Archive for the ‘Amateur Electronics’ Category

Scrounging – how to get good stuff!

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

One post every three months?  Oh well, I suppose it could be worse…

Something every analog circuits junkie knows (or should know!) is how to scrounge. Yes, it’s possible to build a hobby around 100% new parts and equipment, bought at retail. But you won’t get much for your dollar, and boy, you’re missing a huge world of opportunity! There is so much great stuff available surplus, it’s ridiculous – with some careful scrounging, the average person can afford truly top-notch test equipment and the very best quality electronic parts, including plenty of stuff that is either no longer produced, or has no contemporary equivalent.

While the inexorable march of technological progress continues to bring us fantastic new capabilities, it has not always meant continual improvement. Rather, the world of technology is driven by commercial interests – many of the best technologies can no longer be produced, simply because it is not profitable in today’s globalized, consumer-driven economy. In decades past, very different competitive pressures (including a huge military industry fueled by cost-no-object cold war spending) and a smaller scale of production meant component parts and entire systems were often engineered to perfection, and finely crafted. A slower rate of change meant things were built to last. Yet despite tremendous advances in the underlying science, the dawn of the digital age and decimation of domestic manufacturing have forever changed the market for precision analog technologies. Much of it has been supplanted by mass-produced, cheap devices which are “good enough”, while digital sophistication enables designers to work around the limitations of low grade components – quality flaws can now be calibrated out with ease.

Fortunately for the hobbyist, this means that now you can find an array of top-quality surplus parts at a fraction of the original cost. “Obsolete” yet perfectly serviceable test equipment from first-class brands like HP and Tektronix can be had for near scrap prices. Combining the best technology of the past with modern computing power and digital techniques opens a vast world of possibilities for the hobbyist.

I could go on, explaining all of the ins and outs of scrounging for tech surplus, but I’d be hard pressed to do any better than Bruce Lane’s excellent website: So you want to be a Scrounger… and The Wonderful World of Scrounging!