in Sydney ignore them) maybe also
bother the TAFE workshops see if it's OK to copy whatever they
are doing.

>   Software would be alternatively installed from CDROM(s), 
>   which would contain a compilation of open-source and free software
>   required to (re)create a end-user setup.
>   We would provide a copy of this CDROM with every shipment.

Off the top of my head I'd guess that (ignoring 286 machines)
about half of the gear that we scavenge would have CDROM drives.
Providing a copy with every shipment might not be always useful,
maybe selling them at a low cost to whoever wants one.

> * A Repair area.
>   If there is sufficient skill available and a suitably qualified 
>   instructor, repairs can be done for those items that are repairable.
>   This will necessiate the need for a small inventory of components and
>   the availablity of "petty cash" or an account with component stores.
>   Such products as monitors, keyborads, modems, cables and printers
>   would be repairable most of the time. Of course, first component
>   requirements would be forefilled by "ratting" another dud unit.

Repair of monitors is OK but it's tricky work, you don't want to
do it alone and training people to do it won't be easy.

Repair of swich-mode power supplies should be just replacing the
internal fuse, if the fuse blows next time you power it up then throw
the whole lot away. If the supply looks functional, check insulation quality
on the switch and cables just in case. There isn't a lot more that
you can do with them :-( Is anyone aware of people who do more than this?

Repair of hard drives is possible but again, highly specialised and
usually not worth the effort.

Some repair on keyboards actually is quite easy. Usually they just need
to be taken apart, cleaned, dusted lightly with powdered graphite and
put back together. It takes about 20 minutes if you don't lose any
of the millions of bits that can go everywhere. Again, barely break-even
in most cases. I only do it for keyboards that as specially valuable
such as those with a long space bar and without Microsoft-logo keys.

All up I'd say that anything broken should be tossed out. It's wasteful
but time is precious. A bigger problem is gear that probably does work
but documentation on jumper settings or configuration is not available.
Linux drivers are available for most common hardware but usually this
involves knowing and setting IRQ and IO lines. Sometimes it's worth
trying possibilities in sequence till something works, often it's not.

We are going to have drives with unknown C/H/S settings that won't respond
to IDE enquiry because they are too old, BIOS passwords that someone has
set long ago and forgotten, motherboards that require alternative jumper
settings when their memory is changed, all sorts of nasty stuff.

> Our standard offering is based on a central Linux server providing
> all sorts of network services. Around these we cluster machines each
> belonging to a category of capability. The category also determines
> more or less what sort of hardware we put on it.

Are whole networks really the target? I'd guess that more stand-alone
machines with a modem for homes would be better. To be honest I can't
say that I know what the demand really is. Some study into this area
would be pretty useful.

> Need GUI admin programs for workers to load up workstations.

As does all Linux, it's comming slowly though...

> Network cabling and connectors, will probably need to buy with donations.
> Maybe we can get donations of old RG58 cable, especially from sites that
> have converted to TP.

Yup, major amounts of co-ax and 10base2 ethernet cards should turn up as
donations. I know that UTS has some upgrade plans up to 100Mb networks
so some cards should be replaced during that. There are also computer
auctions around the place that turn up a lot of old gear (and lots of it
gets bought too).

	- Tel