Techie — High-tech garage sale


It sure beats dumpster diving for spare parts

By John “jaQ” Andrews

The last blizzard has come and gone, the spring rains are over and the pools are open.

It’s yard sale season.

Bookcases and luggage and framed posters of Elvis have obvious high resale value, but old technology can be had dirt cheap.  And by “old” I mean “new three years ago” and by “dirt cheap” I mean “sometimes free.”  It’s far from worthless, too.  Here are just a few items of useful antique tech you might find.

Cell phones: Remember when cell phones had buttons big enough to press one at a time? And were absolutely incapable of playing the horror known as a ringtone? You might have some trouble getting the newest service for an old cell phone — why would you want to, when most providers are giving away free phones?  But a cell phone even without service can save a life. The FCC mandates that all cell phones, with or without paid service, must be able to call 911. As long as you can get signal, you can get help in an emergency. Keep it charged or plug it into your car cigarette lighter for some nice peace of mind.

Software:  A 1997 release of Office or Photoshop from four versions ago? Sure. Older software, while it may have fewer features than the latest version, also has less bloat. Plus, you didn’t hear it from me, but there’s this thing called “upgrade pricing.” Most software companies price their newest software way lower for users of previous versions.

Computers:  You can get a brand-new tricked-out desktop for under $500 these days. Why bother with old and busted? If you have a home network, you can hook that baby up and have a file/print server. If you’re adventurous, you can install Linux on it, but even Windows works fine as long as you keep up with security patches.

One thing to generally stay away from is printers — particularly inkjet printers.  They have an awful lot of moving parts in them, and moving parts are the bane of all bargain hunters. Especially small ones.  Especially small, greasy ones. Especially small, greasy ones that the manufacturer will never sell a replacement for because they don’t make money on the printers themselves anyway, only the ink, so you’re far better off buying a new printer in the first place. I picked up fairly new printer for free a month or two ago, and after replacing the ink and spending hours getting it to not jam up with paper, I’m still not convinced I got a deal.

One last tip: Always bring a power inverter. You know, one of those boxes that plug into your car cigarette lighter and provide one or two standard 120V AC power outlets. With that, you can test that just about any old tech you’re considering buying at least powers on, even if you’re at a flea market in a field somewhere.

Come to think of it, you could plug your old cell phone into that, too.

John Andrews, also known as jaQ, is not only a technical wiz but writes and sings his own songs. Each week in Hippo he examines some facet of the gadget/ techie world and offers better/ cheaper ways to make the best use of the latest technology. Have questions for jaQ? Email him a

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