News from Blue Feather Technologies
27-Sep-08: No Scrounge Run this year!
Fellow techies, this is an Official First. Specifically, it's the first time in 15 years, since moving up to Washington state, that I did not do my annual road-trip to the Bay Area.
As it turns out, there were a number of factors this year that actually favored not doing the trip. First and foremost was that my lady and I are taking a MAJOR vacation this year, and that's going to eat up 95% of my annual leave hours, which leaves nothing for a Bay run. In fact, I had to scuttle my normal run to Oregon as well.
As if that were not enough, my closest friend and fellow scrounger in San Jose, the one who usually goes out with me, is dealing with medical issues this year on both his part and that of his parents. This would have made doing the rounds of the various places difficult, if not impossible, for him and would have led to severe frustration for both of us.
Fear not, though. Come 2009, I will be back in the saddle, as it were. There will be a full-blown Bay Area run in September, as usual, plus various swap meets throughout the year and at least one run to Oregon-based surplus places. Everything on the site in terms of scrounging information will be updated then.
The strangest part about Scrounge 2K7 was that I ended up ordering about the same amount of goodies from Ebay that I found at local surplus places. Further evidence that true scrounging needs a variety of sources.
There was one find that I consider truly "Miraculous!" Specifically, a PPI-0801 PCMCIA memory card adapter for use with the Data I/O 'UniFamily' programmers. It allows the programmer (Unisite, 2900, or 3900) to read and write the old Intel-style FLASH memory cards, among others. Very handy for archiving cards that may have still-useful data on them, like the ones I happen to have..
Data I/O's price for that adapter is over $800. My cost, at the DeAnza Swap? The princely sum of $10.00.
What are the odds, do you think, of me being in just the right place, at the right time, to intercept an adapter that's more rare than the proverbial hens' tooth? I'm not sure, but I think I'd do better in Vegas. Behold, the Power of the Scrounge! ;-)
In surplus place news: G2 Technology and AllTech Recyclers, our two major new presences, both deserve close scrutiny. Both are still building themselves and growing, and I believe it's only a matter of time before they establish themselves among the "Movers and Shakers" of the Bay Area Surplus scene.
No trip is without some bad news. HSC has slipped back down again, grade-wise, for continuing their hallucinatory pricing on used test gear, and anything else that they think might make them obscenely rich. Also, and unfortunately, Excess Solutions lost a couple of points off their grade, mainly for poor customer service (see the report).
Another sad note: Triangle Machinery and Tool mysteriously closed their doors around August of 2008, reasons unknown. This marks a serious blow to the robotics community, as well as those of us who kept an eye out for things like mil-spec connector crimpers and attachments.
And, on a final note, 'Silicon Valley CompuCycle' didn't make it to the main listings because they're strictly Ebay only when it comes to sales. Their direct customer service also leaves much to be desired. A friend of mine and I were ignored for nearly three full minutes when we walked in the door, this despite the fact that there were several sales types present, some of whom looked like they were doing nothing more than yapping at each other.
Outside of scrounging, I got my annual hike in Alum Rock Park. Beautiful place! If you go, mind the fact that the trails are all hard-pack dirt and that they can get very dusty if the wind comes up. However, there's also a nice creek to play in if you get overheated.
I've noticed an odd pattern with the M&K swap over the years. You'll start out one year, and it'll be absolutely phenomenal -- every table sold out, electronics at every turn, and not one hint of off-topic sellers (Mary Kay Cosmetics, anyone?) These are the times when you really do wish the swap went on for two days, as it used to decades ago.
The second year, it's not quite as good. Still lots of bargains, but the mood seems to calm down a bit. These are the times where you're most likely to mutter "hope it's better next time..."
Third year: Absolutely horrible. Lots of empty tables alongside occupied ones, no one seems to want to buy nuch of anything, and the off-topic sellers can be spotted more often than normal. These are the times when you wonder why you bothered.
And then comes the fourth year -- and it's right back to "phenomenal" again! There's probably some bizarre cosmic logic to this three-year cycle, but darned if I can figure it out.
Now, with that said -- This year (2007) should, if the pattern were running true to form, have been horrible. It wasn't! Not in any imaginable sense. Oh, it wasn't 'phenomenal' either, but 2007 felt more like 2006 than anything else.
Such are the vagaries of swap meets in general, and electronics swap meets in particular. Best advice I can give is never assume anything, and never give up on them. I don't think Ebay has had quite as much impact as some would think.
Another year, another scrounge trip down in the history books. This year's brought some odd transpositions, along with plenty of ups and downs.
First, the weird transpositions. It actually took me longer to get down to the Bay Area (14.5 hours) than it did to get back to Washington (13 hours). I attribute this largely to the fact that I was carrying a fairly heavy load down for the DeAnza swap meet. This had a drastic negative effect on my gas mileage, which necessitated more than the normal number of fuel stops.
The ups and downs: It just didn't feel right not having Mike Quinn Electronics around. They'd been such an institution for so many decades that the feeling of a gap left by their demise is much stronger than I would have expected. The feeling was compounded by the loss of Kaiser Technologies, and the discovery that Outback Equipment was nowhere near what they could have been.
On the bright side, I did really well (again) at the swap meet, and I found lots of neat toys, among them a Cisco Catalyst 5000 series network switch. I remember those units from my days at Boeing (they were the mainstay of the campus backbones), enough so that I was perfectly willing to replace my existing BayStack switches with one. The only bad thing is that Cisco wants big $$ for access to the current software.
If I had to give one piece of advice to other scroungers, it would be this: Take a day off from doing ANY scrounging, and use it to go for a hike in a local park, see a movie with a friend, or whatever. Relax-time is just as important as finding surplus stuff.
The best way I can classify the Mike & Key swap meet is a full night's worth of anticipation and significant physical effort, the latter easily comparable to a full workout at the gym, followed by nine hours (six for buyers) of loosely-controlled chaos. Better put some gel insoles in your shoes, especially if you're a seller. You'll be glad you did!
But guess what? It's FUN! I'll be back again next year. I did very well this year, netting enough to finance a major lab-bench expansion. For all the folks who bought what I came to sell, THANK YOU for your business! I'm glad I had things of interest for you at what were (apparently) good prices.
Overall, though, the sheer variety of stuff was down a bit from last year and, after buying and selling there every year for over a decade, I'm beginning to notice a pattern. It'll start with one year's event that can only be called 'Phenomenal.' The following year is almost as good, but not quite. You'll be walking around, unable to shake the feeling that something is just missing.
The third year, everything seems to go to pot. And then the fourth year, it's back up again. Assuming this cycle holds true, next year (2007) stands a good chance of being a disappointment, while 2008 should be back up to 'Phenomenal.'
I would be curious if other regular attendees of this event have noticed a similar pattern over the years.
I can't believe it took me two weeks to settle down and write the trip report...
Then again, maybe I can. This was a trip that held almost as many ruts as it did peaks, and it probably took this long for everything to settle into coherency in my gray matter.
First and foremost: The changes at Kaiser Tech were disappointing, to say the least. The vast assortment of test gear that they once had, when Dan Burtis was running that side of it, is long gone, right down to the shelving that the stuff was sitting on. I've been told -- repeatedly -- by the staff that this is a temporary condition. Let's all hope so! Kaiser was one heck of a good source for used test gear, one that I'd hate to see go away permanently.
UPDATE 11-Mar-06: I learned, just a month or so after I got back from the trip, that a company called Outback Equipment, located in Morgan Hill, bought the remaining test-gear inventory from Kaiser Tech, and is continuing to build their inventory of same. I know very little of Outback, other than that they sell regularly on Ebay (mostly electronic manufacturing and process-control equipment), that their prices on used test gear appear to be pretty darn good, and that they're friendly to deal with (this per a confidential report from a fellow scrounger).
Outback is at the top of my 'Check them out' list for Scrounge 2006. Stay tuned for more details as I get them.
With every 'Up,' there's usually a 'Down.' Scrounge 2K5's 'Down' side started with Halted (HSC Electronics) and HMR Recycling. HSC's status is still very much unstable, and they remain one step away from being classed, once again, as a 'Scrounger Rip-Off.' The only thing that has saved them, for the moment, is that they appear to have made some positive changes in response to a letter I wrote them shortly after I got back.
As for HMR, well... what can I say? They're Just Plain Bad. In fact, it's places like HMR that make the surplus business look like crap. Their selection is no better, and in many cases worse, than what you'd find at any other used-computer place. Their prices remain as ridiculous as ever (they're using the high side of Ebay as a reference for the retail side, even for as-is stuff), and their customer service skills are some of the worst it has ever been my misfortune to encounter (I got laughed at in responding to THEIR request to 'make an offer').
It's a shame, too -- HMR had such potential when they started out, years ago. Now they're just a greedy bunch of money-grubbers who don't seem to give a flying banana what they try to sell, what condition it's in, or for how much, as long as they make a buck doing it.
One of the worst bits of news was, unfortunately, that a once-glorious electronics swap meet has fallen prey to Those Who Just Don't Like Such Things. The LARK (Livermore Amateur Radio Klub) swap has fallen on hard enough times that they've been relegated to a very dusty, grungy, and bug-filled dirt parking lot at Robertson Park near downtown Livermore. It's unpaved, murder on your car's suspension, and it's populated with enough tiny green flying critters to keep the most ardent of entomologists happy.
I've corresponded with a couple of senior LARK people about this, including the club's president. The good news is that they are indeed maintaining the search for a better venue. When that'll happen is anyone's guess, though.
Oddly enough, I've gotten favorable reports about Livermore from one of my fellow scroungers who also happens to be a regular seller there. Perhaps what they have worked out better than anticipated? In any case, I invite the readers of this board to draw your own conclusions.
Enough gloom -- Now for more good news! In stark contrast to Livermore, the DeAnza swap (formerly Foothill, formerly Lockheed) seems to have truly found their place. Their new venue at DeAnza College is one of the best they've had since losing Foothill College, and it shows! They've got nearly the same amount of space, and entry/exit is just as easy (if not more so) than Lockheed. Another good point is that sellers do not need to pay the $2 parking fee that DeAnza normally charges.
If LARK doesn't find a new venue for their event, I can easily see DeAnza becoming the premier electronic swap meet for the Bay Area.
On the retail front, ACE Electronics and Excess Solutions continue to be outstanding sources for component parts. Weird Stuff, while a bit high-priced on some items, is still a very worthy stop, though you'll get the most benefit out of them if you're a 'regular.' Their stock changes so quickly that it's hard to nail what you want if you can only come in once a year (as I'm limited to).
There's new places as well. One noteworthy stop for me was Taraval Computer Repair, a micro-store in the hills of San Francisco that, while a bit hard to get to, has some very decent deals in pull-out parts. Unfortunately, I was unable to get to the Computer Recycling Center in Santa Clara, and I was also unable to review Berman's Diversified Industries in the time I had available. They're both on the slate for next year.
All that, coupled with finding a few new places and learning that Six Flags is at least trying to do something right (that's a whole other story), made for a fun (but tiring!) trip.
But you know what? I've already started the preliminary planning for next year. ;-)
Keep the peace(es).
I KNEW that if I kept looking long enough, and digging around hard enough, I would eventually find a decent merchant card processing service for Blue Feather. The coming first week of February marks the end of processing our credit card payments through ProPay or PayPal, because we've now got our own merchant account!
The biggest problem was finding one that didn't charge monthly minimums, and that didn't make up for it with huge monthly statement fees (I've seen such as high as $20). I'm pleased to say that CoCard Services of New York offered an unbeatable deal: $7.50/month statement fee, no monthly minimums, a great price on a Verifone Omni 3200SE terminal and matching PIN pad, and charge rates that I can definitely live with.
CoCard works in concert with the National Processing Company. NPC has been around for a good many years, and is publicly traded on the NYSE (symbol NAP). They are, according to their fact sheet, the second largest processor in the world with about $4 billion in annual volumes.
CoCard sells processing terminals on Ebay under the ID of 'buy222.' The way I took care of our needs was to purchase a terminal, and then include a note with the PayPal payment to the effect that I wanted to set up a merchant account as well. A very helpful gentlemen named Sam Seidenfeld took things from there, and I had everything set up within about a week's time.
I'm not getting paid to say this stuff, BTW. I'm only responding to great service. I can easily understand how they've gotten a 100% positive Ebay feedback rating.
If you need a merchant account and/or a processing terminal for your business, I think you could certainly do worse than to give them a call. 1-888-666-3066.
NOTE: If you do call, please tell them that I referred you. They do like to know where their new business comes from.
Thanks for reading. 'Til next time...
Bruce Lane, Owner
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