The Keck Adaptive Optics systems are workhorse scientific instruments. Equipment that has resulted in so many great astronomical discoveries. The AO systems have also seen a great deal of improvements and upgrades through the years. New computers, a new wave-front controller, guide star lasers added, new cameras, different science instruments, and much more.

A pile of electronic cruft removed from the Keck 2 AO enclosure.
While the new gear has improved the systems dramatically, the result is that there is a fair amount of disused bit and pieces hanging about. Mostly cabling, but more than a few unused boxes of electronic gear are still sitting in place in the racks.

Eventually I just get fed up with it and insist we spend some time getting rid of it. With no AO use scheduled for a while there is a chance to spend a couple days ripping out this pile of cruft. Identifying and removing unused boxes. Following cables to nowhere, wire cutters in hand to snip away the multitude of nylon zip-ties.

We remove three large armloads of cables and other gear, carring the pile down to the electronics lab for sorting through and disposal. Most of it is horribly obsolete, things like KVM’s for PS/2 style mice and keyboards, or cables for old Sun computers. Most of it will simply be thrown out. It feels so good to get it out of AO and to clean up the place a little.

I called this pile of junk cruft, a word that drew funny looks from my co-workers. You don’t know what cruft is? What sort of nerds are you? Sorry, cruft is what I have always called leftover technical junk.

Cruft is jargon for anything that is left over, redundant and getting in the way. It is used particularly for superseded and unused technical and electronic hardware and useless, superfluous or dysfunctional elements in computer software. – Wikipedia

It turns out that the word has a long history in engineering and computer science with a heritage that includes MIT and Harvard. It is indeed the proper word for the detritus that had been accumulating in the AO vault.