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90s computer brands

Some 90s computer brands are the same as today, but a lot more companies played in the field than now. Profit margins were higher then, so industry consolidation wasn’t the matter of survival that it is now.

Here’s a look back at some of the brands of old, including some famous PC brands, some not-so-famous, and some notorious. The 1990s were certainly a make or break time for many of them.

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A Christmas tree train on a budget

If you want a train for under your Christmas tree but don’t have a lot of money to spend, here’s how to find one and what to ask for.

Find a store that deals in used Lionel trains, or find a local hobbyist. Search Craigslist or your newspaper classifieds for an ad stating, “I buy electric trains.” I’ll let you in on a secret: most people who buy trains also resell them, because people who buy trains eventually end up with far more than they’ll ever use.

Once you locate a reseller, here’s what to ask for.

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Tips for running a garage sale

On a forum I frequent, the discussion turned to garage sales, and some people shared some horror stories. As someone who visits a lot of garage sales, I’ve seen the ways people deal with some of the pitfalls. In the interest of encouraging garage sales, I’ll share my tips for running a garage sale.

tips for running a garage sale

Quick: can you spot the common (but very serious) error in this photo of a table at a garage sale? Keep reading and you’ll find the answer. This may be the most valuable of my tips for running a garage sale.

One problem is people showing up at 5 or 6 in the morning wanting to get in early. The best way to prevent this is to be vague about your address. Be specific enough that they can find it, but vague enough that they can’t find it early. What do I mean? Don’t say “2329 Jefferson” in your ad and streetcorner signs. Say “single-family sale, 23xx Jefferson.” Then, when you’re ready to open your sale, put a sign in your front yard and open your garage door. Last of all, have a helper go out and put some signs on nearby major intersections.

The early birds can still show up if they want, but they’ll have no choice but to sit in the car and wait for you, since they won’t even know for sure which house is having the sale. Only the people really, really serious about buying something will, and those are the people you want.

Lowballers are the other problem. I’ll admit, I’ve asked for discounts before when buying large quantities of stuff, but I don’t demand them. I see some people demanding discounts on everything, no matter how low the initial price is. Yes, I know that’s annoying. I’ve actually had people running sales ask me if I’m interested in the same thing they’re getting lowballed on, in hopes of selling it to me instead. Garage sale prices are already pennies on the dollar, but some people insist on squeezing out every last penny.

The best tactic is to lower your prices late in the sale, say, after 10 am. Advertise that prices will be 25% or 50% off at 10 am, and maybe knock something else off at 11 am. When a lowballer tries to play games with you, just say, “no discounts until 10 am.” They can come back then, assuming the item is still there. If they really want it, then they’ll pay your asking price.

Do be realistic about your prices, though. I once went to a sale, picked out 10 items (unmarked) and asked how much. I was expecting $10, maybe $20 at most, based on what I paid at other sales. She asked $60.

What did I do? I went through the pile again. It turned out half of it was stuff I could turn a small profit on at $6 each. Half of it was stuff I couldn’t sell for $6 myself. So I put those back. I reluctantly paid $30 for the other five. I honestly doubt anyone else expressed interest in what I put back. If it ever did sell, I’m sure she didn’t get $30 for it.

If you don’t know how to price something, visit a few sales yourself to get an idea what stuff goes for. Or at least visit your nearest thrift store and see what they charge for the kind of stuff you’ll be selling.

Leaving items unmarked and soliciting an offer encourages lowballers to offer 10 cents for things that ought to be priced a dollar. Or it leads to awkward exchanges like mine, where someone puts most of it back.

Do keep in mind a significant number of people who come to your sale are looking for things to re-sell. They may have a booth at a flea market or antique mall, they may sell on eBay, or something else. You’ll have some bargain hunters and curious neighbors, but most likely the majority will be resellers. Their profit margin isn’t your main concern. But the general rule of reselling is that 3x markup is the minimum that works. If an item sells on eBay for $10, the most you’re going to get from a reseller is about $3. The reason is because eBay is going to take $1.50 in commissions. The government is going to take another $1.50 or so in taxes. So the seller spends $3 to make $3-$4. But of course the seller would rather spend $1, sell for $10, and make $5-$6.

I’ve seen old Marx train cars priced at $50 at garage sales because the seller claimed he saw one just like it go for $100 on eBay. In the cases I’m thinking of, it’s always been a very common car worth no more than $20, so I know the seller was either lying or mistaken. If you think you have something really special, my advice is to attempt to sell it on eBay instead. You’re not going to get eBay prices at a garage sale. Essentially, as a garage sale operator, you’re a wholesaler.

If you don’t want to hassle with eBay, take a name and number from anyone who shows interest.

One tactic I see sometimes (and my family used) is to advertise a sale as a moving sale instead of a yard or garage sale, in order to get better prices. Advertising a moving sale can allow you to get better prices for your highest-end stuff, like furniture or nice electronics or perhaps name-brand clothes in nice condition. But things like used toys and VHS tapes sell for about the same price no matter what you call the sale.

Some people post phone numbers in the ad. Unless the ad runs the same day as the sale, this is a mistake. It’s just asking people to call you and want to see your stuff early. I admit I’ve done it myself. There have been a couple of times that I couldn’t find a sale, the ad had a number, and I called for directions and ended up buying a lot of stuff. But if you don’t want people calling you all hours of the day in advance, it’s probably not worth it. Putting a nearby landmark in your ad is just as effective and saves you the phone calls.

Finally, I’ve seen people take out ads a week or two in advance of the sale. I don’t see the point. Most circuit regulars don’t plan beyond the upcoming Saturday. So placing an ad early just forces you to do a lot of explaining to disappointed people that the sale is next week. The best day to advertise is the Friday before. The day of the sale is often too late, as many people have already made their plans. An ad in Saturday’s newspaper can draw in people who change their plans on Saturday morning, or people who plan spontaneously. But if you’re paying for the ad, Friday is best. If you advertise on Craigslist, run your ad early in the week and refresh it closer to Friday.

Did you catch the mistake in the photo at the top? Arguably there are two, but one of them is worse than the other. Organizing the stuff into logical groups would help it to sell better. The toy cars, the tools, and the electronics ought to all be together, rather than making it look like someone dumped a box of random stuff onto the table.

But the bigger problem is no price tags. The box of miniature light bulbs in the upper right would easily sell for $10 online. Mark it at $3, and it will sell. Unmarked, don’t be surprised if someone offers 10 cents.

And those are my tips for running a garage sale. I hope they help you have a less frustrating, more successful sale.

Can Google compete with Paypal?

There are reports in the news today that Google may launch a Paypal-like service. Most are questioning whether Google can compete with Paypal, which boasts 72 million users.

I believe the answer is yes.Here’s why. I buy a lot of stuff on Ebay. Lately I’ve been selling too, and since the initial effort was reasonably successful, I’m going to start listing more things.

I’ll be listing for the same reason lots of people do. It’s funny how much stuff becomes redundant once you get married and your spouse moves in, and it’s cheaper than having a garage sale and you’ll usually get better prices. And, besides, for the past six weeks or so I’ve been a bit shorter on cash than I’d like to be.

Online payment systems work because a lot of people don’t want to mess with checks. It’s a pain to write a check and it’s a pain to cash one, and nobody likes waiting the 7-10 days it takes for one to clear. Money orders and cashier’s checks eliminate the waiting period, but they’re a pain for the buyer, who has to go visit the bank during working hours and pay a couple of dollars, or you have to visit the ATM and then find a convenience store that sells money orders, and pay a couple of dollars. It wastes a lot of time. And if you’re buying a $100 item, you probably don’t care about the couple of dollars, but you sure do if you’re paying for a $2 item.

The reason 72 million people use Paypal is because it’s better than dealing with checks or money orders. But it doesn’t take much.

Read through some Ebay listings though, and you’ll find lots of people who don’t take Paypal. The reasons vary, but the people who don’t like Paypal really don’t like it. Those people tout Western Union or Bidpay as alternatives, but those in reality are just an online venue to buy a money order. It saves you hopping in the car. Again, on an item whose price requires three or more digits, you probably don’t care. But they’re horrible for small transactions.

Since Paypal is so widely used but so widely disliked, there’s lots of room for a competitor.

From what I can tell, sellers of merchandise don’t like Paypal because it’s free for the buyer, but big-time sellers take a hit. (People like me who sell casually don’t.) The hit seems to vary, but resellers seem to like to tack 60 cents onto the cost of the transaction when I use it. I generally pay it, since 60 cents is a lot less than it would cost for me to use another online payment service or to buy a money order, and it’s not much more than it would cost me to mail a check.

So it seems to me that there are at least two ways for Google to compete. I’m sure they’ve done some market research on what people dislike about Paypal and they’ve looked into what they can do to provide better service. Obviously one approach they could take would be to simply charge less money.

A second possibility would be for Google to endear itself to the seller by placing the financial burden on the buyer. Charge the buyer, say, a percentage of the transaction cost, with a maximum cap of somewhere around the cost of a postage stamp. Sellers would gladly accept it if it didn’t cost them anything. Buyers won’t like it as much as Paypal since it’s not free for them, but it would give the instant gratification of Paypal while costing about as much as mailing a check. And besides, it’s the seller who sets the terms of the transaction. If the buyer doesn’t like it, the only choice is to not bid.

I believe that sellers who don’t accept Paypal are putting themselves in the same position as a brick-and-mortar store that doesn’t accept credit cards, and sometimes I’ve gotten some real bargains precisely because the seller only accepted money orders, but that doesn’t stop a lot of them.

So I don’t believe Paypal is a juggernaut. It was the first widely successful online payment service. But this field doesn’t give much credit for being first. Just ask Datapoint (inventor of what became the x86 family of processors), Commodore (first successful consumer-level computer to feature pre-emptive multitasking), Digital Research (first popular operating system for microcomputers), or any number of now-defunct pioneers.

I’m not willing to place any bets on whether Google will become the market leader in this arena, especially without having seen their service. But I also don’t think there’s much question as to whether it will survive and/or be profitable. As dissatisfied as the users of other services are, Google Wallet would have to be awfully bad to flop.