January Notes

Well, first of all it has been too long since we had a post, I hope to improve the frequency of them this year.


Second Free Geek Twin Cities has changed some, mostly for the good, but like all organizations we are constantly evolving.  On big change, and what prompted me to make this post is that we now have a phone.   We have in the past used the cost or our infrequent hours to justify not having one, but it was time.   We needed a way for volunteers to contact people for rides, and have a way for people we communicate with to contact us.   But having said that, what the phone is becoming is something that will not go far.  Free Geek is a Volunteer run organization, we have staff that is unpaid and commits time to help others.   We do not consider telephone support to be part of that volunteer program, and going forward we may answer the phone (during normal hours only) if we are not busy with face to face volunteers, if you call expect to get put through to voice mail, and a response will happen when we have  staff level volunteers available to check voice mail.   The incident that prompted this post was from a person who bought a laptop, and was unhappy that it was not what he/she expected.   They had to upgrade the memory to install windows, and buy windows.   Now first Free Geek installs Linux only on our non-Apple computers.  We do not do Windows, there are big box stores all around that do.   Second this person was upset, and swore at the staff person whom he did get through to, that will be met with a quick disconnect if it happens again, swear all you want, just do not waste our time with your useless rant.

If you have a problem with a computer, call, you will be told the next time that there may (yes may, we do not pay people, so they show up when they want to) have somebody that you can bring the machine back down to Free Geek to assist you.   We are not going to solve problems over the phone as a rule, but each staff person can chose this or if they feel they have the time, and want to it is their option to try.

We have amazing volunteers, they are the only reason we can offer computers for sale at prices that are below most other similar computers, the other side of that is the fact that these units have been donated.  They each have a different reason that they are donated, but most often it is because they are having a issue, or are in need of upgrades.   We only sell donated computers, not new, not state of the art, not ones that would cost thousands elsewhere.   On average our donations start at 4 years old, and we do our best to test these units as we can.   We have many steps that each system goes through before it is put up for sale, even then there are still problems.   We note the problems we feel do not make the unit unusable, but please keep in mind that this is still a used unit, running a operating system that is not quite as burdensome as Windows.

Our goal is to provide a place to get computers that can surf the web, watch You Tube videos, perform basic Word Processing, into the hands of people who cannot afford a couple hundred dollars for a computer.   We sell working systems starting at $25 (with out a monitor, or we can provide a CRT monitor).  Our systems of course include better units, but they still are used and while they sell for more than $25, they are going through the same testing and configuration as them.

Our Thrift Store helps significantly pay our expenses, but it is not the focus of the organization, it is just part of it.   If you are expecting a Big Box Store type machine, there are several around, Richfield has the world wide Headquarters of one that sells systems that may be of your need, otherwise if you are looking to help keep electronics waste from a landfill while re-using a machine that has not quite out lived its capacity, stop  on down to 2537 25th ave south (back of the building)

New Sunday Hours Starting July 15th, 2012….

Starting Sunday July 15th, we are going to be moving our open hours up to Noon and close at 5pm like every other day we are open.

Our staff Volunteer has had reason to change our hours on Sundays to open and close two hours earlier, so Starting the 15 these will be the hours.

So that means the Free Geek Thrift Store is open Wed through Sunday Noon to 5, and Volunteer hours are now Noon to 5 Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday.

Please plan your schedule accordingly.

Again with the Updates

We are making progress on the new space!  While things are not yet fully set up, we have each area basically in place to do what it does.  This means that the build room is capable of builds, but it still needs work.

We also have expanded our Thrift Store Hours to be Wednesday through Saturday Noon to 5pm and Sundays 2pm to 7pm.  The addition of Thursday and Friday for the Thrift Store is just for the store and Donations, but the Recycle, Intake and Build rooms are closed. (until we can find volunteers to commit to supervision of those areas on a consistent basis.)

We also have Internet Access up, and are working on getting a new Volunteer Time logging tool put on place.

Starting to take form

The new digs are shaping up thanks to many hands and the carry over from the old location.    The basic layout has been chosen and we are working towards getting everything back up and running, while still trying to accept new volunteers and process donations.

Also the store is starting to take shape, all while we try to unpack the store in to temporary areas.


We also have heard from several student volunteers who hope to spend time down at Free Geek this summer to help grow and expand our organization.

So stop on down during a Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday and check out the new digs, help clean up the remains from the move, or set up an area or just take apart some of the recycle stock.

Move in Progress – Update May 9th

We have a majority of the items moved, and would like to thanks all the volunteers who have turned out to help us lift, lug and transport items to the new space. There is still moving to be done, and then we need to set up the space to get back into the flow of things. First we will focus on getting our recycling back up to speed, there is a back log of items already, so we hope to have that aspect working in the new space by the end of this weekend, then we will work on getting testing back up and working, and lastly our build process should be up and working by the 19th or so. Plus we have a new space to set up our thrift store.

So stop in during our normal hours this weekend and help get things back up to speed, we cannot do this without our volunteers.


We had our second garage sale on May 6-8 and it was a great success, bringing over $1000 into our coffers.

our second garage sale on May 6-8

We’d spent the weeks leading up to it prepping extra machines from our Build Program, testing monitors, and so forth. Sunday was rather quiet, because it was Mother’s Day and because it was cold & rainy, but even on that day we sold a few computers and monitors.

Customers look over our wares. In the background is all of our possessions boxed up for moving in a week.
Customers look over our wares. In the background is all of our possessions boxed up for moving in a week.

In the previous garage sale in November we had a wider selection of peripherals and other electronic equipment. This time we narrowed the focus to mostly computers, monitors, and printers because while preparing for the garage sale, we were also preparing to move.


In the past few weeks, we have gotten two long benches in place in the garage for doing teardown work. Even with that, we’re getting so many terrific volunteers that we’re pretty much elbow to elbow. It’s a great problem to have!

If you look at the previous blog entry, from January, the pictures show the one small bench we had for doing teardown, with four people working on it. We have now more than doubled the bench space and the number of volunteers using it. On the teardown benches, we dismantle computers, printers, and other peripherals that are broken or too old to be used for our build program. We break them down to four components: plastic, metal, circuit boards, and mixed. We separate the components and then deliver them to our recycling partners. Some components make us money in recycling, others cost us. So far, we’ve been able to make a bit more money in recycling than we’ve had to spend. The money then goes toward things like paying the rent.

Eventually, the space over on the right will become dedicated to testing and evaluating donated computers and components. We even managed to do a tiny bit of that yesterday.

Meanwhile, in the build room, the tight space story is the same as in the garage. A few months back, four tables were enough working space for doing builds. Then we had to “adopt” a couple of other tables in the room, as our number of volunteers grew. Yesteday we had so many people showing up to learn that we had to pull in folding tables stored in the garage to provide enough space for everyone to work on. We share this space with PPNA and other groups which use it for meetings and gatherings, so whatever we put up, we have to take down. That’s actually a good thing, as it makes us be better roommates, and enables the community to get more use out of the space. We just may have to look at getting more folding tables to accommodate all our friends and neighbors who want to get geeky. Another good problem to have!


Saturday we held our first class, “Introduction to Ubuntu” and it was delightful success. Volunteer Robert, who has a background in teaching, was the instructor. Six people had signed up–we kept the list short since this was our first time–and four people actually made it despite the snowfall (again). The skillset of the students ran the gamut, even in such a small group. We’re very excited about this, as educating people about how computers work and how to use computers is one of our core missions. We plan to make classes like this a regular service of FGTC. We’ll keep you posted as to when the next one will be.

In other big news–that’s big as in cubic feet: Look Ma, no boxes! Waste Management came and picked up our six huge gaylord boxes of monitors and plastic. We have space again!

It’s been cramped living with these monster boxes taking up about 25% of our floor space. But it was worth it as we finally disposed of the remains of the Monitor Mountain that had built up last summer. We wasted no time in putting the space to new use: We moved a bench into place and promptly set volunteers to work on recycling keyboards.

And the new year brought a whole bunch of new interest in Free Geek. Saturday’s tour group was one of the largest ever. It was like a parade weaving through all the activities going on at Free Geek.

Articulate Andy leads a tour group through Free Geek

We have a tour every Saturday at 2pm. Come take the tour and find out more about Free Geek. New volunteers and old computers are always welcome.


This week we got some gaylord boxes from Waste Management. We filled nearly four of these huge boxes with all the CRT monitors that used to make up our “Monitor Mountain”. We began filling a fifth box with all the plastic parts we have accumulated in the past several months of computer & printer teardown. Next week, WM will send a truck to pick these all up for recycling. (WM is a BAN-approvede-steward recycler.)

Ben in a box: Michael and Gary hand monitors to Ben who stacks them up in the gaylord boxes. Ben will not be recycled with the monitors.

We also took 200 pounds of wire and cables to Leder Brothers Metal Recycling. This was our first visit to Leder Bros. When we told them about Free Geek, they seemed very interested in having an on-going relationship with us, both as a place to direct people with old computers and as a resource for them to send their own computers. Leder Bros. is only about a mile away and they are open Saturday mornings, which makes it convenient for us.