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Portland campers construct computing futures

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Portland campers construct computing futures

PORTLAND — By July 25, Isaac Bell was ready to take his new creation out for a spin.

On a screen in front of him, a bright red race car sped through a course.

"Installing (Microsoft) XP at the beginning was tough, the computer wasn't set up right, so we had to go and change the settings, it took like three hours,” he said about his week at a Maine Robotics camp at the University of Southern Maine.

Bell was among 13 middle-schoolers who assembled and programmed computers from the motherboard up.

The camp will also be held Monday, Aug. 4, through Friday, Aug. 8, at the Maine Discovery Museum, 74 Main St., Bangor.

"We are trying to teach how to work with the tool instead of using the tool to do something else," Bickford said.

Assisted by counselors Katherine Roche, a Yarmouth resident who attends Wellesley College, and Falmouth resident Aaron Kane, who attends the University of Vermont, Bickford led campers through a week of elemental lessons in computer technology.

The hardware was largely contributed by Portland-based Ruth's Reusable Resources, Bickford said. The intent was to build and program a versatile system. What counselors did not expect was how quickly campers learned and how ready they were to adapt systems to more complex uses.

"I came in here expecting to hold their hands," Kane said. "I've been very impressed how adaptable they have been."

Bickford said he wanted Dell Optiplex computers, and initial systems ran on Windows XP with 2 GB of memory.

"They assume IT people are going to have to get into them," Bickford said. " We want them to be free from problems and easy to get into when you have to work on them.”

By midweek, it was apparent the operating systems were not enough for campers.

South Portland resident Aidan Carlisle attended camp as a birthday gift from his grandmother. He said upgrades were more difficult than assembly.

"I like the whole idea, the fact we actually put it together, and can pretty much customize it to make it our own," he said.

Roche was impressed by campers' knowledge and determination.

"One of the most impressive things is their patience, computers are the most finicky things on earth," Roche said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.