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the wondrous tales of a software guy in hardwareland

This Is Spart^wVienna

Let’s face it: life is tough for electronic hobbyists. For some obscure reason, it seems to be particularly tough if you’re living in Vienna, Austria.

So hard, in fact, that ever since I started this trip, I accumulated enough frustration to guarantee myself good karma for at least 3 other lives :-)

Vienna is a wonderful city, really. There are very few bad things you can say about it, compared to other cities I know. But the scarcity of electronics components shops is frankly discomforting. After long research, I found out that you have basically 3 choices (I will not name any shop, but the interested should have enough hints anyway):

  1. A shop located not far from the center (7th district), easily reachable by bus or subway.
  2. A megastore located in a shopping city outside of town to the south, not very comfortable to reach.
  3. The metalab, a hackerspace right in the heart of the city (it’s where the Vienna.pm Perl Mongers group meets usually, very cool place).

Last week I took some time to explore choices 1 and 2.

First the shop: I don’t like to speak ill of someone, but I really do hope for them it was one one of their worst bad hair day :-)

The megastore was definitely better. They had everything I asked for, except the MCP4921 (why those DAC chips are so hard to find, it’s a mystery to me). Still, some of the articles are IMO unreasonably high priced. A medium-sized breadboard is ~15€, the bigger ones go up to ~50€.

You can of course order online. I tried, really. But they don’t make your life any easier. There are small shops, mostly dedicated to all things Arduino and experimenting, but the prices are prohibitive. There are huge shops with hundreds of thousands of articles, mostly dedicated to professionals, but I wasn’t completely satisfied with any of them.

One of my problems is that I don’t own a credit card. And the (very good) reason for this is my vulnerability to compulsive buying :-) So my choice is naturally restricted to shops that accept bank transfer from an Austrian bank.

Given this, and thus considering payment options, postage costs, delivery time, parts availability and – above all – pricing, there is no single shop where I could buy everything I need. Some of them were missing parts, some of them had them but way too expensive, others had simply an horrible website user experience that made me give up out of stress…

Best thing would be to buy different parts from several different shops. But then again, if you sum the delivery costs, you end up paying everything at the highest price :-(

I guess the winning strategy in this field is a sort of guerrilla shopping. And those are my humble advices to newcomers (but keep in mind that I’m by no means an expert!):

  1. Prefer quantity over quality: there are cheap assortments on eBay and Amazon, like 50 LEDs for 3€, or 1000 resistors for 8€. Better to have more than less, and you don’t risk having to run to the shop for a missing resistor.
  2. Squeeze the most out of a single shop: don’t look for someone that has everything, but when you find someone that has enough, buy the hell out of it! :-)
  3. Keep your feet on the ground: stay focused on what you really need. It’s fine to build huge stocks of basic parts (resistors, trimmers, condensators, etc.). But when it comes to slightly more expensive parts (like ICs, potentiometers or sensors) always keep an eye on your overall expense.

To summarize, I ended up spending:

  • ~30€ on Amazon: Cheap assortments, fuck yeah! And a solder pen “for dummies” :-)
  • ~30€ between shop and megastore. Most expensive single part: The 16×2 LCD display for ~14€. Pricey, but I wanted it sooo badly :-)
  • Adding the Arduinos, this makes a grand total of 110€. More than what I planned, and I’m still not done by far. Am I satisfied with what I did? Not really, not completely. Will I need every bit and piece I bought? Probably not. Do I have every bit and piece I will need? Definitely not.

    Life is tough :-)

    cheers,
    Aldo

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