Techman: Goodwill rehabs Apple computers

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What could be better than pursuing your hobby and doing good at the same time?

That may have been what members of the North Pittsburgh Macintosh Users' Group were thinking when they began their project to recondition Apple computers for Goodwill Industries to sell.

Or they may have been thinking, "What do we do with a pile of old computers?"

According to Dave Sevick, who runs the project for the group, it all began when a member who was a teacher at North Allegheny High School came to a meeting with news that the school district was discarding some Apple computers.

That seemed like a waste and kicked off an effort that continues to this day and that, since March 1, 2007, has made $29,000 for Goodwill to use toward training the handicapped.

Your first question might be, "How many Apple computers are thrown away?" You'd be surprised. Mr. Sevick said 200 or 300 can come in on one day from school districts.

As for those donated by individuals, there are fewer. "Macs don't break down that much," Mr. Sevick said in the way of a true Apple devotee.

A visit to the Goodwill loading docks showed palettes of computers coming in, most of them non-Apple machines.

First there is triage, just like in a hospital emergency room.

Someone looks at each machine and decides if it is worth saving.

If it is truly junk, it is put through the "demanufacturing" process. That means it is stripped for usable parts and the rest is reduced to metal, plastic and glass components for recycling. Mr. Sevick said one of the group's members, we'll call him Fast Bob, can strip a Mac of its parts in 10 minutes. Fast Bob says it is faster than that.

By the way, when an unusable hard drive is pulled from a machine, it is pierced with a drill press or smashed with a sledgehammer before it is sent to the recycler so that any information on it can't be read.

Apple machines that are worth saving get a bed in the Mac hospital. Almost all the patients are older iMacs or eMacs, since Apple IIs are sent for demanufacturing and newer Macs rarely come in. Rescue candidates go to a corner of the Goodwill warehouse on East Carson Street that is the work space of the Apple doctors.

Volunteers from North Pittsburgh Macintosh Users' Group and the Monroeville and Penn State users' groups and from churches and schools then perform surgery.

First the computer is "booted up" to see if it runs at all. If so, a slip is filled out noting how much memory, how big a hard drive and which operating system it is running. Since most Macs worth saving are post 1998 (when the cases came out in color) they are usually running OS 9 or an early version of the current OS 10 operating system.

If the computer runs, the hard drive is wiped and a new copy of the appropriate operating system is loaded. Apple provides copies of the operating systems at no cost.

Then the computer is tested and any necessary hardware fixes are made, sometimes using hardware from the demanufactured Macs. Finally, the computer is tagged to show its components and goes to the Goodwill computer store next door at 2600 E. Carson St., for resale. So far the group has rehabilitated 1,259 computers this way.

The store is a bonanza of older computers and parts at excellent prices. In addition to Macs and PCs, there are monitors and bins of mice, memory cards, power supplies and just about any other part that can be salvaged from a computer.

So the next time you need to say goodbye to your computer, think of giving it to Goodwill. It could end up being adopted for a second life in a good home.


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