Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Grocery shopping as it applies to DIY electronics

Has this ever happened to you? It’s a typical Sunday afternoon. You just got out of bed, and you’re absolutely starving. You go to open up the fridge…and all that’s left to greet you are half-empty jars of condiments. Though the prospect of eating peanut butter straight from the bottle entices you for a split second, you soon resign to the fact that it’s time to go grocery shopping again. So what do you do now?

Option A: You go straight to the store and buy everything that you’d ever consider eating…immediately. This usually works out to be some variety of junk food, snacks, maybe some TV dinners for good measure. But soon enough, you’ll find out that eating an entire bag of potato chips in one sitting just isn’t quite the same as eating dinner. This has been me on occasion, but I try to avoid getting that desperate.

Option B: You pull out a small sheet of paper and start writing down stuff you need to fill up on. Milk, eggs, bread, you get the idea. Then you get all this stuff, and the rest of the week you find yourself relegated to making “whatever’s in the fridge”.

Option C (and this is my big revelation): You make a list of all the meals you think you’d want to eat this week. It doesn’t have to be detailed, and you’ll probably have some guesswork mixed in. But all the important stuff is there. Let’s say you want some tacos this week. So you write down “Tacos”, and underneath, shredded lettuce, cheese, taco shells, ground beef, seasoning, and whatever other ingredients you want to add to your homemade tacos. And you do the same for all the other meals you want to have this week—you make a list of the ingredients and make sure you’re organized about getting it. You’ll probably grab a few random things along the way, but at least you know what you’ll be eating this week.

I’ve walked through all these options at one point or another. But ultimately, I’ve settled on the last one—it’s changed the way I buy, how much time I spend shopping and also has the added benefit of making sure I’ve got what I need to make a real meal when I’m hungry. So rather than just buying random ingredients (milk, eggs) or a finished product (TV dinners, or go to a restaurant), I’ll buy the ingredients that I need for a particular meal. I enjoy cooking, I like making things my own way, and I don’t feel like shelling out triple the price plus tax and tip to get my food. It’s just not cost effective, and I don’t get the gratification that I get from making what I want, how I want it, right when I want it.

Believe it or not, there is a point. As someone who’s pretty handy with things, you’ve probably said something like, “I know just the thing that would make this [gadget name here] totally awesome!”. And then you proceed to take it apart, solder random crap to it, reprogram it, and voila! A modded gadget. Well, what if I told you that you wouldn’t have to spend a ton of money to get the finished product…that you were just gonna crack open and mod anyway? What if there was a place where you could go to figure out the parts (ingredients) for your project(meal), and then you could purchase exactly those parts you need, with the project in mind? And then you could build what you want, how you want it, right when you want it?

So that’s what we are. On the one end, you’ve got the restaurants that give you the finished product and make it how they want it, and charge you a ton plus tax and tip…for something you could do yourself a lot cheaper. In our techie world, the restaurants are all the companies that build the finished product, like Apple or Sony. On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the people who sell the raw ingredients, the Intel, AMD, Asus. The Makes, Liquidwares, and Sparkfuns of the world are like the grocery store where you can find your ingredients. And some can even help you out finding exactly those recipes and ingredients- I mean, parts and components- for the projects on your shopping list. Figure out what you want to make, design it, and you can buy exactly what you need to make it yourself, just how you’ve always envisioned it. And doesn’t it feel good to build it yourself?

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