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Hardware Build Technology

The Death of Electronic Surplus (hackaday.com) 138

szczys writes: For hardware developers, electronic surplus stores feel like being a kid in a candy shop. It's hard to walk down an aisle packed floor to ceiling with bins of seemingly-random components without feeling giddy. The wind down of domestic manufacturing, paired with the rise of online parts retailers (think eBay) has led to the shuttering of most electronic surplus shops. But a few of the best are still around. Brandon Dunson takes us on a nostalgic trip through surplus history and a tour of his local electronic surplus store. He brings it home with the saddest part of the trend: the loss of surplus means a loss of culture. Electronic flea markets and surplus stores are a nexus point of talented and interesting people. As they go, so does the opportunity to interact in person with the gurus of electronic development.
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The Death of Electronic Surplus

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  • But "makers"

    • Re:But "makers" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by blazer1024 ( 72405 ) on Monday December 07, 2015 @05:44PM (#51076639)

      So that's what I was wondering... this part:

      Electronic flea markets and surplus stores are a nexus point of talented and interesting people. As they go, so does the opportunity to interact in person with the gurus of electronic development.

      ...seems to be a role now filled by maker spaces. When I went to the local mini maker faire earlier this year, there were plenty of talented and interesting people doing fun projects with electronics.

      • Are they selling test equipment and electronics for pennies on the dollar? Not likely.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Are they selling test equipment and electronics for pennies on the dollar?

          Well, in a sense, yes. I belong to a maker space. The membership price is rather small and I have access to *tons* of equipment -- from high-end soldering stations, a reflow oven, more multimeters than I can count, bench power supplies, oscilloscopes, function generators, an electrometer, every passive component value I could ever need, most jelly bean components, tons of breadboards and plenty of "junk PCBs" that I can desolder for surface mount or through-hole applications. And that's just the electron

        • Are they selling test equipment and electronics for pennies on the dollar? Not likely.

          No, but there's now a lot of cheap Chinese test equipment and etc available. No, it's not as good as some old HP you manage to find. But unless you're doing really high precision stuff, that doesn't matter all that much. You can now get a servicable electronics lab with a reflow oven, rework station, DSO, bench multimeter and etc, all brand new for not all that much money.

          You might be able to get better bargains elsewhere

          • Thank you for suggestions for my next few purchases. Do you have any suggested models of these items?

            Reflow ovens look particularly difficult, most of the ones I am finding are $5k and above, if that is what I have to look forward to, I likely won't add this to my home bench.

            • look for the T962 or T962A reflow oven. The latter is better (larger, more even heat especially towards the edges, higher temperature), but the former, cheaper one is perfectly good even for ROHS stuff, as long as you're not doing unleaded boards taking up the whole area. I've got a 962 and the small boards I do in the middle come out perfectly.

              They're respectively about GBP 150 and 250.

              Also, get yourself one of the 852D+ type hot air rework tools are great. About $100.

              Rigol make decent scopes for a good pr

          • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

            No, but there's now a lot of cheap Chinese test equipment and etc available. No, it's not as good as some old HP you manage to find. But unless you're doing really high precision stuff, that doesn't matter all that much. You can now get a servicable electronics lab with a reflow oven, rework station, DSO, bench multimeter and etc, all brand new for not all that much money.

            While maybe not as good as a modern Agilent, there are several Chinese test equipment companies that produce high quality gear that often

      • So that's what I was wondering... this part:

        Electronic flea markets and surplus stores are a nexus point of talented and interesting people. As they go, so does the opportunity to interact in person with the gurus of electronic development.

        ...seems to be a role now filled by maker spaces. When I went to the local mini maker faire earlier this year, there were plenty of talented and interesting people doing fun projects with electronics.

        one kid put the guts of a radioshack digital clock into a pencil box.

  • Where I live, there used to be several brick-and-mortar electronics parts stores where you could pick up a wide variety of parts and supplies; now, aside from the pathetic selection at Fry's, there's absolutely nothing. There also used to be HSC Electronics for surplus, and they're gone from the area as well. The few other independent surplus dealers are also shuttered, years ago. In the SF Bay Area there may or may not be Mike Quinn Electronics (which those of you in the area might have known for building
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The rise of surface mount made most of the old tinkering obsolete - the age of fat transistors is long gone. Those electronics kits you used to get as kids might be the last bastion for big chunky electronics parts. VLSI and SoaC will take up the rest of the slack until there's no remaining logic board - at that point you don't have any electronics left to work with.

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        The big chunky electronic parts are still around. The Internet is your friend in rediscovering your lost childhood. Here are some links to get started.

        http://www.jameco.com/ [jameco.com]
        http://www.555-timer-circuits.com/ [555-timer-circuits.com]
        https://www.youtube.com/user/EEVblog [youtube.com]

      • Pretty much, yeah. The prevalence of large devices in BGA packages has also more or less destroyed any ability to repair anything; most of it may as well be sealed in a block of opaque epoxy for all the good it'll do you. Even you have the thousands of dollars of equipment necessary to deal with BGA packaged devices, you can't easily salvage and re-use anything; even if you can re-ball them, they might not survive the entire process. Thankfully there is still quite a bit of SM devices that you can hand-sold
        • by Strider- ( 39683 )

          Thankfully there is still quite a bit of SM devices that you can hand-solder, or at least deal with without having to have $10000 worth of equipment to work with

          It's not even out of the realm for home-users to run projects with BGAs and similar components. With the advent of reasonable prices for multi-layer PCB prototyping, and tricks like toaster oven reflow and/or frying-pan reflow, home-based tinkerers can build a lot of really interesting devices.

          • Can you 'fake it' at home with makeshift equipment? Yes, sort of. The problem is when you assemble your board, and you find it doesn't work. You can't check the solder connections on a BGA device unless you've got an Xray machine to do that. What you're faced with then, is trying to get the BGA packaged device back off the PCB without destroying the PCB, throwing the device away, and trying again with a new device -- and you're back where you started from, hoping all the balls made contact and reflowed prop
            • But there is a lot of space between your basic surface mount components and BGA devices. I've done surface mount for several years - it's a bit of a PITA compared to real components with wires, but it's very doable. Now, this is for creating your own stuff, trying to repair new electronics is generally not worth the effort. You can look at the device, see if there is a wire hanging loose or other obvious flaw but trying to troubleshoot anything is frustrating and time consuming.

              OTOH, you can get an X-ban

              • But there is a lot of space between your basic surface mount components and BGA devices. I've done surface mount for several years - it's a bit of a PITA compared to real components with wires, but it's very doable.

                I disagree. You can get stencils maid for a tenner. Once you're used to swiping the paste on, you just paste the components one after the other then stick it in a reflow oven (acceptably good ones available for about 150 quid, new off ebay). It's way faster. None of the whole stick component in,

                • The real problem today is that so many useful chips are BGA only.. especially things like FPGA, microcontrollers, camera chips, etc.

                  • The real problem today is that so many useful chips are BGA only.. especially things like FPGA, microcontrollers, camera chips, etc.

                    Depends. Almost none of the chips I use are available as BGA. They're mostly DFN, QFN or LGA for the smallest versions. That said I've seen people do BGAs on home made circuit boards with no solder mask. They weren't using most of the balls, but it was still impressive. But yes, the bigger stuff is BGA and that's pretty annoying.

                    • Its the curse of modern 32 and 64 bit architecture, so many pins. The solution so far for me is the chips pre-mounted on dev boards, it works but is not so cheap and is a bit ugly.. No so 'home built' but does save problems with little details like support chips and clocks and so on. With a lot of these bigger chips with 100 + pins, hand wiring the circuit boards would be virtually impossible anyway..

          • You can get cheap reflow ovens now too (150 quid). They've got profiles and everything and will happily do even ROHS reflow. Not a huge outlay if you start getting serious about it.

        • Whine less, solder more. [dangerousprototypes.com]

      • I was afraid of that at one time, but it hasn't happened. There are plenty of places where you can get chunky parts, resistors, transistors, ICs in regular DIL packages, etc. Even the old 7400s and what have you haven't gone the way of the dodo with the rise of affordable PLC and Arduino boards. Apparently hobbyists and the need for prototyping on a breadboard constitute a large enough market for these components. What has disappeared are the brick and mortar stores selling them, but I suspect it had a lot
      • by mikael ( 484 )

        I had a Mykit system 7 electronics board when I was little. The components were connected together using a mix of different colored wires. It would take absolutely hours to get a complex circuit wired up.

        An alternative was the Denshi-Gakken kit EX 150. Each component such as a transistor or resistor was in a little plastic cube. Combined with various other components (horizontal/vertical or jump over cable blocks), entire circuits could be made that looked exactly like the logical diagram:

        http://searle.host [hostei.com]

    • by slew ( 2918 )

      FWIW, in the south bay, there are really only HSC/Halted and Anchor, although if you just need some "old-crap" you might find it with a trip over to Weird-stuff.
      Fry's doesn't really sell much any more, and the other stores in the area are more akin to electronic "toy" stores than electronic parts stores (kind of like what radio shack used to be). I think that's more a *maker* influence they don't sell electronics any more.

      • What are you claiming Fry's doesn't sell any more?

        You can still buy tons of individual electronics parts, at least at the Sunnyvale store.

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          In my experience, the Campbell store is much more likely to actually have sufficient quantities of parts than either the Sunnyvale store or the San Jose store. YMMV, obviously. Sunnyvale is fine for wire, solder, and other really common bits, but for things like resistors, have your cell phone handy, because you're going to have to try three or four parallel resistance calculations to get you close enough to whatever standard value they're out of in whatever size you need, and you'll end up doing that ove

          • Wow, ok, you know way more detail than I do! One thing I forgot to mention is that nowadays (i.e. last few decades), even the individual parts are in baggies on hooks as 'regular products'. (Waste of packaging I'd say.)

            I think in the oooooold days, you bought parts like you'd buy screws at a hardware store.. individual pieces from a big box.

        • by Megane ( 129182 )

          Fry's in Austin certainly is stocked with a decent selection of electronic parts. Just the basic stuff; if you want a microcontroller chip, you'll have to go mail order. But there are still a few parts that don't get restocked often enough. It's still a lot more than you could ever hope for from Radio Shack.

          They used to have some SMT resistors and other parts but they dropped most SMT stuff a few years ago. I guess if you are the type who wants to do SMT parts, it won't hurt for you to wait a day or two fo

        • What are you claiming Fry's doesn't sell any more?

          Surplus. It gots lots of parts and gizmos, but not surplus. The kind of stuff you walk up and down the aisles and say "whazit?" and then "what can I make from that?"

          Why drive 60 miles (from where I am) when I can buy new stuff online from Amazon cheaper? Or Newark or Digikey?

        • What are you claiming Fry's doesn't sell any more?

          At least here in Sacramento, they seem to have more stuff for guys who pull cables for a living. The actual electronic parts are very generic and not much better (worse in some ways) to what Radio Shack used to carry. Last time I went there I just needed some replacement electrolytic caps to rebuild a power supply, and they didn't even have anything close to what I needed, had to order everything online.

      • by dfsmith ( 960400 )
        Don't forget ESC (now on S. 7th St.): http://www.excesssolutions.com... [excesssolutions.com] Their warehouse is much better than the web site.
    • by rcase5 ( 3781471 )

      There also used to be HSC Electronics for surplus, and they're gone from the area as well.

      The Santa Clara store is still open. The store in Rohnert Park closed a few years ago, which was a shame. This place has saved my neck on more than one occasion.

      Another venerable Silicon Valley electronics store was Quement Electronics. They used to be on Bascom Ave in San Jose, but Google searches now place it on Walsh Ave. in Santa Clara. Clicking to their web site takes you to an outfit called Master Electronics. So one can only assume Quement was bought by these people. I have no idea if this place is a

    • Gateway Electronics in Denver was one of those. It got its inventory from a succession of dead electronic shops, and its business space by picking up the leases of dead retail businesses, moving every couple of years...

    • But does it have jack squat to do with overseas manufacturing? I would argue no, the death of surplus stores is because the younger generation has been raised to think of electronics as disposable and the vast majority simply see no value in these things.

      And before somebody chimes in with that "but but makers" BS? At its very best, hell double the numbers actually involved even, it still isn't a tenth of the ones doing this kinda stuff in the 70s and 80s. My generation grew up with Radio Shack electronic ki

      • In part it is because the level at which people are working has changed. One used to make a receiver, doorbell or whatnot out of discrete components. If you are into the 'maker' culture, you are putting together modules of various functional descriptions. I recently made a GoPro trigger using a PIC and an X-band radar module I found somewhere. Yeah, I could have figured out how to make the little radar gizmo in a month or so of screwing up PCB boards but I found it on E-bay for something like $20. That

    • Quinns is still around as is Weird Stuff Warehouse. I go to each often

  • by Anon-Admin ( 443764 ) on Monday December 07, 2015 @05:48PM (#51076647) Homepage Journal

    The old swap meet is no more. That went back to the days when it was held in the Heathkit warehouse parking lot. I do miss wandering the meet in the early hours of the morning getting good used items.

    Just recently the last of the big surplus parts stores closed. I remember getting parts for my Commodore 64 from them, bought my first PC from them (A Compaq Desk Pro), Heck I bought a couple of CPM systems from them in the day. They just had a big going out of business sale and closed the doors. It was a loss as I used to wander there isles and get component parts, power supplies, and other jewels. Heck, many of the parts for my 3d printer came from there shelves.

    I do miss the old surplus parts stores, guess there was not enough business to keep them going.

    • You haven't been to a hamfest recently. They're all over the country, and I have yet to see one with out tubs of great stuff, although surface mount technology is tough for guys with 100w soldering irons.

      There are tons and tons of parts available, and an increasing amount of pi, working motherboards with fast 32-bit AMD/Intel CPUs for $1. Power supplies, and lots of networking and WiFi gear almost for scrap prices. Bring a cart. You don't have to be a licensed ham radio person to have a blast.

    • by mjwx ( 966435 )

      The old swap meet is no more.

      And good riddance. Why would I pack everything I want to sell in my car, drive to a field and get rained on while tight fisted arseholes gawk and argue over 50 cents then not buy anything even when they get their $0.50 discount when I can stick it all on Ebay/Gumtree/Facebook et al. and have the buyers come to me.

      As for surplus, it's all online these days. The good surplus was always sent to auction anyway, but now thanks to Ebay and other sites just about everyone can auction off their excess crap. I can

      • I can sell and buy from the comfort of my own home and no longer deal with the duck-arsed wankers that swap meets attract.

        Thank goodness there's one less of them now. Buying junk sight-unseen is such a wonderful experience, I hope you're having fun.

        Forgot to mention Surplus Gizmos [surplusgizmos.com] last time.

        • by mjwx ( 966435 )
          The difference between us is that I don't buy junk.

          As I said, the good stuff was always sent straight to auction where you pretty much buy it as is (meaning as per the description) so no difference there. People with things that are actually usable don't go to swap meets, the put it on Ebay.

          Why would I go to a rainy field to buy a box of old SATA cables that _might_work when I can get new ones for the same price off any number of sites.

          With your penchant for buying junk, I can imagine your house l
          • The difference between us is that I don't buy junk.

            Perhaps, but more so that you don't like the kind of people who go to hamfests.

            As I said, the good stuff was always sent straight to auction

            You're wrong. I've found wonderful things at hamfests and surplus stores. Auction was not the main outlet.

            where you pretty much buy it as is (meaning as per the description)

            OMG, if you think "as is" means "as it was described" at an auction, you are in for some horrible surprises. "As is" means "as you see it with no guarantees at all."

            People with things that are actually usable don't go to swap meets

            How do you know? As you said, you don't go to them anymore. I find lots of usable stuff there, from people who have no interest in learning how to use eBay or d

  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Monday December 07, 2015 @05:49PM (#51076653) Homepage Journal
    We run an electronics recycling company which is about 20% reuse and 80% scrap recycling. Whenever we set aside vintage and antiques for posterity we face a bickering match with state environmental staff who say we are "speculatively accumulating waste". We show the throughput, that it's 97% of incoming tonnage is either recycled or sold for reuse, but after 15 years the antiques take more floorspace. IBM 85XX PS/2 monochrome CRT monitors, which I was drowning in my first years in business, now sell as collectors items on ebay for $150... my main regret is I didn't "speculatively accumulate" a greater percentage than I did.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      IBM 85XX PS/2 monochrome CRT monitors, which I was drowning in my first years in business, now sell as collectors items on ebay for $150... my main regret is I didn't "speculatively accumulate" a greater percentage than I did.

      You must live in a place with cheap floor space. Paying rent to store a $150 item for 15 years doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

    • Why would they care if you are 'speculatively accumulating waste'? It's waste. Doesn't it make sense to organize it so as to get the best economic yield?

      Or is this California?

      • by PPH ( 736903 )

        Or is this California?

        This.

        Why sell a used oscilloscope to a hobbyist when some poor child in India or Africa could throw it in a bonfire and try to recover the lead and cadmium? And you could stimulate the economy by buying a new unit from China.

        I picked up a nearly mint Weston Wattmeter [teacoinc.com] that works beautifully. Problem is (as you can see from the picture) the terminals are exposed. So OSHA would shit themselves if this ever made it into a workplace.

        • *Sigh* The idea that oscilloscopes are sent to Africa for burning is a hoax. Everything found in the scrap yards was found to have been imported to Africa decades earlier and was generated by urban populations in Africa, who have had electricity and appliances since pre-1960 independence. On the other hand, once shredded in a CA metal machine, the material IS exported for hand sorting. http://shanghaiscrap.com/2015/... [shanghaiscrap.com]
        • I've worked at a lot of technical companies and have never met anyone from OSHA or even heard that such a person was on the premises. Nor are there any OSHA standards for test equipment and engineering prototypes. I know there are lots of people who drink moon condensed with lead radiators and spend their leisure time theorizing government conspiracies and denying climate change. They don't belong on Slashdot, though., Go away, troll.
          • by PPH ( 736903 )

            never met anyone from OSHA or even heard that such a person was on the premises.

            Well then, your first visit will be quite exciting when they whip out ANSI/ISA S82.02.01.

            • your first visit will be quite exciting when they whip out ANSI/ISA S82.02.01.

              That's about about line voltage equipment such as voltmeters and clamp-on ammeters. The safety requirements for them are well-known and well-justified, but they are mainly applicable to the facilities staff.

              I don't ever see OSHA staff where I work, which is around electronic engineers and computer programmers. My main concern with electronic engineers is keeping them from wearing jewelry around low-voltage, high-current power supp

      • by dfsmith ( 960400 )
        I would imagine they'd care because if the company goes out of business, then the State may inherit an expensive cleanup operation. The other thing with speculation is that there are winners, but mostly losers. The losers tend to end up in piles by the sides of the road, because it's too expensive to properly dispose of them. What we need is a way to ensure more winners! I propose that old, hard-to-dispose-of junk be made available tax-free. B-)
        • Uh-huh. Go bankrupt and the state inherits the e-waste. The difference between this and a factory floor is that the factory equipment is assumed to have resale value sufficient for it not to become a burden.

          The only thing I can think of is to keep funds in escrow related to the total square feet of storage. This would not be conductive to the sort of shoestring operation that most surplus shops are.

  • by MountainLogic ( 92466 ) on Monday December 07, 2015 @05:50PM (#51076657) Homepage
    ITAR [wikipedia.org] export restrictions have killed the likes of Boeing Surplus. I bought the main honeycomb aluminum panel in used in the AWACs strut at per pound scrap prices. And for other items, its been 10 a dozen years, but I remember haunting the Akiabara and finding boatloads of TV components going back to tubes. I also remember buying core memory arrays from Cascade Surplus in Portland. So much is lost....
    • The story that I heard was that people were buying bulk fasteners (aircraft quality bolts are something else) and passing them off as new. That made about as much sense as ITAR regulations - really, how does one fashion a dangerous weapon from an old seat? Or a IBM PC with a 386 processor? Seems like they could have destroyed the 'dangerous' items and sold the rest.

      Fucking Boeing Bean Counters.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Part of the decline of Boeing Surplus has to do with tighter inventory and production control. They used to grab a handfull of aircraft-spec circuit breakers to assemble panel. When they were finished, they couldn't return the spares to inventory without running an acceptance test. So they just pitched them in a tub skid. Which ended up at Boeing Surplus.

      I rewired an old truck fuse panel with 28Vdc aircraft breakers I dug out of a bin at Boeing surplus may years ago. Probably cost me $20. But the new cost

    • The largest effect of ITAR-like regulations is that government radio and computers don't go surplus, instead they are destroyed. This is in part because of their capabilities and mostly because of embedded encryption. There actually is a lot of surplus released from U.S. cellular companies and the like. These days it ends up on DoveBid and is mostly bought by other businesses. I bought a pallet of Rhode and Schwarz spectrum analyzers that way. I think I spent $8000 for the whole thing, and any two working
  • We used to have at least half a dozen. Mock electronics, Webb electronics, W&W electronics, Austin Electronics, plus a few upstarts that only hung around for a while. They are all gone, every single one of them along with all the Radioshacks.

    However, many things in the electronic hobby world are better then ever. Parts are CHEAP these days. I can buy brand new entire reels of resistors and capacitors for a couple of bucks. There are many dedicated surplus catalogs not to mention eBay. The stuff in the b

  • That was always one of my favorite things about hamfests - not the commercial vendors with their shiny new rigs I couldn't afford - but the flea market out back full of every kind of electronic gadget you could think of.

  • by jddj ( 1085169 )

    A DC native, I fondly remember SASCO on King St. in old town Alexandria. Government surplus electronic stuff, s-100 cards, wonderful MIL-SPEC knobs, hardware and meters, any of which would have cost the gummint a fortune in taxpayer funds, bespoke many-pin connectors with huge cables, and tons of "God only knows what that was!" stuff. Wish it was still there; gone now for decades.

    I browsed the surplus tables at a recent hamfest, but the junk is less interesting, more Chinese monoculture cheap shit, and acre

  • That's, um, not really the sort of goal I had in mind when I gravitated toward this hobby. In fact, the hobby provided a respite from trying to deal with people.

  • PolyPaks on Route 128, Eli Heffron in Cambridge, Atlantic Surplus Sales in Brooklyn, Fair Radio Sales, Grossmans in Braintree with the Sherman tanks visible from the expressway, Military Surplus stores with REAL US surplus, not junk like nowadays. It was a wonderland in the 1950s. I still have 2 pristine thick steel shiny new Navy 20 mm ammo boxes, about 14x14x18 inches, from those days. The tops have 4 perimeter clamps and easily lift right off when you unclamp them. Not the crappy stupid-size thin steel a

  • by mtippett ( 110279 ) on Monday December 07, 2015 @06:23PM (#51076811) Homepage

    Surplus has changed, but it still exists in manufacturing areas. But it's not the type of surplus store you used to see. The HuaQiangBei area in Shenzen is the new surplus store. It's primarily rolls of SM tech that is suitable for Pick and Place equipment. Because that's where the manufacturing is at. The surplus around Shenzen is actually really cool.

    With miniaturization, and on-demand prototyping, the need for companies to have surplus enthusiast level stuff is way down. You do electronic layout, send it to a low volume prototyping company and they will then send it back to you in a few days/weeks. Even those prototyping stores will only surplus unusual items, with standard items being shared across different customers.

    The prototyping with with non-SMT is getting kind of rare. Hell, I have seen anyone even consider Wirewrap. These days a lot of prototyping is built around microcontroller and sample boards for ASICs. And the glue between the logic boards are a few resistors or capacitors.

  • Visit your local surplus stores and buy stuff. Let's keep these places in business.

    Or when traveling. If you go to Orlando, you should visit Skycraft. You can spend a long time browsing in there. And buy stuff the TSA is never gonna let you take on the plane.

    ESS in Manchester NH is a good place for some odd stuff, too.

    And as one other poster mentioned, there are a lot of components and other oddities to be had at hamfests, especially the bigger ones.

    • If you go to Orlando, you should visit Skycraft. You can spend a long time browsing in there.

      Easy to find, just go "north" (actually west) on I-4 til you get to Fairbanks, look on the right for the building with a flying saucer and rocket on top. You're there!

      And don't forget: if you see it and in any way think you'll want to buy it, take it with you! You will not find it there the next time.

  • This place, NextStep [nextsteprecycling.org] is where I got the flat screen monitor I'm looking at right now. I was looking for a long ethernet cable last week and went to the recycling office first by mistake where I discovered a room full of young people from disadvantaged families being trained (and paid) to test and/or disassemble computers and various other stuff. The volunteer supervisor directed me to the store. I think that's pretty cool.
  • Back in 1990s a documentary by Robert Cringely featured Halted (or was it HSC) in Mountain View, CA where it shows a teenage boy examining surplus computers and other electronics. Cringely talks about how some of these teenagers will become the next Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.
  • C&H Surplus had a wonderful store on an increasingly pricey stretch of Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena, CA, but had to relocate several miles east as rents and property values increased. Its former proximity to Caltech and JPL (and sundry assorted neighborhood subcontractors) yielded up tons and aisle after aisle of high grade test equipment, massive power supplies, relay racks, and who-knows-what. I remember getting into a yelling match with my mom (40 years ago) that a hulking Tektronix oscilloscope I pick

  • by swell ( 195815 ) <jabberwock@poetiMONETc.com minus painter> on Monday December 07, 2015 @08:19PM (#51077459)

    "Electronic flea markets and surplus stores are a nexus point of talented and interesting people."

    Interesting? A polite way to suggest 'eccentric' at best and more likely 'anti social' or possibly criminally insane. The 'talent' is most likely used for planting spy devices at the house of the girl next door, blowing up his high school or electrocuting cats. Bathing and brushing not spoken here.

    So I'm an old guy. Older than you. I had my fun and still visit a couple surplus stores. The nearest one is run by a mean old fart who doesn't really want to sell his stuff. But you can have the nostalgia. I like what's happening now in electronics, communication and bioengineering. I look forward to the future and don't dwell on the past. Let's create new stuff that will captivate the 'talented and interesting people' of the future.

    • Interesting? A polite way to suggest 'eccentric' at best and more likely 'anti social' or possibly criminally insane.

      While anecdotes are different from statistics:

      I met Frank Williams (inventor of the Williams Tube) at Electronic Brokers Ltd in Euston Road, London. I believe he bought a TU56 Dual DECtape drive that I wanted, but could not afford. Actually, I could not afford most of the stuff in Electronic Brokers, and presumably no one else could either, which is probably why they went bust.

      Proops wal

      • by dfsmith ( 960400 )
        I have many happy memories of Proops on Tottenham Court Road: gear trains, dental equipment, funky electronic displays---different every visit. The other stores on that street often had weird or broken hi-fi equipment that you could ask about, and I often had a hard time lugging stuff back on the Underground after spending my accumulated lawn money!
  • All around the country, amateur radio operators hold HAMfests. http://www.arrl.org/hamfests-a... [arrl.org] These too have been declining in numbers and they have less and less radio gear and more swap meet junk. But, I go to them and you will find old electronics, parts, computers, radios, and if course junk. The bigger events will have commercial booths as well selling electronic parts, radios, and computers. Most of the attendees are ham radio types. The events almost always offer radio license exams for a small f
  • There's still http://www.allelectronics.com/ I used to like browsing there when I was in high school. I'm 67 now.
  • I can still remember being led around by older relatives in the "war surplus" stores as they were always called in the Fifties in big-city downtowns, agog at the piles of vacuum tubes, ammo boxes and arcane chunks of militaria that required cobbling up a 28V power supply to operate. Later these became discount electronic stores ("Look! Japanese made radios!").

    One fork of this evolutionary chain became Radio Shack - real Radio Shack, festooned with ham gear, and electronic supermarkets like Fry's; the other

    • I can still remember being led around by older relatives in the "war surplus" stores as they were always called in the Fifties in big-city downtowns, agog at the piles of vacuum tubes, ammo boxes and arcane chunks of militaria that required cobbling up a 28V power supply to operate. Later these became discount electronic stores ("Look! Japanese made radios!").

      One fork of this evolutionary chain became Radio Shack - real Radio Shack, festooned with ham gear, and electronic supermarkets like Fry's; the other begat the electronic flea market where hobbyists enthusiastically rummaged through stacks of used technojunk and walls of printed manuals. The last time I visited one of these was in the Nineties. It was in the rain in Tempe, Arizona, the last few weary radio hams nosing through it on Rascal scooters, sucking oxygen through masks like Darth Vader and bleary-eyed for the old days.

      still have my prize war surplus finds, a big pile of old air force electronics that require 400hz ac power. carbon button throat mikes. 24/250 volt dynamotors.

    • I can still remember being led around by older relatives in the "war surplus" stores as they were always called in the Fifties in big-city downtowns, agog at the piles of vacuum tubes, ammo boxes and arcane chunks of militaria that required cobbling up a 28V power supply to operate. Later these became discount electronic stores ("Look! Japanese made radios!").

      One fork of this evolutionary chain became Radio Shack - real Radio Shack, festooned with ham gear, and electronic supermarkets like Fry's; the other begat the electronic flea market where hobbyists enthusiastically rummaged through stacks of used technojunk and walls of printed manuals. The last time I visited one of these was in the Nineties. It was in the rain in Tempe, Arizona, the last few weary radio hams nosing through it on Rascal scooters, sucking oxygen through masks like Darth Vader and bleary-eyed for the old days.

      wonder what percentage of them had the tail of a fighter plane poking out of the roof...

  • Before you die, you have to go to Akihabara.

    It's the electronics trading district of downtown Tokyo. Imagine a crammed complex of skinny Asian buildings all grown together, served by a twisty maze of tiny alleys and rickety stairways where every possible kind of tech is on sale in an authentic Blade Runner atmosphere (I think Akihabara is where the idea came from). You can find anything from arcane hobby parts to household appliances there. I wouldn't be surprised if there are replicants on sale there now.

  • While in Jr High School, (1963-1965), in San Diego, CA, I usually walked home, and on the way was a seriously cool store, by the name of Acro Sales. It had tons of vacumn tubes, WWII comm gear, and misc discrete parts up the wazoo.. Usually walked home with some friends/fellow geeks, and we'd regularly stop at the store for a bit on the way home.. For those who know San Diego, specfically East San Diego, the store was on University Avenue, between 41st Street and what is now the trench in the ground that

  • Back in the late 1970's and maybe into the early 1980's there was a surplus electronics store on the north east side of Atlanta that I went to many Saturday mornings. It was an amazing place and full of what may have been at that time one of the strangest mix of people shopping for junk. Of course many of the local Hams were there, and often a few engineers from some of the local electronics and computer companies that sprang up in the Silicon Hill area North East of Atlanta, but this particular place als
  • my automobile ownership during grad school was only made possible by the existence of do it yourself garages where you could rent a bay and access to various tools for $2 an hour. the advice from other customers was free.

"I never let my schooling get in the way of my education." -- Mark Twain

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