Camp #3 – PC Building

Being true to ourselves, our third camp of the summer was on a subject near and dear to our hearts – building computers. Thirteen students from across the Triangle joined us last week for a 3 geeky days spent learning the ins and outs of computer hardware, how to assemble the pieces into functioning machines, and how to benchmark the hardware and load an operating system.

After an introduction to the key concepts, the students broke into teams and assembled loose parts into an empty case. Kramden instructors were there to provide advice and help the students with troubleshooting errors. After the first round of building, the students disassembled their computers and spent time learning about more advanced concepts before building their second computer using a different case and components. One student remarked in surprise that building a computer is “just like Legos, everything fits together right once you know how”. After three successful builds, the students learned how to upgrade their computers using GeForce GPUs provided by NVIDIA (Thanks NVIDIA!).

Not only did NVIDIA provide GPUs for the students to use, but two engineers from NVIDIA visited the camp and gave a presentation on the hardware development process and talked about what it is like to work as a computer engineer.

The last few hours of the camp was spent using online resources to create parts lists for different budgets and uses, from casual gaming to professional video editing. The camp was a huge success and we look forward to offering it again in the future.

Camp #2 – Drones!

By Lile Stephens, Technology Education Instructor

Last week we launched our first ever Drone Flight Camp and it was awesome! Twelve middle school students from around the Triangle joined us downtown to fly drones, learn about the industry and jobs, train on drone racing simulators, and participate in a variety of tasks, missions, and races. They came in at a variety of levels–some had flown (and crashed!) RC helicopters and quadcopters while others had never flown before. At the end of the week, everybody went home with skills that will allow them to fly accurately and responsibly. We may have nicked a few fingers and smoked a few motors, but there’s no better way to learn!

The first few days of camp were centered on learning the principles of flight and the specific characteristics of quadcopter operation. Each student was required to perform a series of simple but focused tasks, each one building on the other. To save batteries and propellers, some of these tasks were performed on FPV Freerider, a terrific simulator used for the emerging hobby of drone racing! Organized into teams, each ‘flight crew’ was responsible for keeping track of each other’s progress and practicing safety. As they got more comfortable and honed their skills, some of the students were able to fly using First Person View, piloting by watching a real time camera feed from the drone’s point of view while the other team members acted as spotters and navigators. Using the FPV the students worked through several scenarios. The most successful mission that every team got to try was inspecting a bridge for structural weaknesses–in this scenario the team was required to fly close and hover near special markers that would simulate the condition of certain points on the bridge, recording that data on video, then analyzing it back at ‘base camp.’

While it was mostly fun and games, we did take some time to talk about how drones have and will be used and the precautions we should all take moving forward. By far, the most fun I had was Thursday morning when each of the teams got to participate in a racing tournament! Using obstacles and checkpoints, we created a relay race system so each team member had a section of the track for which they were responsible. The cheers and chants from the bleachers was deafening!

Every day Sarah and I got to hear a bit from the parents about how much their kids were enjoying camp, which is always great. There were even several parents that wanted to take a drone class and were wondering when we’d let some adults play (stay tuned…). I think it’s safe to say we all had a great time and are looking forward to many more of these in the future.


We could not have done this without the support of others. First and foremost we’d like to thank Rob and Tucker at ReCity for donating the space and accommodating all of us for a whole week! The Cary-based Forge Initiative loaned us six drones and some obstacles–thank you! Special thanks to John, the developer of FPV Freerider, who donated four software licenses for us! And finally, one of our newest employees, Sarah Huff! Sarah is a teacher that has joined us to assist in our first two camps and is so much fun! Sarah, you are great with the kids and help keep everything organized, cheerful, and silly!

Our First Ever Camp!

By Lile Stephens, Technology Education Instructor

We just finished up our first tech summer camp and it was a blast! Ten students joined us for the week to create original projects around image, sound, and video. To kick off the camp, we dove head first into GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program. GIMP is a powerful open-source alternative to Photoshop which we used to teach students about image resolution, layers, and color/value adjustments, as well as advanced topics like alpha channels and layer masking. Each student showcased their skills in a final project by choosing to make a fake video game box cover or fictional album cover! Next, we used the program Audacity to record, download, and mix different sounds into a sound story. The skills developed in this project will provide a solid foundation for anyone interested in recording and mixing music, editing podcasts or radio shows, and sound design for TV and film. Audacity can also be downloaded for free to any computer.

album Gabrielle1
guardian album

Our kids used their new imaging and audio skills in a final group project: an infomercial! We divided up the camp into three groups, tasking them with inventing a new ‘use’ for an existing object and pitching it as a new must-have invention. We had a lot of fun with this one. After looking at some examples of infomercials from the past, students got to work finding clips, writing a script, recording voiceovers, and adding graphics and effects. We even used a low budget but effective green screen to transport our actors to different locations! It was difficult to find an open-source and cross-platform video editing program, so we decided to try out a collaborative web-based video application called WeVideo. Our students were able to pass the job of editing back and forth with this program that is optimized for education. The principles of editing and even the layout of the software provided a primer for anyone looking to graduate to more professional video software. After spending almost half of the week working on our video projects, the Kramden staff joined us for the debut screening and we all had a good laugh.

In between instruction and projects, we had brainstorming sessions and played a variety of games. The weather was great and we were able to have some time outside to eat lunch and hang out in the gazebo. All in all, our inaugural camp was a success! We’re looking forward to having regular camps in the future and seeing what crazy things our students can create!

Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle…. Or Not?

If you’ve ever been involved with Kramden, you know how seriously we take our electronics recycling program.  We put an emphasis on reuse first, by evaluating every desktop, laptop, and LCD monitor that comes through our door to see if it meets our standards for reuse. Every item that meets our specifications for hardware capabilities and cosmetic condition enters the refurbishing process and ultimately winds up in the hands of a student in need of a computer.

Unfortunately, we cannot directly refurbish every computer that is donated to Kramden. Some are too old or in too rough of shape to go through the refurbishing process. All of the computers that don’t meet our minimum specifications are taken back to our sorting and recycling area where volunteers disassemble them down to their basic parts. Any part that we can reuse is put back into service. Everything we can’t reuse is sorted out and prepared for recycling. We mean everything, from old motherboards and disk drives to scratched monitors and broken keyboards. That’s our process – reuse or recycle – with nothing being tossed in the dumpster.

A Kramden Super Geek takes apart an old desktop computer.

Recently, KCTS 9 posted a video and article that follow Jim Pickett of the Basel Action Network, an e-waste watchdog group, which highlight the shortcomings of the global e-waste recycling industry. It is a fascinating and disheartening piece, but one that everyone should see. The investigation showed that the vast majority of e-waste is being recycled properly here in the US. However, too often computers, televisions, and printers are instead shipped whole to countries in Asia where they are improperly broken down by companies that do not employ basic safety precautions. This behavior has catastrophic health and environmental consequences and needs to be stopped.

At Kramden, we believe in proper recycling and environmental protection, which is why we are taking the time to bring this issue to your attention and be transparent about our process.

We set high standards for recycling equipment that is donated to Kramden and only work with select partners. The recyclers we work with must hold top-level certifications for their operations including R2 and ISO 14001. We visit the facilities of our partners on a regular basis to make sure every item, no matter how small, is being handled properly. We do not accept items for donation that we and our partners are not equipped to properly recycle. By breaking down old computers and sorting them the way we do, we ensure that they are recycled and remanufactured sooner and more efficiently.

With our commitment to doing things the right way, we invite anyone in our community to ask questions about our operations. Stop by our office for a tour and we will gladly walk you through our refurbishing and recycling process, from the moment a computer enters our front door until it leaves the building. You can find our contact information here.

Want to learn more about this issue or read the full article by KCTS 9? Click here.

Job Seeking in the Digital Age Class Graduates

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Berthe receives her certificate from Marshall Burkes, Technology Education Coordinator at Kramden Institute, and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger.

Kramden Institute and the Town of Chapel Hill completed the graduation of the second ‘Job Seeking in the Digital Age’ course at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Thursday, June 2.

Thirty adults from Chapel Hill public housing communities have now completed the course. Participants spend four weeks learning about online career resources, how to write an effective resumé and cover letter, the best ways to submit  job applications online and via email, and how to present themselves professionally in interviews and on social media.

Graduates receive a free laptop upon graduating from the course. The class and laptops were sponsored by Google Fiber.

The Mayor of Chapel Hill, Pam Hemminger, addressed the graduates in a congratulations speech and presented certificates to graduates. Berthe, a participant in multiple Kramden classes, hugged Hemminger as she received her certificate.

“Because I love the class so much I’m here a second time,” Berthe said. “[The course] has made me feel better so I don’t need to find jobs posted on the street. I can now go online to find them.”

Berthe loves the library, and she keeps library cards for herself and her six children. She was excited when she learned about this job readiness class, since she enjoyed her experience in Kramden’s Digital Literacy class last year.

Chris, who is currently working in the food industry and is an aspiring writer/blogger, looks forward to using his computer for a job search and writing practice.

During the final class session, Shannon Bailey, a reference librarian at the Chapel Hill Public Library, spoke about how to get a library card and showed students how to access the library portals to and


Kramden goes to Costa Rica

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Jason Ricker, Kramden’s Director of Technical Operations, shows a group of students how to use some of the apps on their new tablets.

Kramden Institute partnered with the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club to award 101 laptops and 60 tablets to students at nine schools in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica. For most of the students, this is the first time they have had access to technology and educational apps.

Each school received training on how to use and care for the equipment during a 30-minute orientation led by Costa Rican native, Henry Vargas. Vargas has been trained by Kramden on the refurbishing process and operating system and has completed the Kramden Digital Literacy Curriculum. He will revisit all nine schools in three months to conduct training workshops and repair any equipment.

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Students and teachers pose with their tablets and computers on the front steps of their school.

Jason Ricker, Director of Technical Operations at Kramden Institute, was able to award the computers and tablets to the students. “The biggest impact was getting technology into the hands of students with no access,” he said. “There are some schools where the only technology is the teacher’s smart phone,” Ricker said.


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Kramden volunteer Erica Ricker gathers an audience for a quick demonstration of the tablet.

All computers featured the Spanish language version of the Ubermix operating system. This is the second year that Kramden and the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club have worked together to bring computers to Alajuela.

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Kramden laptops set up in a classroom at one of the schools.

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Students take turns using a demonstration tablet to play an educational game.

Kramden Won a STEMmy Award!

STEMmy award

Last night, Kramden was honored as the Youth Serving Organization of the Year by US 2020 RTP at the first annual STEMmy Awards. Also known as the Golden Gears, the STEMmy Awards honor individuals, organizations, and partners for their amazing work and contributions in making science, technology, engineering, and math more accessible for low-income, minority, and female students around the Triangle. Kramden was selected as a “nonprofit that connects youth in the community to a variety of engaging STEM opportunities.”

Other STEMmy winners include:

  • Student of the Year K-8: Mansi Goyal, Hunter GT/AIG Basics Magnet Elementary, Grade 5
  • Student of the Year 9-16: Joanna McDonald, Green Hope High School, Grade 11
  • STEM School of the Year, Lowes Grove Middle School
  • Mentor of the Year, Kenneth Lyle, Duke University
  • Higher Ed Department of the Year, Kenan Fellows Program, NC State University
  • STEM Industry Partner of the Year, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, RTP
  • RTPi3 Essay Contest Winner- Benjamin Warlick, Charles D. Owen High School, Buncombe County

From The Classroom – a Handy Guide to Using GIMP



Two weeks ago, Kramden offered the Digital Image Editing Workshop at ReCity in Durham. Participants used GIMP, an open-source editing program with powerful features similar to Adobe Photoshop, to edit and resize photos and create graphics. The class also learned how to use layers and combine photos.

 Digital imaging worksheet front page

Miss the class but want to learn how to use GIMP? Lile Stephens, a Technology Education Instructor at Kramden, created this handy guide for the class. Based on a similar guide by Máirín Duffy, it will guide you through some of GIMP’s most important features.

Teen uses lawn-mowing money to fund incredible Apple collection

By David Pierini. Reposted with permission from

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. Photo courtesy of Alex Jason
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.
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!