Opinion: Free Stuff

I am on holiday, these entries were generated in advance. I cannot respond to e-mail whilst abroad.

I know of a few repositories, where lots of old equipment is stored. Now I myself am quite the scavenger, poking my nose where I can. I can see much more-or-less abandoned stuff that, given a few modifications, might be useful for my project. I can imagine this to be the case for most of us.

The issue here is that the people know that the equipment belonged to someone, and then have lost contact, or do not know who the current “caretaker” is. Therefore the equipment is left to its own in a storeroom, doomed to be cleared out one day.

I am wondering whether such repositories of equipment could be put to a good use. There are two options available: the first is redistribution of the goods for profit or nonprofit, and the second is donation to a “good cause”.

When we look at the second option, whilst honorable, might not be such a good idea. Handing over old machinery to people that do not know how to set it up, maintain it, repair it and operate it is a recipe for disaster. This result might not reach the ear of the philanthropist, but is a foreseeable end.
Therefore, when machinery is “given” away to good causes, care should be taken that not only the equipment is sent, but also training and spare parts.

The first option might be more useful. A database could be set up with the available machinery in it. Then, people could draw lots for machinery, take care of the transportation of the stuff they require, and do the necessary modifications. The original owner could be acknowledged in any relevant publications that might follow and, most importantly, machinery would not be wasted unnecessarily. Such a scheme could even be combined with the philanthropical goal, when interested parties in not so wealthy establishments respond to the entries as well. There are, however, a few downsides to this path.

The first downside is that setting such a database up requires time. People at companies have to document the contents of their basements and attics, and most of all, have to find out whether it can be given away at all. Given that this time effort cannot possibly be considered as worthwhile in most cases (i.e. the company might not consider it a prime task of those involved), such efforts might have to be moved into free available time of those involved. This is, for most, a quite high barrier.

Another downside is that scrap dealers step in, get what is valuable and sell it at a price. Whenever money is to be got, these people appear. Thus, legal barriers have to be erected to prevent such abuse of the system, requiring time of the lawyer-ese speaking folk, and creating another barrier. The Creative Commons people have pulled it off for copyright, though, thus showing that it is not impossible.

Perhaps this appearance of the scrap dealers is to be commended, to have them flog what was yours. Somehow, it doesn’t feel right to have someone without any knowledge of the equipment and its history, take what they want, transport it in ways that will most likely break it, sell what they can on the market, and throw the rest away. I may sound like I do not hold them in high regard, and that may very well be true. There might be a few that will know the ins and outs of the equipment and can take better care of it. Perhaps these, if you can find them, are a much better option than Joe Scrap from the nearest town.

Philanthropy can go horribly wrong as well. I have heard a story of some medical equipment having been sent to a country in Africa. The machine arrived in parts, in separate boxes, with cable trunks sawn through and without documentation. Obviously a company decided to do well, dump old equipment by donating and go the cheap route by choosing the cheapest shipping company to pack and ship. The nearest garbage disposal might have been a better option.

All in all, it is highly unlikely that the current situation, with equipment rotting away in basements, is going to change for the better. But isn’t it just such a waste?

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.