I’m going to miss two things about Fry’s Electronics, which shut down this week:

  • Being able to walk in and grab random parts immediately.
  • The decor.

And yeah, there’s nostalgia for the old days, but they’re already gone.

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s they really were a one-stop shop for computers, software, appliances, all kinds of electronics hardware, and the random snacks you might want to munch on while tinkering or upgrading. You could check out, or better yet try out – they had a huge number of computers available for demos – all kinds of cool tech.

I bought a lot of components for my desktop PC over the years, replacing pieces bit by bit. Sure, you could get complete systems at Micro Center or Best Buy or Circuit City, but none of them had the long tail of components that Fry’s did.

(There was also the generous return policy — I knew a lot of people who used the “Fry’s rental” when they needed something for a single project.)

Service was a mixed bag, though. Sometimes you’d get someone really knowledgeable who could help you pick out the best hardware combination for what you wanted. Sometimes you wouldn’t be able to find anyone. And a lot of the sales staff tended to be proto-techbros, so if you were shopping while female, or looking for Apple products — or worse, both — there was a good chance you’d get someone overly condescending.

Fading Away

They’ve been going downhill for a while. They dropped a lot of the middle range and focused on the high-end and low-end markets. All the articles talk about competition from online stores, and I suspect friendlier brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy took over a lot of the mid-range consumer market.

When I built a gaming PC a few years ago, I tried Fry’s first, but I couldn’t find most of the parts I wanted. I only bought the case and power supply there, then ordered other parts from NewEgg, Amazon, or direct from the manufacturers. And I went back to Fry’s when I tried to put everything together and discovered I had the wrong mounting rails and needed another case fan.

They never really adapted to online shopping. Their website is still terrible (or was until Wednesday). Before 2019, big deal, I’d just walk into the store and browse anyway. But in 2020, after Covid-19 hit and in-person retail shut down, curbside pickup and shipping were the way to go. The search results were a pain to sort through, even for products that didn’t have nationwide shortages (like webcams). Even when I told it I wanted to look for shipping or local pickup, it kept trying to send me to San Jose, hundreds of miles away.

The Fry’s Experience

Ultimately, though, the most memorable thing about Fry’s couldn’t translate to a website. The locations I’ve been to were all converted warehouses or small office buildings. And each one was decorated with a theme.

Burbank’s store had a flying saucer crashed into the front, with statues of 50’s sci-fi aliens with ray guns scattered around as if they were invading the building. A giant squid’s tentacles supported the computer demo tables.

Anaheim had a giant mock-up of the Space Shuttle. If I remember right, the audio demo room was inside it.

Manhattan Beach had a Pacific Islands theme, with tropical plants, tiki statues, and murals based on Gauguin’s paintings from Tahiti.

Fountain Valley’s store was decked out in a classical Roman style, with columns, a mural of Roman gods, and a broken aqueduct that poured into a fountain in the center of the store. (I always thought that was a risky choice for an electronics store.)

Las Vegas had a giant slot machine for an entrance, but nothing special inside that I can recall.

Sad to say, I don’t seem to have taken photos inside any of these locations, though I do have a shot of the Vegas entryway, and of course now I can’t.

After way too long, I finally upgraded the processor on my desktop. I’d held off because that always involves upgrading the motherboard, which is major surgery on the computer, and with a small child who wants to grab everything, that wasn’t really a good idea. Replacing phones and tablets, and replacing the Windows box, sure, those are relatively simple. Nothing fragile is open for several hours, and we use them all the time.

But I’ve recently done some small maintenance with him around and he’s been able to keep his hands to himself and just look, and I’ve trusted him to help with a few things like clipping in the panels on unused drive bays and opening/closing the main case screws.

I ordered a processor/mobo/memory combo from NewEgg, and it showed up on Saturday. I waited until Sunday morning to get started, knowing that these things always take more time than you expect (and typically at least one extra trip to the computer store). No surprise, it turned out I needed a new power supply for the new motherboard. In an odd echo of the last time,* I drove out to Fry’s and found one with the connectors and wattage I needed, with a rebate on it, then picked up some takeout for lunch.

The kiddo was able to leave the half-disassembled box alone while I was out. Things were strained by the time I was finished around four, and he had a full-on meltdown at the grocery store later, but I got the new hardware installed.

It’s amazing how much smoother everything runs now. I feel like I can actually use the computer again!

*I may have done another upgrade between then and the time we moved, but I only remember adding the wireless card in 2010 so that I could move the computer desk to another room and put the crib in its place. I definitely hadn’t done anything this major on the home desktop since he was born.

I found myself looking back at a 10-year-old rant about touch screens, or rather touch screens used where they weren’t the best solution: PIN entry pads for point-of-sale terminals.

We were at the grocery store earlier today, and Katie was grumbling about the stylus-only touch screens they had for entering a PIN. Unlike actual keypads, you can’t hide the number you’re entering, because you have to move that stylus around instead of 10-keying it in.

On one hand, a touch screen with a stylus is great for visual feedback and for collecting signatures, because the store can keep things on file digitally instead of or in addition to a paper copy. And once you’ve got that, it’s reasonable to drop the keypad, since you can simulate it in the touch screen. But unless it can react as quickly as actual buttons, and react to fingers instead of a stylus, it can’t completely replace the way a keypad is actually used.

What I find interesting about this is that the industry actually fixed the problem by rolling back: Even though touch-screen devices are all over the place now, I can’t remember the last time I used a touch-based POS terminal that didn’t have a physical keypad — often slightly shielded from view — for PIN entry. The occasional phone or iPad with a Square reader, but that’s it.

On the other hand, the Fry’s line notification system I griped about in the same article is still as lousy as ever.

My desktop computer has been a bit flaky for a few months now. Well, more than that. There’s the problem where it won’t display anything in plain-text mode, but that’s not really a big deal. It was when it stopped running anything higher than 1024×768 that I started getting annoyed.

That turned out, oddly enough, to not be the video card. And not the monitor, since I could display higher resolution from the Windows box perfectly fine. And not my OS, since running a live CD had the same problem.

So I figured it was a motherboard issue. Fine, I’ll upgrade. Eventually. Wait ~4 months, and I’m starting to notice data errors on the hard drive. Great.

You know that old saying about how any project requires at least 3 trips to the hardware store? It applies to computers, too.

I finally got around to looking for a decent mobo/CPU/RAM combo, and a new hard drive. Ordered online. Arrived yesterday. Ran backup last night.

Today I dismantled everything, hampered by the fact that I could not find the box that has all the case components (faceplates so I could remove the ZIP drive which I haven’t used in 3 years, etc.), though I did eventually find the screws. After I installed the motherboard, I started plugging in connectors… only to discover that the power supply didn’t have the right kind of connector.

Off to Fry’s to get a new power supply, after stopping at storage to see if I could find that box with faceplates and stuff. No luck, and power supplies are astonishingly expensive, though I found one that fit my specs and was on sale and had a rebate, so that worked out. (Some of them are 1000-watt monstrosities that cost as much as a cheap computer, and in the words of another customer, “look like they should be in a Chevy.”)

Came back, hooked everything up, moved it back into the bedroom to hook everything up…and couldn’t go into the BIOS to set the boot device. After messing around a bit, determined that the text-mode problem, at least, actually was the monitor. So I’m borrowing Katie’s monitor while I install an actual 64-bit OS. Once it’s at the point where I can let it sit for a while, I’m going to run out to Best Buy for a new monitor. I suspect the resolution problem is different, but at this point I’m no longer inclined to suffer through it.

Still, it’s worth the upgrade (assuming, of course, that everything continues to work once I close up the case), since the old system was single-core, 32-bit, and ran on an IDE drive, and the new system is dual-core, 64-bit, will have more memory, a faster bus, a SATA drive, etc. This should be much faster.

Once it’s done, anyway.

Originally posted at LiveJournal.

Current Mood: 😡frustrated

You know the routine. We can’t pass up a bizarre image without taking a photo and posting some sort of comment. Not even on vacations.

Alien Fresh Jerky SignThe drive to Las Vegas from southern California is simple: make your way to the 15, head north, and keep going until you get blinded by the neon. The ⅔ mark is Baker, CA, a small strip of restaurants, stores and gas stations in the middle of the desert, famous for the Bun Boy and the world’s tallest thermometer. Baker has something new: Alien Fresh Jerky.

We were staying at the South Coast Hotel and Casino, the latest megasino to open, which is a bit off the strip. At first I was a bit worried about finding the right exit. As it turns out, it’s the first giant hotel you’ll see as you approach Las Vegas from the south…about two miles before you actually have a chance to get off the freeway! (They have a free shuttle to the strip, though that had its own share of problems.) They put us in a room on the 24th floor, which had a great view of suburban South Las Vegas. Continue reading