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Nonprofit group to help assess computer needs

November 02, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

It might not be as quick or dazzling as the stock on the computer store shelves.

Still, that older equipment could be perfectly fine for your needs, said Hagerstown resident Buck Lam.

"The myth that a lot of people have is that when they want to get a computer, they have to get the best or what's in the stores. Depending on what you want to use it for, you could get away with what they call a boat anchor," said Lam, 32, a local radio broadcaster who started tinkering with computers 51/2 years ago.

Lam is hoping to dispel that costly myth through a new nonprofit organization offering free computer answers, advice and equipment to Washington County area residents.

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The group - called VORTech (Virtual Online Resources and Technologies) - will make its debut this month at Hagerstown Junior College's second annual Holiday Computer and Internet Show at the Valley Mall Center.

One of VORTech's services will be to help individuals, small businesses and nonprofit groups figure out the minimum equipment requirements to meet their computer needs, Lam said.

People will be able to do that during the Nov. 22 show by using a simple computer program designed by VORTech board member Travis Medcalf, he said.

Or they can do it by calling into the group's bulletin board service, which will be demonstrated at the show and go up officially the following day, Lam said.

Utilizing the bulletin board system will be free for Washington County residents, who can tap in with a modem, a terminal program and a local call to 301-797-5374, he said.

Many computers come loaded with the communication program, Lam said.

For those who don't have it, he said he hopes to have some terminal programs to give out at the show.

The bulletin board service will be set up so that churches and other nonprofit organizations can have their own message bases, where they can post announcements and receive messages, Lam said.

People will be able to use the bulletin board service to answer questions about computers and solve problems, he said.

Another mission of VORTech will be to recycle old computer equipment into new systems that it will donate to needy students, hearing-impaired people and day care centers, he said.

Lam said he already has a stock of miscellaneous parts in his garage that he hopes to supplement with donations.

Even so-called dinosaurs will do, he said.

"There's almost no computer equipment that's unusable," said the self-taught computer expert, who still actively uses an Atari computer he has owned for several years.

Almost since he started working with computers, Lam said he has been the one friends and their friends turn to for help with their computer problems.

He said he built his knowledge by answering their questions and overcoming his own roadblocks.

"It's something I enjoy doing. I like meeting people. And I have a way of speaking at a person's level of comprehension, so I don't talk over them, I don't talk under them. I think that's a trait people appreciate," Lam said.

He said friends suggested he turn his hobby of helping people with their computer problems into a nonprofit organization.

After checking into the idea and mulling it around for a while, Lam said he decided it would be the best way to meet his goals, since it would make him eligible for equipment donations and allow him to use volunteers from the community.

"I wanted to help people. I wanted to help our community," he said.

At this point, Lam is the group's only answer man. But he said he's hoping to recruit other computer experts - or would-be experts - to help him. He envisions a core of trained helpers, including high school and college students.

Those who would like to volunteer or want more information about the group can call 301-739-2323.

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