[PLUG-TALK] Arduino Christmas sales

Keith Lofstrom keithl at kl-ic.com
Sun Nov 27 14:59:50 PST 2011

On Sun, Nov 27, 2011 at 09:15:22AM -0800, Galen Seitz wrote:
> OK, I guess the Arduino is officially popular.  The Fry's ad in today's 
> paper is advertising a couple of Arduino-style boards(page 3, upper right).

Ah - the Christmas presents that parents buy to try to interest
their kids in something besides TV.  

Years ago, Radio Shack offered electronics kits - "build your
own blinking light" and ilk.  These kits were put together out
of mostly reject components, sometimes grey-marketed to Tandy
by the component manufacturers, other times pulled from the
waste stream by dishonest employees.

Radio Shack's cynical thinking was:

1) A parent buys a kit, thinking they will interest their kid
   in electronics.

2) Before Christmas, the parents feel guilty that they didn't buy
   Junior the Alice Cooper album he desired, and toss the kit.
   Rejects undetected.

3) They give the kit to the kid.  The kid makes "spinach face". 
   The kid never opens the package.  Rejects undetected.

4) The kid opens the kit, looks at the instructions, gives up.
   Rejects undetected.

5) The kid quits halfway through.  Rejects undetected.

6) The kid finishes the kit.  It doesn't work.  The kid assumes
   he is technologically inept, and grows up to be a salesman.
   Rejects undetected.

7) The kid knows he did it right, and assumes (correctly) that
   he has been screwed by a major corporation.  Later, the kid
   grows up, paints angry signs, and lives in a tent in Chapman
   Square.  Rejects detected but no practical outcome.

8) The kid spends $12 long distance charges waiting to talk to
   one very busy customer service rep at Radio Shack.  If the
   rep can't convince the kid he actually is stupid (rejects
   undetected), they send the kid a kit with working components
   (they've made 20 working kits, millions of reject ones). 
   Now the kid becomes a shill for Radio Shack, bragging that
   HIS kit worked, and his friends are incompetent.  Kid grows
   up to be Steve Jobs.  Rejects detected, replaced, perfidy
   unhindered, more future salesmen.  WIN!

Rinse and repeat.  I heard the above (except for the Steve Jobs
part) from a sales rep, formerly employed by ( big semiconductor
company, name deleted).  One of the sales rep's assignments
was selling the scrap bin to Radio Shack.  The practice stopped
when a generation of formerly "incompetent" parents stopped
buying the kits for their presumably even more incompetent kids.

So, are the kits at Fry's like the Radio Shack kits of the 80's?
Considering that Fry's Wilsonville is a former Incredible
Universe (a division of Tandy), and some of their opening day
shelf stock was left over from the previous occupant, we know
they have the predilection. 

OTOH, the component manufacturers produce much higher quality
in 2011, compared to 1981.  Chances are, the kits are OK -
finding enough defective parts to stuff kits is harder now.

Steps 1 through 5 still apply, though, and software failure
adds a new way for adolescents to feel incompetent.

A friend of mine, who designs toys with embedded processors,
bought a few different versions of the Frys Arduino kits,
and is hacking on them now.  If the components are bad, he
can prove it.  Rather than stopping at step (8), he would
probably create a web site with oscilloscope and logic analyzer
outputs, unequivocally demonstrating the defectiveness of the 
kits.  Which means:

9) The parent will not bother to check the web, and buy the
kit.  On Christmas day, the kid will Google the kit, find my
friend's rant, and ask the parent to take the kit back to Frys.
The parent will pretend to, but will spend the evening drinking
in a tavern rather than driving all the way down to Wilsonville
to wait in long return lines.  Rejects detected, beer consumed. 

So we will see if Arduino has Hit The Big Time, or whether we're
creating another generation of technologically inept salesmen.


Keith Lofstrom          keithl at keithl.com         Voice (503)-520-1993
KLIC --- Keith Lofstrom Integrated Circuits --- "Your Ideas in Silicon"
Design Contracting in Bipolar and CMOS - Analog, Digital, and Scan ICs

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