Silicon Valley’s Island of Misfit Tech

Need a shrinkwrapped copy of Windows 3.1, a Commodore disk drive, or a BetaMAX tape? You need the Weird Stuff Warehouse.

Posted by  | Wednesday, February 10, 2010


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.



Slides: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

26 Comments For This Post

  1. Backlin Says:

    I still have Word 6 in the box, should send it to those guys; along with my PowerMac 8500.

  2. John Baxter Says:

    1. Microsoft Internet Explorer Starter Kit (I have an un-thrown-away copy) was for both Mac and Windows. We went to it for Mac customers (of our ISP) after Adam Engst’s Internet Starter Kit for Macintosh became so long in the tooth that the browser it included would not download newer browsers. We went to it for Windows users in place of providing them with a copy of Opera and of a TCP/IP stack from Australia. In those days, one already knew how to use the computer before tackling the Internet–ISP support did not yet have to teach use of the mouse.

    2. The steam tunnel network under National Cash Register’s (later NCR) Dayton OH factory had some intersections with traffic signals, in an attempt to keep the fork lifts from colliding and to keep the pedestrians separate from the fork lifts. No walking while texting and listing to portable music down there (I spent lots of time there in the late 1960s). (Triggered by the walk/dont walk signs)

    3. I had a converted IBM Selectric attached to my Apple ][. I wrote a little program in a mix of 6502 code and Sweet-16 which allowed me to get printed copies of my online sessions with CompuServe and The Source. (It used a big ring buffer to deal with the fact that the connection was faster than the Selectric–it was tough getting used to having the echos of what I typed arrive well after I did the typing.)

    Thanks for those (and the other) memories.

    What, no IBM 650 drums?

  3. Stilgar Says:

    What’s so special? All of these slides are just like the stuff on my desk and in my basement. :)

  4. Black Cardinal Says:

    Those round circuit boards look like silicon wafer probe cards to me. They’re pretty common in the tech industry.

  5. Robert B Says:

    Man, I thought I was going to see stuff from the dawn of computing. This is stuff from what we on the Right Coast like to call “garbage sales”. Not old enough to be collector’s items (and maybe never will be), not new enough to matter. So basically it’s like someone’s collection of old, moldy basement contents.

  6. DavidG Says:

    Seeing the original USR Palm Pilot really makes me nostalgic, for some unexpected reasons. I recently got my Motorola Droid phone and even with all its whiz-bang features, it makes me miss the simplicity and ease of use of the basic ToDo, Calendar and Memo pad that shipped with the original Palm Pilot. Seriously–why is 13 year old technology more pleasant to use than the latest & greatest?

  7. Theodore Boley Says:

    Regarding the walk/dont walk signs:

    When i was in college, we had to rig up a PLC to work with a traffic light. They have a store like this down in the Twin Cities of Minnesota as well.

  8. Charles V. Stancampiano Says:

    The round board in the photo is a probe card used to operate integrated circuits while they are still in wafer form (prior to packaging). You can see the group of tiny probes in the hole in the center. This card would plug into a larger board that carried electronics to power up and operate the DUT (device under test) for testing, pass/fail or characterization work.

  9. J. R. Says:

    The round circuit boards are for rotary systems. Imagine a camera that can be controlled to view a full 360 degrees. The center rings are for the electrical interface that twists while the outer ring of through holes remain fixed.

  10. Mr Windows Says:

    The round circuit board is an IC test jig, like those made by Kulicke & Soffe, SV Probe, etc.

  11. SJBill Says:

    Slide 7 is what is called a probe card used in testing a small pre-packaged part. Probably from about 20 years ago. See the array of probe pins in the center?

    This one looks as thoughit was a hard wired to an early tester, such as a Fairchild.

  12. Michael Wright Says:

    oh yeah, well I got MS Frontpage 1.0 still shrinkwrapped from WSH!

  13. John Thibodeau Says:

    John Baxter: “In those days, one already knew how to use the computer before tackling the Internet–ISP support did not yet have to teach use of the mouse.”

    All I can say is, Amen.

    If I’m not mistaken, there are still some people who use Trumpet Winsock to connect to the ISP where I hang out.

    Slide 6; I’m sure I’m way off, but it reminds of part of an elevator controller. There’s a set of rotating discs which move up and down in proportion to the elevator cabin, one disc for each floor. The discs have contacts on them which signal when to slow/stop the lift motor.

    Slide 12: They still have a typewriter similar to the one pictured in the university department office where I work. I wondered if they still used it, until the other day when I was getting coffee from the break room and I heard the almost-forgotten sound of “clack-clack-clack clackity-clack”.

    P.S. You can still download the “latest” version of Trumpet Winsock from Mr. Tattam :)

  14. ScottM Says:

    Reminds me of another surplus/junk place called The Black Hole in Los Alamos, NM. What’s cool about the Black Hole is that not only can you buy old computers and Selectrics, but also dozens of oscilloscopes and various nuclear test equipment. Some of the temp gauges laying around there have ranges on the Kelvin scale. There’s also a geiger counter just inside the front door, clicking a little faster than I’m comfortable with.

    While the Black Hole is still in operation, its founder Ed Grothus passed away last year. He and his shop were also the subject of a documentary entitled ‘Atomic Ed and The Black Hole’. Put it on your list, you’ll be glad you did.

  15. Robert Harker Says:

    Humm… you did not seem to go into the back room where stuff gets weirder like racks of old networking gear, 1200 & 2400 baud modems, boxes of ISA PC cards, oddball printers, 10base-5 and 10base-2 co-axial Ethernet gear, etc…

    And Weird stuff is not nearly as weird as it used to be when it was in (near?) Milpitas. Back then, the stuff was heaped on the shelves in no particular order. Computer stuff, circuit boards, high vacuum equipment, mechanical equipment, old military gear, multibus and VME bus gear, video gear, etc… It seemed like they went to surplus/liquidation auctions and brought it back and added it to the piles. Not much sorting and very little cleaning. Much of it had no prices, you went to the counter and haggled. Back then it really was *Weird Stuff*.

  16. dlchambers Says:

    Wierd Stuff is one of the last of a dying breed. 20 years ago the are had tons of these places, most of which have sadly fallen away (RIP Haltek).
    I think that part of it is due to the evolution of Silicon Valley: 20 years ago everyone was making hardware and the surplus went to Wierd Stuff, Haltek, et al. Not much interesting surplus from failed Web companies…

  17. Greg Dotts Says:

    I’m one of the “early” crew that started into computing just before the dawn of most of these things. What a blast from the past – thanks for the memories. BTW, I’ve actually used most of that stuff at one time or another!!!! Am I getting old?

  18. mark p Says:

    I work at Radioshack, and we still sell those simulated security cameras for $20 [ http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2049770 ]. Amusingly enough the company is so cheap that we use the simulated cameras in the store in place of real cameras. Sometimes even the customers notice it.

  19. The Interet Says:

    I love the gallery but holy cow, convert those images. They’re 500kb PNGs. At the quality they’re at now they could be 30kb as .jpg. I hope you don’t pay usage based.

  20. Peteybear Says:

    Spectacular place, A Temple of Timely Technology! I’ve been here in Silicon Valley for almost forty years, and have enjoyed every visit to the place.

  21. Colin Howell Says:

    I still remember going to Weird Stuff around 10 years ago and finding what looked like the Mother of All Fuses: around 6 inches long, an inch in diameter, and with solid copper busbar contacts about 1/4 of an inch thick. Looked like it might have come from an electrical substation. Blowing a monster fuse like that must be spectacular. Sadly, I’ve never since come across anything quite so cool there.

  22. Recreant Says:

    Having just filled out a stack of IRS-mandated QUADRUPLICATE 1099 forms, I can assure you that the Selectric is not obsolete!

    I still have my Toshiba 3100e luggable with the original manuals. Still one of the nicest designs keyboard-wise of any computer I’ve ever used. That absolutely flat aluminum keyboard Apple is stamping out by the millions is absolutely awful. All looks, no function. Pity that, in terms of manufacturing, it’s pretty amazing

    Can somebody make a keyboard that duplicates the action of a Selectric? Please? My price point would be well over $100 IF they got it right.

  23. Ben S Says:

    I was in Dolores park yesterday and saw someone banging out fortunes onto sheets of paper with a handy reliable typewriter. Its not yet that easy with a laptop + printer combo. at least not an affordable printer…

  24. Jackson W Says:

    That’s nothing I still have a Heathkit H8 running CPM operating system.
    It still works with it’t 4mh CPU & 64k of ram & 3 hard sectored floppy discs.

  25. Tazman1977 Says:

    “Those round circuit boards look like silicon wafer probe cards to me. They’re pretty common in the tech industry.” Posted by Black Cardinal

    Black Cardinal is absolutly correct. This is a silicon probe card. I used to work for a company that manufactured both the holders and probing stations for these.

  26. Arnum Says:

    Thanks for the trip back in time Harry. The commodore 64 pic bought a tear to my eye. I remember when I got my brand spankin new PB166mhz, 32mb PC. My mate had bought one 6 months earlier, and was loading Win95 by floppy (was it 24 floppies?) I got the cutting edge tech, a CD Rom, he was so jealous. It only took me a couple of hours to load Win95, where he had to spend all day (or longer).

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