Fry’s Electronics is dead

How’s that for a spoiler of a headline?

After a day or two of rumors, a Bay Area TV news report last night confirmed that Fry’s Electronics, a mainstay of Silicon Valley electronics sourcing and more for almost 40 years, would cease operations today, February 24, 2021.

History of Silicon Valley Indeed: Is Fry’s Electronics Dying? | rsts11

Revisiting Fry’s Electronics a year later | rsts11

Fry’s confirmed this on their website early on Wednesday, February 24.

Many locals have seen the stores dry up, but there were still some goods they were useful for; I myself bought a few flash drives and SSDs for mining rigs and appliance builds earlier this months.

I’ve seen a few outlets declare that Fry’s fell to the pandemic, but people who’ve paid attention know this was not the core cause. The stores failed to adjust to competition, both local and online, over the past decade. Despite being the prime source of technology in the Bay Area for decades, they didn’t really keep up with the tech, internally or in the competitive environment.

The cascade through the consignment transition and then through the pandemic didn’t help, but there was a lot more going on long before COVID-19. A couple of friends joked that if they’d just sold toilet paper last year at this time, they would’ve been even more rich and weathered the storm, but like the failure to capitalize on the last two Black Friday sales opportunities, they missed the boat on perma-work-from-home.

Ironically, Micro Center, who are doing well in other parts of the country, failed in Silicon Valley around the turn of the century for similar reasons to Frys’s – failure to compete with what was at the time a very unique retail environment in the Bay Area. In today’s market, they might be able to make a comeback if they can find an affordable location (maybe the Fry’s building in Sunnyvale could be refitted with some windows and fewer ceiling leaks?).

For now, Silicon Valley denizens will have a choice of national websites like Amazon, Newegg, Zones, and the like; the local Best Buy stores; and Silicon Valley’s “other” local computer store, Central Computers (founded in Sunnyvale decades ago like Fry’s). For electric and electronic components, we still have options like Anchor Electronics (also a South Bay staple for around 40 years) and Excess Solutions (which has adjusted and expanded three times in the last 20 years or so).

For the past year or two, a trip to Fry’s for me has been an exercise in controlled disappointment, similar to vintage computer and car aficionados who might drive past the building where their favorite was invented, designed, built. Even more than before, I’d likely leave with nothing purchased, and the 64 empty registers would remain silent. Now they’ll be silent forever.

Quick Take: Different ways of acquiring cryptocurrency

With this past month’s stock and crypto activity (various stocks heading for lunar orbit, Bitcoin breaking US$40,000, etc), a lot of people have started looking for ways to buy cryptocurrency (and stocks).

In a lot of forums, they’re being hit with misleading or outright false information. I’m here today to give you some pointers and context, and help you understand the cryptocurrency options available to you.

Nothing in this post is provided as investment advice or recommendations to conduct any financial transactions. There is risk in any of these processes, and you are on your own for that.

If you choose to use one of my referral links to sign up for one of the services mentioned, I’ll either get a share or two of a cheap stock, a few bucks worth of a stock, or sometimes a cash bonus. And I’ll appreciate your support. (Note that promos can change, and I may not come back and update these promos later; see the respective websites for active promotion terms)

  • SoFi Invest (fund an active account including crypto with $1000, and we’ll both get $50 worth of stock) (crypto available)
  • SoFi Money (fund an account with $500, and we both get $50 cash) (Virtual money management account, linkable to Invest and other services)
  • Robinhood (sign up and link a bank account, and we both get a free share of stock) (crypto available)
  • Webull (fun an account with $100 and get at least one stock share, maybe two) (crypto under tags like BTCUSD, ETHUSD, no DOGE)
  • Public (app-only, complete application and get a free amount of stock up to $16, must hold the value of the free stock in the account for 90 days) (no crypto, just stocks)

What is cryptocurrency? Do I get an actual physical bitcoin?

Cryptocurrency is a virtual currency that is created through a process called mining, and can be transferred and converted to other currencies (including “fiat” or what some would call “real” money). You don’t get a physical bitcoin (or ethereum or anything like that), and if you’ve seen one of those metal “Real Bitcoin Coin” items at a store, you’ve just seen a souvenir with little to no value and no association with any bitcoins.

Many cryptocurrencies have developed value, primarily through people giving them value and accepting them in transactions. This isn’t entirely unlike paper money – a piece of green and white paper alone doesn’t have any value, but when a nation accepts that that piece of paper is worth a certain amount and uses it in trade, it suddenly has value. 

The cryptocurrencies you’ve probably heard most about are Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and (lately) Dogecoin. Bitcoin is the grandfather of crypto, and has been around since 2009. The others have come along since, to address perceived shortcomings or scaling issues with Bitcoin. Continue reading

Ten years of rsts11.com

On January 28, 2011, I launched this site to move beyond occasional tweets about technology, and to save things for future reference.

Dozens of times a year I’ll wonder which exact motherboard was in a system I built, or what vendor I regretted seeing sink into the ground like a big ol’ glowing gopher, and a quick glance on this site cleared things up for me more often than not.

Once in a while, I find something to post that makes a difference for someone else, whether it’s technical, soft topics, or even travel related (over on rsts11travel, which came four years ago this month).

As always, I have a draft folder full of content waiting to be drafted into service. Some new projects have come up, and some old ones have warranted a refresh, so as I get some stuff sorted out at home, I’ll get some posts out in the open for your enjoyment and education.

If you have suggestions or ideas, or even hardware you’d like to have evaluated, reach out through the comments here or our contact page and I’ll see what I can do.

And if this blog has helped you over the years, feel free to send me a virtual coffee at https://ko-fi.com/robnovak (the $3 suggested donation actually covers two Nespresso pods and then some, so it’s like buying us both a coffee, but I’ll drink yours for you).

Some longer anniversary posts from the past:

[Featured photo is from the Duran Duran 80s greatest hits album Decade, available at Amazon and everywhere old music is sold.]

My three unfair advantages in the COVID-19 era

A lot of people have had to make a lot of adjustments to life in the pandemic era, from work to home life to eating and shopping.

I’ve had three serious advantages–some might even say unfair advantages–that made my transition smoother than most. Probably the most disruptive element of the shelter-in-place and travel restrictions for me would be the extra people in the house all day, and that’s still a bit unsettling at times.

But let’s take a look at the advantages, and see if they might help you as well.

1. I’ve worked from home for the past six and a half years.

This one is hard to do retroactively, of course, but in terms of remote access, working without coworkers face-to-face, and making my own coffee every morning (several times, most days), I was training for the pandemic since I started working for Cisco in 2014.

Before the pandemic, I did have opportunities to get out and see my colleagues in person, whether for our sales kickoff in Las Vegas or conferences or team gatherings at company headquarters. Those have mostly dried up, although I did see a partner engineer briefly a couple of months ago when dropping off a couple of pieces of hardware for him.

I have had to adjust the home environment for the new “coworkers,” including a high school student and a non profit program director who were doing their daily grind in the house, the latter in front of my “daily grind” machine farm… never quite got around to setting up a coffeemaker in my home office, but I did get a second beverage fridge set up.

I have to admit that I hadn’t really prepared for the letdown of virtual conferences, but I wasn’t entirely surprised. On the upside, almost all of the content from the half dozen conferences I’ve “attended” has been made available more promptly afterward, so I can go back and review a lot of it rather easily.

2. I’ve spent weeks in Las Vegas over the past decade

You might be surprised by this advantage, but it definitely prepared me for some of the personal hygiene issues that we’ve been asked to address to slow the spread and reduce risk of contracting the virus.

After the first time or two that I got sick after a trip to Las Vegas, I learned to wash my hands frequently and to never, ever touch my eyes or face unless I had just washed my hands or had a wipe to use.

As a melting pot of bacteria and viruses and just ordinary grime from all over the world, Las Vegas is an easy place to pick up something you didn’t want, whether from handrails, escalators, elevator buttons, door handles, and the like. Browsing through electronics and thrift stores could sometimes leave “weird stuff” on my fingers, but nothing like the handrails at Planet Hollywood or elevator buttons at Mandalay Bay.

So getting in the habit of washing my hands regularly (not just after going to the bathroom, although that’s one a lot of dotcom workers never quite figured out), and keeping my hands away from my eyes (one of the two easiest places to get things introduced to your bloodstream), helped reduce the risk of getting something in Vegas, or in conference facilities elsewhere, or partner offices, or just around town.

I’ve overused subscription services for several years

Note: This section contains affilliate and referral links. You can obviously search for the sites yourself if you don’t want to toss me a few bucks here or there, but I appreciate those of you who do.

There are usually cases of toilet paper and/or paper towels, and plenty of antibacterial wipes and sprays, on a shelf in the garage or in the front closet, thanks to the Amazon Subscribe and Save program. Some brands and products have disappeared from the program over the past few months, and others have popped up (including the “pick 8 scrabble tiles to name your brand” sort of companies), but between these offerings and the occasional sale at Target, we were pretty well positioned on paper and cleaning products from the start. Yes, there was one $1/roll toilet paper purchase, but

I also have to admit to keeping my breakfast/snack drawer under my desk stocked through this program as well (Clif nut butter filled bars, Kind bars, Belvita breakfast biscuits).

This program does mean that at the beginning of every month, I have to review what I’ve used as usual, and what I don’t need for another month or two. And I would recommend comparing the pricing and varieties to what you can get locally, as sometimes you’ll find a better deal at a grocery store or big box store. But as a backup in case you forgot to buy napkins or paper towels or car fluids or even underwear, it’s worth looking into the option.

Check your credit cards for Amazon promotions, or look into one of the Amazon branded credit cards. For example, Discover Card has 5% back on Amazon purchases for the fourth quarter of 2020, for example, and Chase Freedom has them sometimes as well. (These are refer-a-friend links, and I will likely get a modest reward if you sign up for a new card through them.)

And if you’re more inclined toward boutique cleaning and hygiene supplies, you may want to look into Grove Collaborative. They had toilet paper when other online sellers were running low, and they carry Mrs Meyer’s method, Seventh Generation, and their own house brands of various products for bath, kitchen, and general household cleaning.

They can be pricey compared to mass market stores and brands, but if you’re looking for uncommon products and environmental friendliness in your purchases, it’s worth a look. We’ve bought two large boxes of their supplies, and will probably look at restocking for the holidays, but we still mix these products with the more common brands.

Where do we go from here?

I’m hoping that things continue to stabilize, and I’m already looking forward to a careful visit to Las Vegas this winter, and a car club weekend run in the late spring. I’ve added disposable masks and hand sanitizer gel to my car club trunk bag, but we’ll see what else becomes relevant as normal comes back closer to normal.

What have you learned from the pandemic adjustments? Share in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

Revisiting Fry’s Electronics a year later

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the decline of Fry’s Electronics. I have to admit that I didn’t expect the pandemic and its related impact, but I didn’t expect Fry’s to continue on its steady coasting path.

I figured they would either rebound over the holidays or fade into history. As you may recall from the updates, they did not make any visible advances over the holidays, dropping the ball on Black Friday/Cyber Monday, but they didn’t disappear altogether.

This weekend I went back to the Sunnyvale Fry’s store, the one I’ve probably been to more than any other. I think this was the first time at least since February, if not before, that I’ve been to a Fry’s store.

I was a bit surprised.

Fry’s Sunnyvale parking lot, November 1, 2020

The shopping cart corrals were empty, but the parking lot had a couple dozen cars. When I walked in, there were a few people around, and I saw a couple of employees. One was working in the repair shop, and two were behind the register counters where one register was open. There was no register line.

Motherboard display, Fry’s Sunnyvale, November 1, 2020

As I made my way to the flash memory section looking for some MicroSDXC cards for my new Jetson Nano development kit, I was surprised to find the motherboard display disassembled altogether. Last time I was there, they had one motherboard in stock, with five pieces on the shelves that used to be here. This time, I saw absolutely no motherboards.

They did have a modest assortment of SD/MicroSD cards, some even priced on the shelf, and a couple of adapters for reading them on PCs. I believe there was one brand name card, a 64GB Samsung EVO of some sort, and a lot of fringe brands (including the Hyundai cards which actually work pretty well).

Computer component station

The stations where you would normally go to talk to a sales associate or get an invoice and/or price match were marked for social distancing, and abandoned. I saw this in components, computers/printers/monitors, and the television section. I will admit I’d feel guilty price-matching at this point, but it seems like it would be a challenge to get help if you needed it. The only employees I saw were re-shelving things near what used to be the computer section.

I didn’t get photos of a lot of the store. There was one desktop and a couple of semi-offbrand laptops in the computer section (on the former Apple islands), and the remainder of the computer display was limited to a couple of monitors and a few open box PC cases (moved from the far end of the store apparently). Car Electronics has been pretty much decimated, along with the bedding and exercise gear displays.

3D printer filament display

A couple of positive surprises were visible though. There was a healthy display of printer filament for your 3D printing needs (pictured above). I’ve bought almost all of my filament from Central Computer, but I would consider trying some of the colors from eSUN here before ordering online.

I also found the “maker” / Raspberry Pi accessory section, also in the aisles where electronic components used to be (and some still are). There was an abundant selection of cheap 120 and 240 gigabyte SSDs, for prices similar to what I’ve paid for used drives on eBay, so I may go back for some of those when my next Rabbit door comes in. It looked like memory and CPUs were in short supply, but there were reasonable (think Best Buy level) stocks of USB flash drives and SD cards.

The one thing Fry’s seems to have outdone themselves on is personal protective equipment (PPE). The front aisle adjacent to the checkout line was half PPE (several varieties of hand sanitizer, including gallon jugs, as well as masks and protective clothing). So if I run out of what I’ve picked up at Marshalls or TJ Maxx, I could probably stock up here.

Where do we go from here?

It’s hard to tell whether Fry’s will improve their rather stagnant effort to convert to consignment models with their vendors. A few stores (including Palo Alto and Anaheim, as well as one in Georgia) have closed, and it looks like the others haven’t improved much in the past year (based on my observation and some social media posts friends have shared with me from other stores).

At this point, for some limited categories, they are a viable option. With the stores being rearranged, you may have trouble finding a “Fry’s Advisor” or the new location for the products you’re looking for, but they have improved on a couple of categories.

I’ll keep you posted on what I hear – watch for updates here if they happen.

See last year’s Fry’s post here — History of Silicon Valley Indeed; is Fry’s Electronics Dying?

And pour one out for Billy, the Fry’s Electronics social media guy. He takes a lot of flak from people wanting to rag on the store, but stays coherent and professional through it all.