Dumpster Diving

Move along, nothing to see here!
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Ego
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by Ego »

@Laura Ingalls, one of the guys I was talking with while the CNC machine was being unloaded reminds me of a dirtbag Sclass. The kind of guy who can make anything. Right now he's got my lock from the old Zero Halliburton suitcase I am working on. He is going to try to convert the lock to one that will work with a TSA key or, worst case, make a key for it.

Anyhow, he is generally a calm guy but got very excited when he saw the CNC mill. I thought for sure he was going to buy it but he must have seen something that I couldn't see because his attitude changed quickly when digging among the various pieces. Or maybe he asked the price. I will have to ask him next week why he didn't buy it.

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Sclass
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by Sclass »

I’ve been refraining from asking you where this swap meet is located. Sounds like a lot of fun. Here are some insights into tech scrapping.

I used to collect up a lot of tech trash when I worked at the Hewlett-Packard Labs. I’d literally climb into the dumpsters and strip the expensive parts off all the lab equipment I found in there. I had a few big scares when a giant piece of furniture would shift an nearly crush, lacerate or impale me. Some of the best stuff was way at the bottom of the bin and it was dangerous to go after. I got a lot of parts for CNC and robotics projects. I ended up giving most of it away or selling it off when I left Silicon Valley a few years back.

Security watched me over cctv. They knew me. The deal was Simm’s metal would put a special dumpster out for metal scrap. They either paid us a little to put it there or they hauled for free. Their secret was they would divide off the valuable surplus and auction it to scrap hounds in Silicon Valley. I met some in the PCB (precious metals) recycling biz and learned the game. These guys were a relatively small community of slobs who used social connection, cash and a box truck to collect up old electronics. They’d sort in their backyards in San Jose and create a super fund site next door to you. Then they’d sell the “ore” to a company who refined the metal into an ingot of mixed alloy containing aluminum, copper, gold, silver, tin, platinum, palladium etc.. The actual collectors did no chemistry. One giant place did it. They’d crush the electronics in a cement mixer filled with cannon balls. Then they’d incinerate the dust and collect the molten metal. The metal would be assayed I believe using an XRF machine and then based on the weights and % concentration of metals the scrapper would be paid cash. The ingot would go to a mining operation in Canada where it would be smelted with natural ore.

The valuable components were divided off - switches, valves, motion control, bearings, motors, sensors, microwave components, optics, micrometers, cameras etc. and warehoused by different collectors. It would then be sold off back to hackers or startup founders in kind of an ecosystem of people comfortable with using used and possibly defective tech. The markets ranged from dusty warehouses to eBay. I bought a lot of this stuff when I started a tech biz on a shoestring. It has ups and downs...a lot of stuff is one off so when you need to scale your business you’re SOL because you cannot get anymore. Some is broken or defective. A lot is undocumented. It is good when you can incorporate surplus into a product and make a high profit but it is hell when you find you designed yourself into a corner with one off parts. That when the scrap dogs laugh at you and say “Sclass there’s no more you bought everything!”

When I say these guys were slobs I mean it. Their yards looked like dumps. They wore dirty clothes with fat bulging out for all to see. A kind of misfit. They basically found an easy way to survive off the fat of the land and they fell into this lazy ass life. Collect trash, sort and take to metal recycler. Take money to strip club/drug dealer/fast food joint repeat. It was an alternative life for the lazy yet resourceful techie who didn’t want to be an employee at Hewlett-Packard. I dealt with enough of them over the years buying and selling old equipment to learn the basics of the trade. Beware of the gravy train was my lesson. The job becomes you. In some ways it was an intriguing lifestyle but the characters were not people I’d aspire to become.

Simms metal eventually locked their dumpsters at Hewlett-Packard. I was told by my buddies in facilities that they discovered all the juicy tech hardware in their “scrap” was being disassembled and stolen by a dumpster diver :lol: before they got it. I was very good at taking the most expensive components because I designed the same equipment for HP. But instead of returning the items to inventory I just took them home and listed them on eBay industrial supplies. I got tired of selling this stuff and moved on to better things. I still wonder if I contaminated myself touching all that gear used in advanced materials research. Another danger in this game. Nasty stuff.

As a tech entrepreneur I dealt with a lot of these guys. I was able to start my first business with really small amounts of capital because I bought up all their new old stock to outfit my factory. I also used second hand components in my products. My second startup was venture funded and we basically bought everything new. Our engineers had a religion not to use recycled goods because of the inherent uncertainties baked into unknown ingredients. So there we ended up dumping off our unused inventory to the same people basically for free.

Recently I met a bunch of young guys at a trade show who refurbed CNC equipment. While there is a ton of machines available as surplus the challenge is the non standard controllers. If you play with .nc files you’ll be unpleasantly surprised to find out there are dozens of CAM formats to drive these machines. The code is similar but different enough that a particular brand of machine uses a different “out” file as they’re called. It seems that it is a tradition in the industry to roll your own and the CAD/CAM software accommodates the big players.

So what happens is you get a big pile of servo/steppers, some amplifiers and some digital controllers. The refurb guys scrap the digital controller and add a Linux based system that has some standardization built in. Then you have a working machine. The original systems they source the parts from are dirt cheap at auctions. Like $0.10 on the dollar. They’re everywhere. So what was found in the trash was a system somebody didn’t want to bother with. I built my CNC mill using parts from a gene array tool I found in the trash. It was pre Linux CNC so I hacked together my own interface using something made by some CNC hobbyist guys back in the day who basically were salvaging old robotics to make CNC tools.

Once I built one machine I realized I could use that machine to build more machines along with all the motion control parts I’d found in the trash. But I lost interest and moved on.

So there is real money in refurbishment of these systems. I forgot the name of the business but I recall the guys doing this and reselling Linux retrofitted machines were in San Bernardino. They’re undoubtedly older and more experienced now. They said they usually got a mill for $1000 to $5000 and sold it for $30,000 after retrofitting it with their own encoders and CAM electronics. So my advice is dump the digital controls, keep the motors, mechanicals and amplifiers. Don’t bother with the proprietary controller. That custom interpreter hardware is what makes these expensive machines become trash in the first place.

Love your thread. Makes me want to go treasure hunting at the swap meets. But I now have two homes with garages packed to the ceiling with stuff that needs to be collected, sorted and sold off by swap meet hounds.

thrifty++
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by thrifty++ »

I used to go dumpster diving a few years back. But I decided that the time-cost-value ratio didnt make sense for someone with so little time and earning as much as me. Its great to be familiar with it though in case I end up really cash strapped at some stage. But other areas have a much bigger impact on my finance than just food items. One of my best finds was getting about 10 tubs of only just expired protein powder from a bin near a health foods store. Home made protein bars for years. Foraging for fresh food in an urban environment was good too. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Amazing how much food is around when you know how to look for it. Again, this is really only a useful activity for people who are time rich and income poor. Not time poor and income rich.

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Ego
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by Ego »

Sclass wrote:
Wed Nov 04, 2020 7:23 am
I’ve been refraining from asking you where this swap meet is located. Sounds like a lot of fun.
Next time you find yourself down this way, send me a message. I'd be glad to show you the sights. ;)

You've got Cypress College Swap Meet near you. Massive. I remember it was really good but I haven't been in years.

This morning at 5:45 I was sitting in line waiting for the swap meet at the border to open while reading your account of digging in the HP dumpsters. Especially this...
Sclass wrote:
Wed Nov 04, 2020 7:23 am
"As a tech entrepreneur I dealt with a lot of these guys. I was able to start my first business with really small amounts of capital because I bought up all their new old stock to outfit my factory. I also used second hand components in my products.
Made me laugh out loud.

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Sclass
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by Sclass »

Silicon Valley has so many businesses going under on a daily basis that surplus abounds. I recall setting up my line with thousand dollar torque controlled power screwdrivers that I bought for $30 each. Used work benches. All of my basic electronics components were “partial tapes”. This is when a business excesses their half used reels of chips and passives and they get collected by the junkyard dogs. They’re are sorted and sold off for $0.10 on the dollar. Cutting your component cost by 90% is a good thing.

This was awesome in 2001. So many tech businesses went bankrupt and just left their inventory behind with their contract assemblers. The Valley was drowning in parts. The parts were new but they were partial tapes and open packages so they sold for nothing. Then a few years later the world went lead free. All of a sudden any component using lead was surplused. The junkyard people gathered it all up resold it to people like me. If you want to instantly increase your profit, lower the price of your ingredients. $1 savings on materials shoots right down to the bottom line and makes $1 of profit. Accounting wise it’s like raising the price $1 without actually raising the price. So cool at quarters end.

So much is thrown away in the venture cap cycle. Getting ahold of these trash streams created by venture folly can make a trash collector rich.

@ego I bet there is a lot of manufacturing surplus on the border. Must be a goldmine down there. I’ll check out the Cypress college thing.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

I wish I had the rights to republish “Discards: Your Way to Wealth”Co-written by Dan Quinn (likely of later Ishmael fame) and the Matchmaker Salvage King of 70s Chicago.

It organizes all the insight of this thread and similar threads into generalized model. For instance, one chapter is about how the very nature of specialized business necessarily creates waste, because any material generated or acquired by a business that doesn’t fit the narrow definition of what that business does is waste within that context.

The model even applies to information. Skilled discard operators often broker deals without touching discards themselves.

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Sclass
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by Sclass »

Love the title. Sounds like “Trash into Cash”

7Wannabe5
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Yeah, it’s a great book. Another chapter is about the situations of modernity most likely to create waste/discards and Affluence and Technological Change are the two you saw in intersectional action.

Colibri
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by Colibri »

Hello again, sorry for the very late reply and thank you for all the contributions. I wish I knew more in electronics and how to fix bike !

I have been to the dumpster many times in the last few weeks, taking vegetables and fruits home. All kind of vegetables and so far, mostly exotic and expensive fruits. Everything is frozen so it is a bit of a challenge. I dump everything in boiling water to sanitize but then eveything get quite mushy and not so much appealing anymore. But I am learning to adjust my expectations of what I can do with that food. Casserole, jam and soup seems to be the way to go.

I had a quick peeked at the other dumpster, the real trash dumpster. I could see a few unopened yogourt containers probably good to bring home but it was too far to reach. Maybe next time.

In a way, it is a great mental challenge to come up with a recipe to use everything when there is no way to know what will be in the dumpster on a given day, althought looking at what is on sales, usually end up in the dumpster first. I just made a delicious batch of marmalade with lemon, pineapple, pear and mandarin from the dumpster. Great to bring at Christmas potlucks.

Laura Ingalls
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by Laura Ingalls »

Certain produce items are always in the dumpster. Cauliflower is always in the dumpster because it gets little black dots on it. Broccoli by contrast is a much rarer find.

Organic strawberries are very mold prone and lots of them end up dumped with one or two moldy ones.

Things in bags (onions, potatoes, apples, oranges) often get tossed because one is bad.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

@Laura Ingalls:

Maybe you want to add this classic to your dumpster diving mix?

https://youtu.be/L4CcgblWC8k

ertyu
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by ertyu »

Colibri wrote: I wish I knew Casserole, jam and soup seems to be the way to go.
Consider a Slav/Central European classic (and I’m sure middle eastern, too): kompot. You basically boil the fruit with sugar water. You get, on the one hand, sweet juice, and on the other hand, sweet fruit. Result is similar to canned peaches and pineapple you get in the states. Our versions of kompot also take a leaf of some aromatic spice or another, but that’s not necessary - though you can experiment with cinnamon/apples or other combinations you know work. You can eat the fruit directly, you can bake with it, you can drink the juice or use it for cocktails, and yes, you could also boil the thing down to a jam though jams usually are made with less starting amount of water. Various sauces and dressings etc also take boiled fruit, I’m sure a google search would reveal plenty middle eastern and central/Eastern European recipes. Experiment and have fun, you did get the fruit for free after all :lol:

7Wannabe5
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Re: Dumpster Diving

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Sugar acts as a preservative in many older recipes. It kills microbes through osmotic action much like salt. Native Americans of my region used to preserve venison with maple syrup. Dried fruit can also be stewed back into plumpness, and this is also sometimes referred to as a compote in English.

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