Goodwill Adventures and the $1 Book Find

November 5th, 2005 by Benj Edwards

Goodwill LogoAh…the trusty Goodwill store. Once the last bastion for countless old computers thrown out by a thankless middle-class America that had grown tired of them, it’s now merely a graveyard for broken VCRs and 1970s-era crockpots (you can always find at least one crockpot at any Goodwill store). So what happened? Around 2001, if I recall correctly, GCF was choking at the gills with hordes of truly worthless PC-clones that no one ever bought. They kept pouring in, non-stop, stacking up at the back of every store. The only thing Goodwill Industries could do to prevent themselves from being crushed by a mountain of PC trash was to stop accepting donations of computers, period. Unfortunately, this policy threw out the wheat with the chaff, the baby with the bathwater, so to speak. No longer could I find complete, boxed TI-99/4a’s, pristine Commodore Plus/4’s (yes, I found two of these complete in boxes Goodwill), and an endless supply compact Macs with personal resumes and strange letters still on their 10 meg hard drives (giving me hours of entertainment as an unexpected bonus).

But there are still some good things about the Goodwill store for the computer and gaming collector. For one, they still sell video games and systems, although they are pretty rare finds, and they’ve recently taken to locking them up in a glass case near the checkout counter. I’ve picked up an excellent condition SNES with some games (no AC adapter, though), and some really nice Genesis games in their original plastic boxes with manuals (Landstalker and Shining Force among them!) at Goodwill stores over the years. Also, they have a book section, which is the true focus of this entry, although it will ironically take up the least amount of space.

The Media Lab Book CoverPaperback books cost fifty cents a piece; hard cover books, one dollar. That’s where I found the first edition of “The Media Lab” by Steward Brand (1987), hardcover and in great condition. This is a really cool find — an excellent addition to my computer history library — at a great price. It’s fun to see what was considered futuristic even as recently as 1987. The book has a great picture section in the middle (Grog no like words, Grog like piktures!), which, since I haven’t actually read the book yet, will have to suffice for a source of a description of the book. There are examples of early computer illustration software, rudimentary 3D computer graphics, anti-aliasing for digital text, force-feedback joysticks, holograms, AI, and something called NewsPeek, which was an idea for an electronic newspaper with eerie echos of the World Wide Web before such a thing existed. If it deals with computers and media, the MIT lab did it all first. And, if I may add personally, they also repeatedly failed to capitalize on their discoveries first, a ridiculous flaw of many a government and corporate think-tank and R&D division over the years (Xerox PARC comes to mind). “But RedWolf,” you say, “That’s not the purpose of a research institution!” I don’t care. Many incredible inventions are made at university labs, but it always takes a maverick separatist entrepreneur to break off from the organization and bring the benefits of those inventions to the masses. Otherwise, great ideas would stagnate there forever, and die on the vine where they were grown. Until new technologies are actively pushed and available in the marketplace, they’re just academic play-toys that don’t help anybody, hoarded by elitist engineers. So am I criticizing academic and big organization research? Hell yes. But hey, that opens up another can of worms, and I think it’s time to eat lunch.

…On second thought, maybe not.

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