WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 21-27, 2011)

TECHNOLOGY

Cannibalized computers organize San Jose neighborhood.” By Joe Rodriguez. San Jose Mercury-News. February 21, 2011. It would be nice to say this project was somebody’s brilliant idea for empowering the powerless and disconnected, but no. You could say it was the accidental offspring of a more modest idea. A few years, ago Nvidia, a computer graphics company in Santa Clara, started Project Inspire. Rather than throw holiday parties for its own people, Nvidia invited schools and community groups to apply for $250,000 improvement grants. The catch was that Nvidia employees would work side-by-side with school parents and neighborhood folks. The McKinley Bonita neighborhood association and elementary school teamed up with the city to apply, and they won. In 2009, about 1,000 Nvidia employees repainted the school and community center, landscaped the grounds and hooked up 74 computers for students and teens. Almost as an afterthought, a few of those computers went into a small room in the community center for local adults to learn computing skills but not necessarily to organize themselves. “It was great, people came,” said Paul Pereira, a neighborhood manager for the city’s Strategic Neighborhoods Initiative. “But then they told us, ‘What good is it to have the computers here when we could be using them at home?’ ” That’s where Sami Monsur literally came in for a look. She started the neighborhood association after buying a house there in 2007 but was having a hard time recruiting low-income Latino and Asian families. The group communicated by the cheaper and faster Internet, not by snail mail or fliers. A research analyst at San Jose State, she managed to scrounge up six computers on her own, hardly enough. But then she learned that the Upward Bound program on campus was getting new computers. Monsur persuaded a dean to donate 80 of the units to the McKinley neighborhood center. cannibalize and rebuild the old machines. Basically, they combined chips and other stuff from the computers to produce 42 units that were able to navigate the Web and send e-mail at a decent speed. Two of the geeks were interns at a computer-repair training program for disabled students. Two were at-risk youth from a local summer program. The other two were neighborhood volunteers. Meanwhile, Pereira and Monsur looked for trustworthy low-income residents already active in local affairs; the ones who wouldn’t abandon e- organizing to play video games or gossip on social networks. No matter the price, Montano said the computer has made organizing her neighbors “easier and faster” and is surprised at how quickly she took to the Internet.

Leave a Reply