Going (mostly) Software

Yann Guidon / YGDESYann Guidon / YGDES wrote 05/20/2022 at 18:07 • 4 min read • Like

There was a time, 15 years ago, when the € was "strong" and I would buy tons of surplus parts on eBay. That was the great, glorious time, I'd say, and things only got worse from there.

It eroded slowly, over a long period : the USD regained its power so importing or trading in € would become less and less worth it. But still, the world was moving "online" and we could find more and more unobtainium so it was OK.

Two more things degraded : first, delivery became more and more of a hassle. The "last mile" link, the person meant to ring on your doorbell, was more and more unwilling to make that effort. So a lot of back and forth with the shipping companies or the state-owned service. Yeah, work conditions are harsh but we could feel the will was not there.

And the onlinisation of electronics parts distribution became extreme: a bookseller would trade electronic parts or assemblies from shady Chinese "brands". If I wanted shady, I'd hit the "first price tier" on eBay, be very patient and have cheap delivery. But Amazon promoted the dirt cheap products (with expected quality issues) to a desirable item and this trend has been amplified in the last half decade. It is not a benefit to the consumer because the supply chain is not so different from ali baba or eBay or others, but a premium price is slapped on top of it.

Oh and import duties became "enforced" more stringently. Affordable US parts became less desirable in Europe, and this shifted more customers to China for the dirt cheap parts. The flow of great goods from USA stalled. Today I don't even consider looking across the Atlantic to source anything but the most specific, direly required tool.

Anyway more and more parts are available online, which is great for us tinkerers. Professional/enterprise-only stores would slowly open to us, mere mortals: Farnell has managed to ride that wave when it felt that the Raspberry Pi crowd could help boost its bottom line and attract new customers who would be delighted to access high quality parts and references they couldn't imagine existed.

But slowly the frenzy died with the new normalisation, the binge turned into a careful sip. Hackaday projects overall are less exuberant, right?

And then Trump came and started an economic war with China. What could go wrong?! I ordered little from China and failed deliveries became significant.

And then COVID came. The tense situation totally snapped. The industry is totally belly up. I ordered a sweet PolarFire FPGA kit in oct. 2021 and the delivery has been postponed again and again. And then again.

Today's lead time for this kit is 43 days (as of 20220520) but the last notice I received announced July 2023. Can you wait 2 years for one devkit ? And I am not even bothered that the 4× RPi3 I ordered have been cancelled right away without notice. And last time I wanted to order 2N2369s for the #Logic strips, the Chinese reseller flaked (due to stock mismanagement, we will say). Ordering Arduino Nanos from Spain ? Forget it. Getting an affordable lot of Pi (for the  #Clunky McCluster ) is not reasonable, so it's shelved too.

Prices have gone way up, availability is down, the free flow of money and goods is breaking down. The time for playing is over.

Sure, some orders still go through. But then Vlad decided to go kamikaze and at least the Eastern Europe is now out of reach, which is very sad because the old Red Army surplus parts were cheap, funky and abundant.

Instead now it's a global economic war.

This whole downward situation is tragic in many ways but at least I have ample stock of stuff for mundane stuff. I have stockpiled insane amount of certain parts. Maybe I could earn a bit of pocket money by selling some of it but I'm a hoarder and I would feel I'm the loser, not the speculator.

So this explains the title: in order to stay creative, I'm back to pure algo, coding, programming, virtual design. It's safe, "mostly free" as long as I have a stable Linux+electricity+Internet. It's sad of course because I miss the feeling of achieving something tangible. At least my work on #PEAC Pisano with End-Around Carry algorithm has only cost me two high end laptops that I still have to learn to program in CUDA, but they can be reused for countless applications and it doesn't use much room.

I have to be extra careful with my expenses and make sure they return at least some profit instead of being a "sunk cost" for my hobbies.