Teen uses lawn-mowing money to fund incredible Apple collection

For now, Alex's Apple Orchard, a collection of vintage Apple devices purchased with lawn-mowing money, is in the basement of the Jason family home.

By David Pierini. Reposted with permission from cultofmac.com

A 10-year-old kid in Maine finds an iMac G5 on Craigslist and arranges to trade a minibike and a snowblower for it.

For now, Alex’s Apple Orchard, a collection of vintage Apple devices purchased with lawn-mowing money, is in the basement of the Jason family home.
The computer was supposed to be for games and homework. It instead proved to be the first piece in what is becoming one of the most significant private collections of Apple devices in the United States.

Now 15, Alex Jason is on the verge of opening a public museum that will feature rare prototypes, a bound original copy of Steve Wozniak’s Woz Pak coding notes for the Apple II, and even a rare Apple I that may be the only one in existence with working original chips.

Nurturing an Apple Orchard

Alex’s Apple Orchard holds more than 250 pieces, most of which he purchased with money earned from mowing neighbors’ lawns.

 “I just wanted a nice computer,” the high school freshman said. “But I realized these computers are being thrown away. That’s kind of how it snowballed. I wanted to create a collection, share it online and create a museum.”Done, done and almost done. An old Carnegie Library was donated to Alex and his father, Bill, to house the collection, which is currently outgrowing the 1,000-square-foot basement of the family home. With renovations, including finding secure display cases, the museum could open by Alex’s junior year in high school.
The Apple Orchard will move to a public space in Maine.

The Apple Orchard will move to a public space in Maine. Photo courtesy of Alex Jason
Bill Jason and his son, Alex.

Bill Jason and his son, Alex. Photo courtesy of Alex Jason

‘Top-20 collector’

There are probably a few thousand Apple collectors worldwide, people who have several devices that they display around their home, explains Jonathan Zufi, whose photography book iConic is a comprehensive visual history of Apple products. Of those collecting all things Apple, he estimates 50 are serious shepherds of large collections, he said.

“Alex is an amazing kid,” says Zufi. “He definitely has a massive collection and would probably be in the top 20.”

If you close your eyes, you easily forget Alex is just 15. He talks like a seasoned hardware engineer and can back up the language because of a self-taught understanding of how to restore the machines.

Alex’s parents bought him the minibike because they were popular with kids used to playing in the outdoors of their rural Maine community. He rode it until the chain broke.

His story has a familiar ring to it, the tinkering kid who eagerly helped his dad change oil on the tractor. At school, he would take apart mechanical pencils so he could study how the graphite was fed through the shaft.

But, Alex quickly discovered he could not tinker much with his G5 because it was already at its limit for upgrading. So he sought older Macs for sale to take them apart, get them working, and learn how they are put together. This way, he could tinker without breaking something around the house, he said.

Museum blueprint

Most of his initial acquisitions came from his home state. In one purchase, he got 10 computers including an Apple 3 and a joystick that turned out to be a prototype, his first. His father found a clear-plastic prototype mouse on eBay and gave it to Alex for his birthday.

By the time Alex had 55 items, the blueprint for a museum began to form in his mind. Father and son attended vintage computer shows, where Alex met other collectors who helped him with acquisitions, and ex-Apple engineers still holding on to prototypes they worked on.

Some of the pre-production prototype devices on display in Alex's basement.

Some of the pre-production prototype devices on display in Alex’s basement.
Photo courtesy of Alex Jason

Alex says engineers like to hold on to the prototypes but are often willing to part with them providing the devices, often in clear plastic, find a good home.“I didn’t really know where this was going at first,” Bill Jason says. “He started mowing lawns in the neighborhood to buy more computers and then more computers … I’m proud he found a passion and ran with it. My job is to be co-pilot. Now I’ve given up my passion (cycling) to do this with him.”

Alex is itching to share his collection with the public, but for obvious reasons, can’t hold visiting hours at their home. Any visitor who gets the privilege of an invitation know they are in for something special as they descend the basement steps.

On the wall are large banners and advertisements for iMacs and other Apple products. A long table holds two rows of every color of iMac ever made, including Flower Power and Dalmatian.

His collection includes every big Apple computer model except a rare Lisa 1. He has early portable computers, prototypes of Powerbooks, a green-plastic prototype of a Color Classic and Japanese models of early Macs. The orchard also includes Apple’s failures while Jobs was in exile as well as a computer from the company he started after, NeXT.

Alex showed off his Apple 1 (only around 170 sold and about 60 have surfaced), its keyboard adapted to a briefcase, which provided protection and may explain why all the original chips still work. The original owner, according to a story passed onto Alex, supposedly went to an IBM conference with his briefcase, opened it up and began typing. When curious conference-goers asked what he was doing, he said, “I’m typing on my personal computer.”

The Jasons keep the Apple I at another location, where it is more secure, and have not shown it to too many people.

Bill Jason recently quit his job to prepare to open a museum, which they want to call the Maine Technology Museum, and include other science and technology exhibits.

Supporter Spotlight – Sam Kim

Kramden is an organization that depends on the generosity of our donors and the hard work of our volunteers. It is their support that enables thousands of students to bridge the digital divide every year. Each month, we like to take a moment to get to know one of our longtime supporters and share that conversation with our community.

This month we sat down with Sam Kim.  Sam has been volunteering at Kramden for close to 10 years and can often be found sorting through piles of parts in the laptop room, breathing new life into discarded computers. We asked him to share a bit about his experiences as Kramden volunteer.

 

 

How did you first get involved with Kramden?

I read an article in the News & Observer about Kramden.  I had just relocated to the area, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to meet people to become involved in the community.

 

What keeps you coming back?

The people.  I have met some of the funniest, kindest and smartest people at Kramden.  It is one of the few places I know where people are valued for knowledge, skill and willingness to learn.  Kramden is where the cast of Big Bang Theory would hang out if they lived in the area.

 

What do you like most about volunteering at Kramden?

Laughter and treasure hunting.

A while back, another volunteer and I spent a few hours working on a computer.   Both of us could not identify the problem then a 12 year-old girl walked over and bam!  She fixed the problem in 20 seconds flat.  It was humbling and we still laugh about it to this day.

From time to time, we find relics from the past.  I remember finding a working “walkman” and explaining to the kids about life before Spotify, iPod, iTunes…. Back when dinosaurs roamed, men would make mixed tapes and offer it to a women as a sign of interest….  It is amazing what comes through the door to be recycled.

 

Is there something about Kramden’s work/mission in particular that you connect with? (e.g. computers for kids, recycling old computers, etc.) and why?

For me, the mission to bridge the digital divide is a big one.  I can make a difference with every refurbished computer.  Aside from social responsibility, environmental stewardship is evident in Kramden’s recycling program.  Every fixed computer is one less for the dump.

Last year, I lost my nephew in an automobile accident.  At 18, Jake was a brilliant mathematician with a bright career ahead of him.  It was a terrible and senseless loss, and Kramden’s message of helping kids to be their best is now even closer to my heart.

 

When not at Kramden, what do you like to do?

Riding my motorcycle whenever I am able.  Believe it or not, it is equipped with discarded but now repaired GPS and other things which were headed for recycling.  It just took a bit of imagination, electronic skills, and a 3D printer.

Also, contrarily to popular belief, I do have a full-time job with a biotech company in RTP.

 

Any fun / geeky facts about yourself you would like to share?

I really enjoy working on laptops.  They are a marvel of engineering.  When I am on the road for work, I am known to “field strip” my work laptop down to component parts before cleaning and reassembling it back.  I find it relaxing.

I know, it is super dorky, right? ….

 

Do you have a favorite story about your time at Kramden to share?

Last year, I met a volunteer…. a college student … who received one of our computer as a high school student.  She remembered the positive impact we had on her life and it was now her turn to volunteer to help with the next generation.  I don’t know why Generation X has a reputation for being uninspired or uninvolved…. I work with them every week and they are anything but slackers.

 

What made you decide to support Kramden financially in addition to giving your time as a volunteer?

Three years ago, I was listening to WUNC’s pledge drive and I realized that every reason to support the local NPR and PBS stations also applied to Kramden.

Who doesn’t want to visit a place where everyone knows your name and you are always welcomed with a smile, joke and something interesting to play with. Yeah, Kramden is “Cheers” for geeks.  Why wouldn’t I support it financially?

 

Anything else you would like to share?

Noooo… I am surprised that you haven’t fallen asleep by now….

 

Thank you Sam for all of the amazing work that you do!

 

Ashlyn VanDine is Geek of the Week!

 

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Ashlyn VanDine is Kramden’s Geek of the Week! Ashlyn has been volunteering with Kramden for the last year and a half and is a regular at our Wednesday Work Nights. For her Girl Scout Silver Award project, she helped launch the Coders Club at Kramden, a monthly meeting for students in grades 6-8 to learn the basics of coding. Ashlyn’s volunteer work was recently featured in an article she wrote for opensource.com.

 

Favorite Geek Books: The Found series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Favorite Geek Website: www.opensource.com

Favorite Geek Movie: Hunger Games

Favorite Geek TV Show: Doctor Who

What is the Geekiest Think About You? I love books and often choose to read instead of socializing

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? The fact that the computers that we refurbish go to kids that need a computer. 

Best Kramden Moment?My first time doing Triage and learning from my dad how everything worked. 

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? I play softball for my school team (Rams ROCK!), hanging out with my friends, sleeping or reading. 

 

 

 

Supporter Spotlight – Peter Eckhoff

Kramden is an organization that depends on the generosity of our donors and the hard work of our volunteers. It is their support that enables thousands of students to bridge the digital divide every year. Each month, we like to take a moment to get to know one of our longtime supporters and share that conversation with our community.

This month we sat down with Peter Eckhoff.  Peter has been a fixture in our warehouse for the past two years. Part of our regular group of daytime volunteers, he often helps out with special projects and shows off his Super Geek skills while leading volunteers during corporate work days. He can usually be found near the Triage benches with a big smile on his face.

We asked him to share a bit about his experiences as Kramden volunteer.

 

 

How did you first get involved with Kramden?

I first became aware of Kramden when I was dropping off used computer equipment at semi-annual recycling events held at the old Nortel site in RTP.  After retiring, I looked Kramden online and made a point of participating in a Wednesday Work Night session.  I really liked the program. I was hooked.

What keeps you coming back? 

There are a number of qualities about the Kramden program.  It is well organized with very congenial staff.  The core mission of refurbishing computer systems for vetted but needy school age kids is something that is needed.  The recycling of e-waste in the near triple digit tonnage keeps a lot of this material out of our landfills.  To me, the whole program is a win-win-win situation.

I’ve done computer programming for a long time and I am well aware of the positive impacts that computers have made on our society.  This program affords kids the opportunity who would not have that opportunity to explore the use of computers and to discover their own positive uses along the way.

What do you like most about volunteering at Kramden?

I find the tasks challenging but not daunting and I like working with the staff and other volunteers.

The whole program has been designed so that someone without much experience with computers can walk in off the street and not be overwhelmed by a lot of technical hurdles.  There are tasks that are non-technical in nature to somewhat technical but very doable by a neophyte.  The Wednesday Work Night program is a great way to be introduced to Kramden and its mission.

While I’ve been designated a “Super Geek”, I find the staff a lot more knowledgeable and accommodating.  Between the staff and online resources, I can generally find a solution to any stray issue that comes along.

Is there something about Kramden’s work/mission in particular that you connect with? (e.g. computers for kids, recycling old computers, etc.).

I think it is in seeing the kids eyes light up especially when they were not expecting a system. I like the idea of doing something for a student who does not have the means to buy a system but has earned the respect of a teacher says a lot about us as a people.  It’s payback for all those who have done something for someone else who at the time was not in a position to repay a kindness.

Any fun / geeky facts about yourself you would like to share?

I purchased an Apple back in ’78 and wrote a simple program in BASIC. I used it to teach my kids to type their names and spell before they could even write words on paper. The kids enjoyed it a lot.  It was fun watching their eyes light up and seeing them have a sense of accomplishment.

I purchased an A to D converter board for the Apple.  I intercepted and recorded a weather FAX signal off a HF radio station.   I wrote an assembly language program to process the signal and send it to a printer “in real-time”.  I was able to actually read part of a weather chart but the problem was that the signal faded in and out.   It was a great exercise, learned a lot, but the signal was not all that reliable.  I’ve been hooked on computers and their capabilities for a long time.

Before retiring, what did you do?

I worked as an Environmental Scientist with the US EPA.  I did some related computer programming and compared modeling results with ambient measured air pollutant concentrations.  I was always surprised at how well the models did overall.

When not at Kramden, what do you like to do?

I like to read and there is a wealth of information on the internet. This helped me to track down a lot of my high school classmates for a 2001 multi-class reunion and later, for my class’s 50th high school reunion. I also like studying up on our energy and transportation situations, and in finding some fantastic minds out there with a great deal of insights and varied opinions.

I still like to program and have been slowly learning Python.  However, it’s easier for me to revert back to BASIC (and Fortran) but the capabilities of Python far exceed the capabilities of BASIC.  Once into Python, I can see having a lot of fun with various Make[magazine]-type STEM projects.

Anything else you would like to share?

I always wanted to find employment where I loved the work and got paid.  This is the next best thing.  P.S.  They’re promising to double my salary!! 😉

Thank you Peter for all of the amazing work that you do!

 

Troy DeSpain is Geek of the Week!

 

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Troy DeSpain is Kramden’s Geek of the Week! Troy is a high school senior at Franklin Academy and has been volunteering with Kramden Institute since 2012. Most recently, Troy organized a computer equipment drive at his school and collected 29 desktops, 33 laptops, 19 monitors, and many other peripherals which will support Kramden’s computer programs.

Favorite Geek Website: www.cnet.com

Favorite Geek Movie: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

What is the Geekiest Think About You? I enjoy computer programming and I am taking AP Computer Science this year.

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? My favorite thing about volunteering at Kramden is awarding the computers to students. I enjoy teaching them how to use the new software and being able to see how grateful they are to receive a computer.

Best Kramden Moment? The first time I took a computer apart by myself. I had always worked on the software side of computers, so hardware was completely new to me.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? Besides computer programming, I also enjoy photography and playing the piano. My favorite types of photography are landscapes and macro/close-up.

 

 

 

The White House Offers a Look at The Digital Divide in the United States

WH peek at the digital divide in the US

Source: https://www.whitehouse.gov/share/heres-what-digital-divide-looks-united-states

Katie Wassell is Geek of the Week!

 

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Katie Wassell is Kramden’s Geek of the Week! Katie has been volunteering at Kramden since July and is our newest Super Geek. This volunteer stands out because of her positive attitude and willingness to lend a hand wherever help is needed most. We are thrilled to have Katie as a dedicated member of our volunteer team! Thank you, Katie.

Favorite Geek Book: Ender’s Game

Favorite Geek Website: xkcd.com (web comic)

Favorite Geek Movie: How to Train Your Dragon

What is the Geekiest Think About You? I graduated from NC State with degrees in Computer Science (game design concentration) and English (creative writing concentration).

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? My favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden is knowing that the computers we build will go to children who wouldn’t be able to have one otherwise. I do high school and middle school outreach activities to get kids interested in STEM, and programs like Kramden give kids the tools to help grow that interest.

Best Kramden Moment? The first time I took a computer apart by myself. I had always worked on the software side of computers, so hardware was completely new to me.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? I work as a Test-focused Software Engineer in IBM’s Watson division. I work on Natural Language Processing algorithms for Watson. (Basically, I teach a computer how to read and understand books and research papers). In my free time, I read, swim, and juggle.

 

 

 

Glen Harmon is Geek of the Week!

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Glen Harmon is Kramden’s Geek of the Week! Glen has been volunteering with Kramden since June of 2014 and is the most recent addition to our Management Team. In just a little over a year, Glen has contributed 500+ hours of service to Kramden and often volunteers two or more days week. Glen recently made a huge contribution to Kramden by funding and implementing a new hose reel system for our air compressors. It is this dedication and initiative that makes Kramden so successful. Thank you, Glen!

Favorite Geek Book: Lord of the Rings

Favorite Geek Website: Lifehacker

Favorite Geek Movie: Star Wars

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? My favorite thing about volunteering at Kramden is threefold: 1) I enjoy the opportunity to serve others, especially those that do not have the technology to learn. Kramden gave me the chance to help undeserved students obtain computers to use for homework completion as well as the internet to learn about the world around them. 2) I really appreciate the impact that Kramden has on the environment by recycling technology. 3) -Certainly not the least- The staff at Kramden have a strong commitment to serving the technology needs of the community. They are always very generous with their time and they don’t mind answering questions no matter how many times you ask!

Best Kramden Moment? Becoming a Super Geek!

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? I enjoy watching pro football, college basketball, walking, building computers for myself and friends, seeing a good movie, and reading.

 

 

Erik Shuster is Geek of the Week!

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Erik Shuster is Geek of the Week! Erik has been volunteering with us since 2013 and stands out as a dedicated volunteer who isn’t afraid to take on any task assigned. Erik has recently begun a summer internship with Kramden. During this internship, Erik will work on a variety of projects and will manage summer volunteers. Congrats and thank you for all you do!

Favorite Geek Book: Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien

Favorite Geek Website: www.twitch.tv

Favorite Geek Movie: The Princess Bride 

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? I love the idea that I can help people with a skill I really enjoy.

Best Kramden Moment? The volunteer appreciation night last year was really fun!

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? I practice Tae Kwon Do and I am training for my second degree black belt. I am also a part of a robotics team which is very busy in spring. I like to tinker with things or play games in my free time.

 

Mitchell Geiss is Geek of the Week!

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Mitchell Geiss is Geek of the Week! Mitchell has been volunteering with Kramden for a few months now and just finished a 3 week internship with Kramden. In the 3 short months he has been a volunteer, he has racked up over 100 hours of volunteer time. These 100+ hours have been spent not only refurbishing computers, but completing other projects for the Kramden staff. Thanks for all your hard work, Mitchell!

Favorite Geek Book: The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

Favorite Geek Website: YouTube

Favorite Geek Movie: Transformers Movie Saga

What is your favorite thing about volunteering with Kramden? Helping donate computers to students and families who couldn’t afford one.

Best Kramden Moment? Putting an Xbox One together. I only have a PS3 and never got to put an Xbox together.

When you are not volunteering at Kramden, what do you do? When I am not volunteering I am studying or working on school work. Also, I like to play golf with my family and watch movies with friends.