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Old gadgets galore at geek flea market

Marketplace Staff Oct 12, 2007

Old gadgets galore at geek flea market

Marketplace Staff Oct 12, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: Flea markets have an economy all their own. Generally they’re a place to kill a couple of hours on a weekend morning, looking for bargains.

In Silicon Valley there’s one where the high-tech elite and regular old engineers shop for the tools of their trade. Tamara Keith reports fom KQED.

TAMARA KEITH: They arrive before sunrise, flashlights in hand. The men search for deals in the bins of old computer parts, vacuum tubes and obsolete manuals. Mostly middle-aged, some retired, these men are drawn to the monthly electronics flea market at DeAnza College in Cupertino like a bad habit. It takes a certain type.

JEFF ANDERSON: And so here you are in Nerdville.

Nerdville. He said it. On this crisp Saturday, Jeff Anderson is selling a random assortment of electronics from the back of his silver VW. Most months he’s a shopper, but once a year he clears out the garage.

ANDERSON: What do you want to buy, what can I entice you to pick up here, to purchase?

KEITH: I can’t even tell you what I am looking at here.

ANDERSON: You’re looking at high-tech equipment that’s going for a song. Very inexpensive.

Anderson is one of dozens who pay $20 to a local ham radio club to sell old stuff.

ANDERSON: What do you think this is worth?

KEITH: How old is it?

ANDERSON: I don’t know. Make me an offer.

Like many here, Anderson is a Silicon Valley engineer. He consults for Polycom, the company that makes those black, triangular phones you see on just about every corporate conference table.

ANDERSON: One of the phones I actually designed — see that white box there?

He points to a neighboring booth.

ANDERSON: That’s one of the ones I designed. And that’s kind of a sign that you’ve arrived, when things you’ve designed start showing up at the flea market.

The experience of seeing something you created sitting on a blanket, selling for practically nothing, is common for the regulars here. Howard Charney is the senior vice president of Cisco Systems, a giant tech firm. But as he walks through the rows he fits right in. There’s his old ham radio buddy, Les.

LES: Oh Hi Howard… I think I met you at Dayton.

HOWARD CHARNEY: Yes yes yes… I hear you on frequently. Frequently selling vintage manuals — I have three vintage manuals for $15…

Charney has helped start up a number of Silicon Valley companies.

CHARNEY: Sometimes as we walk around, we see the cast-offs from those companies — an old switch from Synoptics, or an old something from 3Com, or an old… it’s the detritus of this valley, really.

Charney co-founded 3Com, the network gear maker. And he says matter-of-factly:

CHARNEY: I flew my airplane down here to come here.

He’s just browsing for a bargain to make his day. Others here drove, some several hours. To them, it seems reasonable, especially if they find that perfect part for their project in the garage or at the office. Engineering consultant Russ Sherry:

RUSS SHERRY: Frequently, you’re working in smaller companies, which don’t have a large budget. And if you have something that’s appropriate for doing what you’re doing, it’s no big deal to drag it in.

The finds can help build new prototypes or to test them. Some Silicon Valley companies are well-known for encouraging their employees to shop here. Happy hunting.

In Cupertino, California, I’m Tamara Keith for Marketplace.

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