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Hardware Science

Scrounging for Fun and Profit 145

Guinnessy writes: "According to Toni Feder on Physics Today, scrounging used equipment is worthwhile if you can avoid the pitfalls of wasting time and compromising scientific goals. Feder interviews experimenters who have dug up everything from dewars to nuclear reactors."
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Scrounging for Fun and Profit

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  • Cyclotron (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zpengo ( 99887 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @02:26PM (#2159079) Homepage
    A friend of mine once came into the possession of an ancient and discarded cyclotron. This was a particle accelerator of the old variety, unreliable and weak by todays standards, but relatively inexpensive. It was a hunk of odd parts about two feet in diameter, and would have looked like a Doctor Who prop to anyone who didn't know better.

    He purchased it for just a few hundred dollars from the lab which had been clearing out their parts warehouse. It took him a few months to get it working again, but a few weeks ago I was present when he performed his first successful "atom smashing" in his upstate New York backyard.

    A glorious experience, to say the least.

  • University dumpsters (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2001 @02:29PM (#2159095)
    At my university, UConn, the dumpsters outside the engineering and physics buildings are always full of interesting stuff. old networking equipment, lasers, computers, magnets, peices of metal. lots of goodies..
  • Re:Inheritance... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @02:34PM (#2159160) Homepage
    Those power figures can be misleading, depending on the pulse duration, power being energy/second. I've plans for a 100,000 Watt Laser that runs off of a 6v lantern battery. Sure, it actually is 100,000 watts, but the pulse duration is only 10 nanoseconds, and the light pulse that comes out is only about 6 feet long, so the amount of energy is, well, what can be supplied by a 6v lantern battery, nothing earth shattering there.
  • by OmniGeek ( 72743 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @02:43PM (#2159227)
    at the University of Maine at Portland, my favorite physics professor (and scrounging mentor), Charles Armentrout, equipped most of the physics labs from scrounge when UMP's new science building went way over-budget on a big concrete estimating error. They were able to finish it (less 2 floors that were dropped from the design), but couldn't furnish it much. Charlie's scrounging skills meant the Physics labs were fully equipped, while the chemistry labs were just so much empty space. Scrounging just plain rules.
  • look smart (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xeno ( 2667 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @02:53PM (#2159288)

    "If you get a 100-kV power supply built in 1950, chances are you'll be happy. There is continual improvement, but no quantum leaps. Computers are the most useless--they are right up there with disposable diapers in landfill."

    Oh, how true that is. And it applies on a personal level. I have a basement full of computer crap to prove it. I thought "Oh, I'll put them together and make some usable systems for a local charity." BZZZTT! The local charities won't even take anything less than a P5 or pm601 system. They say 486's and 040's cost more to test than they can sell them for. Frankly, it's hard to find a place to dispose of them.

    But peripherals, cable and infrastructure stuff? That's a different matter. I picked up three fiber transceivers from Value Village a month ago for $5ea. Ditto ($7) for a HP Deskjet 1600 (the big 9ppm postcript color inkjet w/jetdirect). IMHO, local thrift stores are great for this sort of stuff IF you don't get sucked into buying more stuff to fix the great deal you got.

    Looking for little stuff like power adapters, modems, printers, etc? Head for the local thrift store. Looking for wiring or shielding? Check out industrial supply places (like Pacific Iron & Metal [] in Seattle, where you can get castoff spools from the local telcos). Looking for bigger infrastructure bits? You can get rackmount cases, cable, sensors, and all manner of interesting bits directly from telco salvage units, places like re-pc [], or if you're nearby, places like Boeing Surplus []

    A little time spent doing some smart looking can save a lot of cash. Otoh, A lot of time looking can be a huge waste. You just gotta know when to stop and pay retail.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 03, 2001 @02:55PM (#2159296)
    Those folks scrounge everything. I used to work there, and there are whole floors of scrounged equipment. I remember building a power supply in an old cabinet for some visiting resaerchers. Took a week of labor and a few thousand in parts. Without leftover parts and the cabinet, it would have taken a month or two to order a switching supply for $50K.
    Dale is the king of surplus equipment. Glad to see he's still there.
  • Re:Cyclotron (Score:5, Interesting)

    by glitch! ( 57276 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @03:02PM (#2159333)
    If Microsoft or the entertainment industry were making laws, reusing old equipment would be illegal...

    After all, this scavenging activity causes lost sales for new equipment and supplies. By their reasoning, recycling old gear is the same thing as theft. Of course, if they stated it that way, everyone would just laugh, so maybe they would try to couch it in terms of public safety or "the children".

    Is this farfetched? Well, yes. But keep an eye on companies that want to lease you a product (from cars to computers) or license it (software, music, movies). The next step is month-to-month rental, with extra points if you become dependent on their service for your livelihood or well-being.

    And it must really be cool to have a home cyclotron :-)

  • Sometimes I think... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cr0sh ( 43134 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @03:31PM (#2159494) Homepage
    That if you don't scrounge, then, well... you are just a wannabe geek.

    Here in Phoenix, AZ - I scrounge on everything (hell, just yesterday I managed to obtain a couple of old PCs from my work - nothing of great interest in them, but the cases are nice - they were headed for the trash, from what I understand). I have several sources - both in the "pay-as-little-as-you-can" to "free-for-the-taking":

    1. My work (free old junk)
    2. Apache Reclamation and Electronics (cheap small and LARGE junk)
    3. Electronic Materials and Computers (E^3) also known as Elitech (sometimes get ripped off here)
    4. Dave's Computers (still checking this place out - owned by a guy who got shafted at E^3)
    5. Some place on 9th Ave and Madison (Westech or something - want to check this place out soon)
    6. Global Recycling (still need to check this place out - they are only B2B, so need EIN or something)
    7. Equipment Exchange (behind BOB on Grant or Lincoln - great place for strange and big manufacturing stuff)
    8. There is also a metals company off of (Washington?) across from Greyhound Park that is cool

    For everything else - late night Friday/Saturday runs through dumpsters! Behind Nortel, Honeywell, many business/industrial office parks - great fun. Just bring a flashlight, some gloves, and throw a few boxes in the truck (to tell security guards you are moving and looking for boxes - most of the time they will leave you alone, or at worst, ask you politely to leave - don't hassle 'em, don't stick around - just apologize, thank them, and LEAVE).

    I remember one time near Metro Center finding a stash of old computer equipment, another time behind a Honeywell finding some old minicomputers and terminals, and a big winchester drive (all the stuff was too big to even THINK about lifting). One time over at a Nortel my friends and I found some kind of telephone equipment rack - we grabbed that real quick. Another time we found a bunch of Narcotics Monthly magazines (funny thing, this was in a business park - not sure WHY these were there, unless some PI had an office there).

    For the rest, there is always online retailers of used/surplus junk (I have a ton of links, too many to list here). Of course, the final place to check is Ebay.

    Great fun buying and finding used stuff...
  • by cybercuzco ( 100904 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @03:52PM (#2159614) Homepage Journal
    Its true, I work at a campus lab, and we have a room called the "craporium" everything that we want to get rid of but cant throw away goes there. I once found a declassified report from 1963 on the effects of all out Nuclear war with the russians (1000 megaton bombload) The report estimated that 180 days after war was beginning the US power supply would be back to 75% of prewar levels. The big assumetion the report makes is that power plants themselves would not be targeted, that only city centers and military bases would be targets. oops.
  • by KC7GR ( 473279 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @03:52PM (#2159617) Homepage Journal
    I cannot agree entirely with this statement. I would say that, more accurately, it depends heavily on the TYPE of computer in question.

    Example: The early-90's vintage Sun "Lunchboxes" (the SPARC IPC, IPX, Classic, and LX) make wonderful small web or mail servers. I should know; My 'net presence depends on them. Electrical-wise, you can easily run a pair of them on what a single PC pulls. Reliability-wise, they're light-years ahead of most PCs outside the big server-class systems.

    Processing power? Heck, does it really matter? They get the job done, and they get it done pretty darn quick. Remember that SPARC architecture is radically different from any PC, and NetBSD runs pretty darned efficient no matter what platform it's on.

    Best of all, I acquired a whole stack of them for less than $100.00. Beat THAT with a stick!

    The same holds true of some of the later MicroVAX systems. Right now, I'm working on cleaning up a VAX 4000/200 minitower, getting it ready for NetBSD, and to be an NIS master and boot server for my domain. Its power drain at full load (which I won't ever reach) is about the same as a mid-sized PC.

    In short: Yes, the vast majority of retired PCs are not very versatile. Then again, IBM never designed the PC to be a long-lifer. The success of the entire PC line surprised the crap out of IBM as much as it did many in the industry.

    HOWEVER -- Don't expect minicomputers, workstations, or other such equipment, ESPECIALLY in the non-PC realm, to follow the same pattern.

  • by wass ( 72082 ) on Friday August 03, 2001 @05:21PM (#2160081)
    The phyiscs department building is brand new (it's this crazy fortess), but nonetheless I get the feeling there are tens of thousands of strange artifacts waiting to be discovered in the rooms in the basement.

    Yeah, that's pretty much true here in Bloomberg. one of the Condensed-Matter physicists retired recently, and a bunch of his stuff is still lying around. We're (C.L.Chien's group) contemplating assimilating his old MBE for our group, but there's alot of other unused stuff. Actually, one guy from our group is salvaging a good LHe dewar from an old Mossbauer Spectroscopy setup, which should save us some cash.

    There's also some crazy old electronics around the building. In the undergrad lounge/lab, there's one of the oldest oscilloscopes I've ever seen (and I've seen my share of REALLY old scopes). It's the size of a large desk, takes banana-plug-like inputs (not coax). I don't even think it could generate the horizontal sawtooth waveform, and that you had to do that externally. This thing was definitely ANCIENT, maybe one of the first commercially-produced CRT screens.

    My old school (U.Penn) had alot of old/random devices around, especially in some obscure storage closets that appeared like they hadn't been disturbed in decades. Although it gets kind of scary when you're exploring a closet and you see barrels filled with random chemicals you've never heard of.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein