Re: So how does this hobby work now?
Yes, eventually sources for various items will eventually dry up so sellers will try to extract as much cash as they can from selling them be it aware of the scarceness of the item or simply not having any clue as to what it is.
As I had commented in a Tek post back on the 28th of November surplus back in the 60’s and 70’s used to not be recognized by the many. In earlier days the penchant was to fabricate and get that HF rig on the air because amateur radio was a commonly absorbing hobby for the adventurous. And in those days much of the military test equipment went to scrap.
Today we are faced with people pursuing other hobbies such as those “true users” trying to afford equipping their hobby labs with more advanced (but still older) hardware plus those (curious) involved in the collection of test equipment possibly with no use in mind due to the quantity that they possess (I’m more than “curious” but still personally guilty on the collection aspect). It seems to me that the appreciation of older equipment is more-or-less based upon the age and background (education – profession) of the user with many of us older people knowing how it performs, enjoy using it and know its limitations.
To wit, we can look at people such as the late Jim Williams who led the forefront of analog circuit design whose legacy still resides in many of the components the younger generation hold in their hands (while ignoring the world around them). Both his work and home labs were peppered with older Tek vacuum tube scopes form which he extracted the performance needed to effect his future designs. It wasn’t based upon “why need such old stuff” but, rather knowing that such equipment was still a good performer for his needs even though it may have stressed the air conditioning system a bit more.
Of course we can’t omit the “hunters and scrappers” who either obtain equipment merely to strip them of their vacuum tubes and throw the remainder away or those more set on gold reclamation to make a few temporary bucks. Although I don’t class them as “bottom feeders” they still put a strain on the availability of older hardware.
Appreciating the power and ease of use given to more recent “older” test equipment through ASICS and other esoteric deigned components allows us to have increased performance but at the same time the ability to repair any malfunctioning item becomes a moot point since either the cost of purchasing replacement parts or finding them to be “unobtanium” simply can turn the unit immediately into a piece of scrap.
We all have a more-or-less certain affinity for older equipment given the appreciation of the unique and very solid designs for that era, the love of vacuum tubes and totally discrete components one can put their hands on or simply the affordability of an older unit that will meet our needs.
But we must remember that many of us are of a generation that does understand older equipment and can eke every bit if performance out of it and also know its limitations. And people like us will fade with time and find fewer others to which this equipment will go. The move these days is for many newbies to buy something shiny off-the-shelf that requires little understanding (and appreciation) of how it works, use their “plug-N-play” experience and put it to use. Why bother with digging into that older boat anchor getting your hands dirty to bring it back to life with the underlying appreciation that you actually have either learned something by doing so, appreciate the hard work of bygone engineers or appreciate the effort required to keep it alive?
I think that those who treat older equipment simply as a commodity to either strip or scrap should spend a little time reading through the older issues of “Tekscope” or “HP Journal” to really appreciate the effort that was put into the design of these products. Nowadays it is very difficult to find publications like this that truly explains the innards of equipment and reasons why the designs followed the paths that they took. Today’s companies won’t divulge that information because they are more concerned about competitiveness and that holy profit dollar. You now get a “box,” plug it in and use it. It sort of takes the fun out of things. We do know what “fun” is don’t we?