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Free Geek: computer recycling, training, and thrift in one location

With the recent move, we had an opportunity to dispose of some dated machinery, and in the process found out about FreeGeek Chicago. FreeGeek is a non-profit occupying a unique niche in a few American and Canadian cities, serving as a computer recycling center, a technical training center, and a source of free computers to the community.

The premise is simple, but clever: the facility takes donations of old computers. The computers are disassembled and their components tested by a team of volunteers. Broken components are shipped off to a recycling facility in Lombard, IL, and functional ones are put together to make fully working computers.

Volunteers give 24 hours of service, during which they are trained in taking apart, testing, and building computers. At the end of their hours, they are given a computer built from donations, running Xubuntu.

The service educates, recycles, finds a use for older machines, and successfully operates with limited budget all at once. Volunteers get training, get a computer, and help keep the program going. And that's what makes this business so clever: that both their resources and their labor are so broadly purposeful, directly benefiting environment, volunteer, and business at once.

Hello world...Pick the winner in our 1 x $250 contest



Inventables is giving away 1 gift certificate worth $250 to our store.


To win, submit your idea for what you would build to @inventables on Twitter. We'll post it to the poll on the right side of our blog and we'll let the world decide who wins the site credit. Voting closes on 12/17/10 at 5pm. We'll post pictures (and maybe video) of what the winner did with the prize.

You might be wondering, why are we doing this? At Inventables, we believe that it is currently too difficult for designers, artists, and inventors to source materials. We've set out to solve this problem by building an online store that will streamline the process of innovation by making previously hard to find materials available to purchase.
We think of our store as "the innovators hardware store," and our goal is to inspire everyone—regardless of profession—to explore what’s possible. We think we can accomplish this by leveling the playing field of materials research.

The first step we took towards realizing this goal was making samples of materials available for sale on our website. Traditionally, many of these materials were only available for purchase by large companies purchasing in large volume. The next step we'd like to take toward leveling the playing field of materials research is to make some of these products free for innovators with great ideas. If this contest is successful, we'll likely expand it to give more even more innovators the opportunity to make something special. We believe that energy, ideas, and industriousness (read: not deep pockets) should be all that is required to compete with the biggest R&D teams in the world. When writing software in 2010 all you need is a computer, open source tools, and your mind...we're asking, can it be the same for building physical things?

Growing up I built projects ranging from robots, to potato cannons, to LEGO sets. In the beginning, construction toys like LEGOs, Bolt and Play, and Construx were awesome because they gave you a framework to build with. Once you get the hang of it they become good tools for prototyping and concept development but a bit limiting for the final product. Well, unless you are Nathan Sawaya:















So I tried building things that looked more like products you would buy in a real store like Toys R Us. The first place I would go was the local ACE hardware store or Radio Shack to get materials and components. As anyone who has gone down that path knows you are somewhat limited in the types of materials, components, and fasteners you have at your fingertips. One of the projects I was most proud of was when I made my own laser tag gun and sensor using one of these project boxes from Radio Shack.






When I was done it barely worked, and cost more than the toys available at retail, and looked like a science experiment. I was proud to have built it, but was ashamed that mine didn't look nearly as good as the real ones:





Product designers and engineers that work in big companies have had materials and tools available to them that, until now, little R&D did not. We want to change that. We hope this experiment works, because it we believe that it could lower barriers to entry in the field of product design, and allow more people to build cool stuff.