SLIDESHOW

A Tech Museum Where Everything's for Sale — Cheap!

From a BetaMAX tape to a shrinkwrapped copy of Windows 3.1, you can find it at Silicon Valley's Weird Stuff Warehouse.

Silicon Valley’s Island of Misfit Tech

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I’ve lived in the Bay Area for almost eight years without paying a single visit to one of its most legendary temples, Sunnyvale’s Weird Stuff Warehouse. Today, I happened by it after a visit to its neighbor Yahoo, and stopped in. (I did pay one previous pilgrimage in 1995, as a tourist.)

This amazing, aptly-named store offers surplus and salvaged electronic equipment, but that doesn’t begin to describe it–it’s really a museum of technology where everything’s for sale, usually for only a few bucks. Shopping its aisles today, I felt like I was walking through the entire history of personal computing. And I documented the journey with fuzzy photos from my iPhone.

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When Windows Was New

Once upon a time, Windows 3.1 was NEW! and exciting. Now it’s one of thousands of once-sexy products at Weird Stuff Warehouse that look a little like old dogs at a pet-rescue facility wondering if anybody will ever adopt them. Mark my words: Someday, there will be a stack of iPads here for ten dollars a pop.

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What a Bargain!

Before Internet Explorer was free, period, Microsoft put it inside Windows 95 boxes and told people they were getting a $24.95 value for FREE! If I ever knew that, it had slipped my mind.

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Navigating the Past

You youngsters out there won’t believe this, but there was a time when Netscape Navigator was the world’s dominant Web browser, and people bought it–yes, bought it–on floppy disks inside cardboard boxes.

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That's Not My Department

I suspect that Weird Stuff Warehouse is the only computer store in the country that still has a Commodore department. At least if you count a stack of stuff in a corner–including a VIC-20 floppy drive–as a department.

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Don't Be a Square

I spotted a number of items that left me feeling like I wasn’t quite smart enough to understand them. Round circuit boards would be one example.

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Beta-Testing

I wasn’t surprised to discover that you can buy used VCR tapes at the store–in fact, when I saw the box of them, I thought to myself that at least some of them were probably Beta. I wasn’t disappointed.

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A Dime a Dozen

Why pay $4.95 for a 1GB hard drive when you can get a whopping twice as much space for the same low price? Actually, come to think of it, why buy either capacity when modern drives store hundreds times as much and go for a dime a gigabyte?

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At Least the Floppy Drive Works

Okay, this is why you’d buy a 2GB hard drive–because you’re repairing an antique computer. The bad news is that this Dell laptop has an ancient CPU, one quarter of one percent of the RAM of a typical new computer, a busted display, and no hard drive. But hey, the floppy drive is in great shape.

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Seasons Change

Early February doesn’t count as Summer in my book. But why mess with a good CD-ROM drive sale?

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It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Mister Rogers is no longer with us, and CBS doesn’t make software anymore. (Which is understandable, since there’s not a great market for Commodore 64 apps these days–although you could buy this one and pick up a C64 on your way out of the warehouse.) I knew “Many Ways to Say I Love You” was a tad aged when I noticed the offer for a Mister Rogers book and tape expired on December 31st, 1985.

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Sorry, You're Not My Type

Even at Weird Stuff, there’s old and obsolete, and there’s really old and obsolete.

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Word Up!

Remember competitive upgrades? Remember competition in the word processor market, period? When Word for Windows 2.0 shipped in 1991, Microsoft offered discounts to users of a bevy of competitors–including people who were still using Wang systems, the granddaddies of all word processors.

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Built to Last

The warehouse’s shelves may be lined with reminders of how much technology has changed for the better, but it may also leave you wistful for certain things we’ve lost. My $200 HP all-in-one printer is an amazing advance on this $1495 LaserJet IIP from 1989 in any manner of ways, but it’s so flimsy that the paper tray falls off almost every time I touch it. The LaserJet feels like it’s built out of ultra-sturdy materials no longer used in the manufacturing of computer peripherals.

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Turning a Page in History

Once upon a time, PC Magazine was, indeed, a magazine–and it was a magazine that cover-featured a roundup review of plotters. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the models it tested were still available at the warehouse. And I like the “What’s New in Fortran” cover line.

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Not My Cup of Tea

I’d buy almost anything at Weird Stuff Warehouse. But I draw the line at items I’m supposed to ingest.

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Brands from the Past

Browsing around the store, I kept becoming reacquainted with brand names I hadn’t thought about in fifteen years or more. I used to be a Future Domain fan, but had forgotten the company ever existed. Then again, I haven’t needed to buy a SCSI adapter in a long time. And yes, that is a Kodak slide-tray box in the lower right-hand corner of the photo.

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City Lights

One of the coolest items I saw: surplus WALK/DON’T WALK signs. Just perfect if you’re planning to start your own city.

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Working Hard, or Hardly Working?

The warehouse stocks a lot of gear that’s no longer in working condition, and clearly labeled as such. These Radio Shack “simulated surveillance cameras” are unusual in that they never were supposed to work in the first place.

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How About the Dewey Decimal System?

The warehouse is meticulously organized in it’s own, well, weird way. But it’s still full of odd juxtapositions. This case featured a book on IBM PC programming and a stack of shrinkwrapped educational software for the Atari 1040ST computer.

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Death and Taxes

Still working on your 1996 taxes? Here you go. I’m struck by the percentage of products I saw at the store that date from the mid-1990s. When I paid my first visit to the store, old-timers like these were the latest and greatest.

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Pilot Error

This looked mildly historic: an original 1996 PalmPilot from the brief period when it was called the USRobotics Pilot and the box had to do a lot of explaining about just what it was. I splurged on it–it cost me all of five bucks–and discovered that the PDA inside was actually the later, improved 3Com PalmPilot Professional. It may be the first time I’ve ever bought a tech product and been slightly disappointed when it turned out to be better than I expected.

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