Tower Computers for Critical Exposure

May 10, 2013

Critical Exposure LogoMacRecycleClinic has been working for a few weeks to get a number of PPC towers ready for a Washington, D.C. based non profit called Critical Exposure.

We found out about this non-profit that “teaches youth to use the power of photography and their own voices to become effective advocates for school reform and social change” through Bethany Swain, a former CNNer and current lecturer at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. Bethany’s students have gone to Critical Exposure’s offices to mentor their students. One of the Merrill Journalists as they are called, Louie Dane, wrote a retrospective for the Merrill News website.

Maryland journalism student Louie Dane mentors a Critical Exposure participant.

Maryland journalism student Louie Dane mentors a Critical Exposure participant.

When we get a request like this – the first questions we always ask at the MacRecycleClinic is what do you want to DO with the computers and what software would you LIKE to have. The answers to those questions provide the focus we need to put together the “package” they receive.

In Critical Exposure’s case, their students want to do multimedia – video, photo and audio editing. So on top of the “regular” OS X install we do, there were some additional things to add. Since none of these machines can go higher than OS 10.5.8, we had to make sure that the software we included could work with the last PPC Tower from Apple before the company moved to Intel. We would have loved to provide Intel machines with Final Cut Express (donations welcome), but folks are holding on to their Intel towers these days because Apple has not come out with a new update in quite a while. And FCE is hard to come by in numbers (Apple no longer offers it in fact).

That said, these machines run a good, stable and powerful version of the Mac OS and are very capable computers for what Critical Exposures students would like to do. There may be issues with third party software – Flash, Adobe Reader, etc. but not enough to make that much of a difference. These machines are ignored by hackers as well – one less worry.


PPC tower computers being prepared for Critical Exposure, a non-profit group in Washington, D.C.

So we started to make a master drive that we could clone. With the help of our MacRecycleClinic Guru Lorin Evans, we included the last version of the iLife Suite that can run with OS 10.5.8. The iLife Suite includes iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, and Garageband (Ok and a couple of other pieces of software not likely to be used).

From there, we added an Office-Like suite that can handle Microsoft files of all kinds, threw in AppleWorks for good measure and added Audacity for audio editing (free) and MPEGStreamclip for video (it can import video, do basic editing and allows you to convert and save it to other video formats) – also free. A few other pieces of software – Perian (Swiss Army Knife for video) and Flip4Mac (allows a Mac to play .wmv files) and we were finished.

We obtain Mac computers from two main of sources – primarily donations (individual or corporate) and an agreement with Montgomery County at their transfer station up in Gaithersburg. From those machines, we have pulled a number of eSATA hard drives that were perfect for these computers – mostly 160 GB but at least one 500 GB drive. Sweet.

We recently purchased a reconditioned Alaratec 1:1 HDD CruiserScreen Shot 2013-05-09 at 9.41.15 PM hard drive copier and decided this would be a great way to put it to the test. The neat thing about this machine is that it can do so much more beyond making copies. It can securely erase drives, check their health and even become an external disk drive for your Mac or PC via USB cable.

We wanted to make copies so the Master went into the top drive and the clone in the second drive. The Cruiser doesn’t care that the drives are different sizes (neat!)- it just wants to make a copy. It took about an hour to do this but it was not taking up valuable computer time – it can be started and you just walk away until it beeps at you to say “I’m done!”

The clones made, we moved ahead to create six PPC Mac towers for Critical Exposure. Thanks to our recycling efforts, we also had a number PC3200 1GM memory sticks (the type of memory these PPC towers use). Five of the machines received 4 GB of memory each. The sixth has 2 GB. More memory means more speed and the ability to handle heavy computing loads like video editing. In other words, a better overall experience.

We replaced the batteries in all the machines and then one last addition – six additional blank (formatted) drives – one in each machine so each had two to use. Again, our recycling efforts paid off big time and let us trick out these PPC towers to the fullest extent.


An Apple PPC tower gets a makeover a few months ago – but this is the basic look of what Critical Exposure will get.

The final act was to hook up a keyboard and mouse and a monitor to each machine and power them up to make sure there were no problems. They all worked like a champ. The only issue Critical Exposure will have (beyond the fact that they are working with refurbished machines) is that they will need an Ethernet cable (RJ45) for Internet access. These towers can use Airport Extreme cards (the second generation wireless card from Apple) but they also need little “T-Shaped” antennas to work – and we just don’t have enough to do that (in fact they are almost impossible to come by).

Interestingly, the towers will come with a range of monitors. An Apple Cinema Display, regular Apple flat screen monitors and even some Dell monitors. They were discarded and then saved by our group for reuse. All these machines use standard USB keyboards and mice. All will come with the proper number of cables, etc.

So there you have it! We’re also working on machines for 9 high school students these days – and hope to bring them eMacs, Mac Minis and even iMacs as we can get them together. Also on tap – laptops for local AfterProm/PostProm parties.

This is what MacRecycleClinic is all about. Our small band of volunteers love to see these Apple computers go back into our community and do good things. Refurbished Macs are NOT perfect and DON’T last forever – but they are mostly good, solid machines that will provide great service to the students of Critical Exposure and other students, families and non-profits – hopefully for years to come.

* This column was updated and edited a tad on Saturday, May 11.

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