Low End Theory: State Property

Low End Theory: State Property

By Brendan I. Koerner

Arkansas is certainly a land of wonders—how else to describe a place that features Hot Springs National Park, the annual Tri-Lakes Bass Tournament and the birthplace of Skeets McDonald? Yet until this week, I was completely unaware of the Razorback State’s greatest attribute: a government surplus auction site that is a cheap geek’s dream. An iPAQ Pocket PC for 50 bucks (pictured at right)? A Bio-Tek Instruments auto strip washer for a Jackson? Sign me up…oh, wait, maybe not; the fine print says “DOES NOT power up.” But Arkansas at least gets points for honesty on that one.

The state that wrought both Joey Lauren Adams and Bill Clinton is not alone in dumping its electro-dreck, of course. From sea to shining sea, Maine to the Mexican border, the public sector is always trying to rid itself of PCs, telephones, and mimeograph machines that it no longer needs—or, perhaps, never really needed in the first place. After the jump, highlights from the latest government fire sales.

“Complete Computer Systems”
Seller Iowa Prison Industries
Price 10 cents per megahertz
At first glance, I thought the Hawkeye State was using inmates to assemble low-end PCs. But it turns out that Iowa Prison Industries is just responsible for managing the state’s surplus, which means your cheap computer was probably once used to tabulate water purity statistics in Sioux City, by a guy whose sartorial tastes run towards Ban-Lon and chunky stain-resistant ties. Granted, 10 cents per megahertz isn’t that sweet of a deal—not in the day and age of the refurbished HP a1610n. But for the month of May at least, IPI is offering some tasty inducements, such as a free 17-inch monitor. And if you run a non-profit organization, man, are you in luck—you’re entitled to 50 free computers! (This deal also seems to extend to low-income families, as if a sudden influx of 50 PCs per household is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Think harder, policy wonks.)

Five BlackBerries, Plus Accessories
Seller State of New York, Office of General Services
Price $61 (as of right now)
Talk about a deal—the good folks up in Albany were even kind enough to preserve the instruction manuals, as well as a belt clip. The only catch to this eBay auction? You have to actually get your way to Albany to pick the BlackBerries up in person. No idea why they’ve included this stipulation, as it would seem to naturally limit their bidders to folks within a 50-mile radius or so. But then again, state government is not typically known for its rationality.

P133 Laptops (“Various Makes”)
Seller Kansas Department of Administration
Price $5
If a lack of cash flow has prevented you from joining the portable computing era, here’s your chance. Thrill to the majesty of Windows 98 as you wonder how a laptop could possibly still work with so many obvious coffee stains on the keyboard. Amazingly, Kansas is selling an assortment of 1970s Selectric typewriters at exactly the same per-unit price. (They’re also letting go of an Alkota pressure washer for the low, low price of $250—just in case you have a surfeit of blood stains on your garage floor.)

General Mini-Rooter Power Drain Cleaner
Seller State of Michigan Surplus Department
Price $103.70 (from an opening bid of $25)
Not being intimately familiar with plumbing gadgetry, I was sorta shocked by the plus-$100 bid on this machine (pictured at right). But it retails in the neighborhood of $500, and the State of Michigan seems like a trustworthy seller, right? Plus, let’s face it—outsourcing pressure in the IT sector has once again made plumbing a more lucrative profession than being a geek. Perhaps this is your chance to swap your cubicle for a van, and start raking in the dough.MiniRooter.jpg

2003 Ford E450 Ambulance
Seller North Carolina State Surplus
Price $16,100
Okay, granted, this item doesn’t exactly qualify as low-end, and ambulances don’t traditionally fall in Gizmodo’s purview. But if you’re all about driving a non-conformist vehicle, this is way more oddball than a hearse (which I guess is played out after Six Feet Under, anyway). You’ll need your geek skills to get this puppy back in full working order, though—according to the description, the lights and sirens have been “temporarily disconnected for transport.”

1970 Bell 206A Helicopter
Seller Indiana Department of Administration
Price $167,000 (minimum bid)
Forget this column’s low-end moniker—just had to mention this one. At 37 years of age, this bird ain’t exactly Airwolf. But slap some ball bearings in there, and she’s good to go.

NEXT WEEK: Low End Theory sheds its mortal coil and bids farewell.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Low End Theory column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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