The End of an Era?

I was heartbroken to read about the demise of Weird Stuff Warehouse, a Silicon Valley institution.

I remember when they were just called Weird Stuff and were located in a commercial storefront near Fry’s in Milpitas.  They had glass display cases with a few dozen parts for sale, such as hard drives and peripheral cards. Once in a while, they would have something crazy, like a giant minicomputer hard drive with a spindle motor that looked like it belonged in a washing machine.  We mostly visited just to see what was new, though I do remember when they had trash cans full of ping pong balls that they were selling by the bagful.  We bought a few dozen to throw at each other at the office.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was assigned a weeklong project in Milpitas a few years ago, a good decade after I had moved to SoCal.  My GPS took me to a nondescript warehouse entrance.  When I walked inside, it was like a massive museum.  Stack after stack of 30-year-old hard drives, cards, motherboards, power supplies, test equipment, industrial equipment, cables, wires, displays, servers, switches, cabinets, modem banks… I spent every evening after work walking up and down the aisles, admiring and sometimes touching the Silicon Valley of my youth.

With my (and my 17-year-old son’s) excitement building about the upcoming Vintage Computer Festival West in Mountain View this summer, I Googled Weird Stuff so that my son, too, could experience the fruits of Silicon Valley on those shelves.  Alas, it turns out that Googling was what contributed to the death of this institution.  The search giant bought the building, and Weird Stuff Warehouse closed its doors and sold its inventory to a company that, as far as I can tell, doesn’t have a retail presence.

In the light of recent events involving Facebook, Uber and other companies, there’s a growing sentiment that Silicon Valley is not what it used to be.  I can’t speak to that myself; I moved out of the Bay Area almost two decades ago and haven’t followed it as closely as I used to.  But it seems that Silicon Valley, which used to be about inventing and building better stuff (hence the “silicon” in the name) has forgotten its roots a bit in its bid to grab some of that VC gold rush money.  Perhaps Silicon Valley needs to get back to building more weird stuff instead.

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