I just had what seems…

I just had what seems like a way-cool idea to me, and now I'm wondering what's wrong with it. What if the SLF invited donations of used computers and printers (tax-deductible, of course), which we then redistributed to needy writers? I'm thinking we'd gather a bunch, post a list of what we had available, and then have an ongoing grants process that would perhaps once a month choose a writer who had applied and let them pick one item from the list of what we had. Kevin said that if we did that, we could probably get donations of old computers from Apple and other places too. We'd need someone willing to store the machines in their basement or some such, but other than that, it seems pretty workable to me. Thoughts?

And of course, while we're on the subject, the SLF is having its first-ever-so-cool-June-membership drive!!!

Membership in the SLF gets you an attractive membership card and...well, not much else, honestly, except for the warm fuzzy glow you get from knowing you're doing something fabulous for the arts. Annual membership is a mere $30 -- if you've gotten $30 worth of satisfaction from science fiction and/or fantasy in your lifetime, isn't it time to give a little back?

The SLF's current wishlist includes the following: 10 memberships will buy a $300 travel grant for some worthy writer researching their exciting story; 25 memberships will buy a $750 older writers' grant, given to a writer over 50 who has just started publishing; and 50 memberships will give $1500 to various writing workshops such as the Clarions and Odyssey and such, so that we can continue to grow the exciting new voices of the field. Cool, huh?

We're always looking for new wishlist items as well, so if you have suggestions for other projects we can fund, please do let us know.

And if you join, I promise not to start any other new organizations that'll ask for your money for at least three years. :-)

6 thoughts on “I just had what seems…”

  1. I think it is a good idea, though I think you may want to think about starting with a few specifications/limitations – not all “old” computers are worth recycling. Perhaps start with asking for donations of laptops less then 3 years old, desktops less than 4 years.

    The tricky pieces are:

    – wiping the drives
    – shipping/moving them esp the monitors (one major plus for laptops – much easier to pack and ship than desktops)

    – batteries for the laptops are a problem, I would probably suggest asking for a donation of $100 or so to buy at least one new battery for each laptop.

    – software. It is not always possible to donate or give away the license to software that you have with your laptop, that said, people who work for a university can usually get basic software for a very low price, and Microsoft has lowered the price for new versions of Office for both the PC and the Mac

    – basic utilities and the OS for the systems. Older systems may not support the latest version of OS X or Windows XP, however older versions may be unstable and/or no longer supported – a tricky issue as well is basic utilities such as an antivirus software for at least all Windows sytems which will need them.

    I would think that you might be able to, however, get donations that would help with many of this – and that you might be able to find technical people who would donate some time towards the refurbishing of the systems etc.

    You might also be able to get basic systems to people that are Linux based that would be functional for at least writing, email and web browsing.

    A related thought – what if you approached companies for donations that might go to writers in need, one thought being something like each attendee at Clarion (or other writing workshop/group) – get a donation of a couple useful pieces of software etc. Who knows, might be doable – won’t know until you try.


  2. Recycling computers is a great idea but, to followup on Shannon’s excellent concerns, it’s often a logistical nightmare. And sometimes people aren’t happy with their “new” computer if it’s slow, quirky, or has any limitations, even if it’s free.

    I suspect many old crt monitors are cheaper to replace than to ship.

    I think you’d need to offer some technical support to computer recipients, at least until they got their machines up and running. Finding tech support other places is very pricey.

    You might want to include printers on the donation list.

    Mostly, though, I echo Shannon’s concerns, but think it’s a great and noble idea. And most of my concerns disappear if you deal solely with newer machines.

  3. So, to recap, life will be easier if we do it like this:

    a) we’re looking for laptops (3 or fewer years old) or printers (5 or fewer years old)

    b) if possible, we’d ask you to wipe your drives; if not, we’ll do it for you

    c) we provide wiped laptops with no software and no guarantees to recipients

    d) we ask for volunteers willing to provide technical support to help get recipients up and running, and also provide recipients a list of places where they can download useful freeware

    How does that sound?

  4. You should talk to places like the Computer Recycling Center to (a) see how they do it, and (b) see if they’d be interested in working with you on this.

    …I think I heard that Apple junks its old computers rather than donating them, but I could be totally wrong about that; definitely worth checking. (And I imagine at least one of your readers would know lots better than I…)

  5. see also Free Geek, a Portland, OR, group that recycles and redistributes computers.

    I think this could be a good idea. Probably of best use to writers who are tech savvy and/or understand that they’ll have to find their own local tech support.

  6. This is a great idea.

    I would start with the easiest variant, which is to do a virtual computer exchange targeted at poor but tech-savvy writers and/or tech-savvy donators. You don’t want to do shipping twice, and you don’t want to worry about inventory. What you want to do is pair donors with recipients. You want to function like eBay.

    1) You solicit people who want to donate computers tax-deductibly. You ask them their location, whether they are willing to pay shipping, whether they are willing to follow some simple instructions for reformatting and reinstalling and so on. You also ask how long they’re willing to keep the computer on hold in their basement until you find a donor.

    2) You solicit applications for a donation. You assess need and merit, ask for location, ask what kinds of computers they’re interested in, and ask if they’re willing to do the wiping/configuring/installation.

    3) You gather any extra money needed to pay for shipping, reformatting, new OS and other software licenses, etc. where necessary.

    4) You match people up. Ideally, you can avoid shipping sometimes entirely, by finding a donor whithin driving distance of a recipient. You also match technical levels (donor who can’t be bothered to reinstall and has a cranky old laptop with a recipient who can wipe/install/scrounge batteries, etc.) Where necessary you prioritize by need and merit.
    Where shipping is necessary, you arrange for it.
    You may have to worry about some kind of waiver, etc. that there is no warranty on the goods provided.

    I’d start with this variant because it’s lightweight and you can see if the idea is viable before taking on inventory risk and paying for a lot of extra shipping.

    Also consider that if you have some techy volunteers, you may not need to pay for OS software at all. I believe I’ve seen at least one site where someone created a barebones package of Linux and associated freeware aimed at non-programming-savvy writers — a decent Word-like program, a browser, email, and maybe a spreadsheet would make a possible bare-bones setup that you could likely get for free.

    Partnering with something like CRC or Free Geek by routing donations to them in return for free computers for writers is, of course, even simpler…

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