I’m a scrounger.
I can’t help it, I love it. The joy and *squee* ness I have for something I acquire is made all the better if I get it at some amazing discount, or find it under a box of ‘junk’ and get it for a song, or get it via some bizarre wrangling where I end up with the better end of the deal.
Flea markets are the best for this. You can naturally divide flea markets into ‘tech’ events and ‘family’ events. The family ones aren’t as interesting for the piles of tech gear, but you do have the chance of someone unloading a piece of equipment they know nothing about. “Yeah well, grampa had this in his room, we don’t know what it is, it’s in German, you want it? $5.” – I’m sure someone has acquired an Enigma machine that way (I haven’t, but I still hold out hope.)
But the tech flea markets are the best. For me it goes back to my happy days attending the Trenton Computer Festival every spring in New Jersey. This was (and still is) an epic event – we’d plan for it for weeks, load up the trailer / van / car / truck / whatever, and arrive on site at some ungodly hour (usually in the neighborhood of 6:30am). The flea market didn’t open until 10, and in many cases, most of the best deals have already happened between the vendors by the time the general public showed up. It was great to see 4 guys go by hauling a big equipment cabinet “Dude! 2 RL02 drives, and controller!” “Hey, good find!” We’d frequently have radios rigged up “Bob, I found a pile of Unibus controllers in a 4 slot backplane. Need it?” “See if they have an RLV11 in there, okay?” “Right…” It was awe inspiring.
This week has brought up another scrounging opportunity though. In the last few days, I’ve been to 2 fire sales. Computer businesses that are closing out their stores and liquidating their inventory. Sometimes this makes for amazing bargains, but it’s totally the luck of the draw, whether you can spot something before someone else does, and how you time it.
The first one was a visit to the sad remains of Comp USA in Framingham. Probably one of the last of the ‘computer stores’ around (anyone remember places like Computerland?), CompUSA is closing a large number of their stores. This place had that “doom!” feel that many of these stores get as they liquidate. Any pretense of civility by the staff is gone, they just want to be done with it.
Unfortunately, CompUSA’s prices started at the astronomical level (which I’m sure contributed to their downfall), so when they advertise “20% off sale! Everything must go!”, it’s not exactly something you go charging into expecting massive bargains.
Regardless, I did score a few things. Picked up a copy of Black and White 2 and C&C Generals for around $12 each (normally they’re around $40), as well as a few other tidbits. Many of the things I might be interested in were either gone already (like a Nokia 770, or still ridiculously overpriced (ATI Radeon high end cards which RETAIL for $250 ish were marked down a whopping 15%. No thanks). I think they’re still there, still trying to get rid of stuff, I’ll try and stop over there tomorrow and see what’s left.
The other opportunity was a very small computer business in Watertown closing down. This was one of those friendly neighborhood computer stores, owned and operated by one person, that’s been around for years. The fellow had some problems going on, and decided to sell everything in the store for $1 a pound. Now we’re talkin!
Unfortunately, all the mail and notifications I saw said they were going to open at 1pm on Friday. I got there at the crack of 1pm, and probably 80% of the stuff was gone already. I waved hi to a few friends, and picked through what was left. In the end, I found a very nice aluminum hauling cart that was tucked under a table, as well as a box full of power strips, ethernet cables, and other handy tidbits. Total price: $42. Can’t really argue with that.
My next opportunity for scrounging will come when the MIT Swap Fest resumes in a few weeks. That’s always a load of fun, though it’s gotten somewhat uniform (the same vendors with the same things every month). Occasionally there’s gems there, and I go, as always, for the thrill of finding something Neat.

A View of Truth

In Friday’s Swift, James Randi’s weekly column, he cited a remarkablebook by Andrew Keen called “The Cult of the Amateur“.
I’m reproducing the block that Randi mentioned – I believe his selection is excellent and states much of what I feel is at issue in internet commentary, and indeed, the way people perceive ‘truth’ today…

Truth… is being “flattened,” as we create an on-demand, personalized version of the truth, reflecting our own individual myopia. One person’s truth becomes as “true” as anyone else’s. Today’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalized truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile. To quote Richard Edelman, the founder, president and CEO of Edelman PR, the world’s largest privately owned public relations company:
In this era of exploding media technologies there is no truth except the truth you create for yourself.
This undermining of truth is threatening the quality of civil public discourse, encouraging plagiarism and intellectual property theft and stifling creativity. When advertising and public relations are disguised as news, the line between fact and fiction becomes blurred. Instead of more community, knowledge, or culture, all that Web 2.0 really delivers is more dubious content, from anonymous sources, hijacking our time and playing to our gullibility.
Need proof? Let’s look at that army of perjurious penguins – “Al Gore’s Army of Penguins” to be exact. Featured on YouTube, the film, a crude “self-made” satire of Gore’s pro-environment movie An Inconvenient Truth, belittles the seriousness of [his] message by featuring a penguin version of Al Gore preaching to other penguins about global warning.
But [this film] is not just another homemade example of YouTube inanity. Though many of the 120,000 people who viewed this video undoubtedly assumed it was the work of some SUV-driving amateur with an aversion to recycling, in reality, the Wall Street Journal traced the real authorship of this neo-con satire to DCI Group, a conservative Washington, D.C. public relationships and lobbying firm whose clients include ExxonMobil. The video is nothing more than political spin, enabled and perpetuated by the anonymity of Web 2.0, masquerading as independent art. In short, it is a big lie.

Trying to navigate the information overload we have today to try and get ‘reality’ out of the morass is a challenge I personally face every day. Aside from the deep philosophical overtones, I have a firm faith (if that is the proper word) in reality and truth. Superstition and fantasy masquerading as fact has no place in my worldview. To me, spin, misdirection, and deception, like the video mentioned above, are no better.