When donations are still OK

It wasn't long ago that I swore off donations. Well, actually it was more that I was forbidden by the powers that be to take any more since I'm an electronic pack rat.

It wasn't long ago that I swore off donations. Well, actually it was more that I was forbidden by the powers that be to take any more since I'm an electronic pack rat. However, not only were a variety of bureaucratic types from the state requiring that we have new equipment to maintain accreditation, but the workload to maintain a fleet of aging donated and surplus hardware was becoming extraordinary. Disposal costs were also mounting quickly, so when the administration handed me a reasonable, lifecycle-funded budget, I took it.

I let my usual stream of donations dry up and turned my attention to installing and deploying new hardware and software. It was great! I've even started turning over the best of the remaining used machines to our elementary schools, who lack our bureaucratic (and practical) needs for new hardware, but still need to provide students and teachers with usable technology.

Nice as the new hardware is, there are a few problems with this, though. Most significantly, while my funding extends to the main labs, I can't cover additional classroom computers, extra computers for teachers and students to take home, or replacements for the existing surplussed computers floating around the building.

Secondly, as the primary schools in the district see that they can obtain technology that is completely suitable for the very light duty seen in most cases for free, they begin looking for more of it. What's that kids' book? If You Give a Moose a Muffin? If you give an elementary school teacher a computer, he or she will probably end up wanting more.

I can't fund those either, by the way. Thus, some carefully chosen donations can actually be a good thing. It all depends on the setting, quality, and quantity.

It also takes timing. A friend happened to run into one of my main suppliers of surplussed machines from the federal government. Tonight, he grabbed a rack-mounted dual Xeon server with about 150GB of RAID storage. While I have some high end servers running my applications, my web design teacher doesn't have a good test server for class. I still need an Edubuntu server for my Master's project, too. Bingo.

Within two weeks, this same agency will have a room full of Pentium 3 and 4 laptops. They're not speedy, but they are perfectly suited for student use or parts (we happen to have a fleet of laptops from the same model line). Laptops actually make great all-in-one thin clients, as well. This was just luck, but is hardly something to be passed up, just because we favor new hardware now.

Donations have their place, especially in education. If you can avoid filling a garage with dead parts in need of pricey recycling (been there, done that), then be careful what you overlook just because it lacks a dual core.