Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Decoration Day
by Edward J. McFadden III

A Mother’s Touch
by Beth Cato

Breathing Space
by J.J. Green

Consarn Christmas
by Eamonn Murphy

Having Robot Sex
by William R.A.D. Funk

by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

Morphological Understanding
by Jennifer Linnaea

Cloud Cover
by Eric Del Carlo

Abram’s Choice
by Jamie Lackey

by David Barber

Beer Today, Gone Tomorrow
by Clayton J. Callahan


Ho, Ho, Holiday Giving
by Eric M. Jones

On the Antiquity of Man
by A. de Quatrefages




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Ho, Ho, Holiday Giving

By Eric M. Jones

DON’T YA’ JUST LOVE THAT SHINY manufactured new stuff? But it is rarely appreciated that the market for used products is far more environmentally sound and, in fact, generates wealth for us all. If I buy your used stuff, nobody has to make it new, and it doesn’t wind up in the dump—or at least its life is extended. True, this damages our crass consumer Walmart throw-away economy, but that’s far preferable to running out of landfill.

Measuring the welfare of a nation by Gross Domestic Product has long been criticized because it depends on economic activity not necessarily aimed at improvements in human comfort and happiness. An increase in the level of sickness in a population directly improves the country’s GDP, at least temporarily, because sick patients have to be cared for, whereas a healthy population drives down the country’s GDP. A healthy and happy population is a disaster.

So there are a variety of indexes that provide more sensible measurements of well-being: Human Development Index; Genuine Progress Indicator; Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare; European Quality of Life Survey; Gross National Happiness; Bhutanese National Happiness Index; The Happy Planet Index; OECD Better Life Index; Future Orientation Index; Google Trends Data; World Governance Index; Social Progress Index ... there seems to be plenty of thinking aimed at redefining what makes sense for the planet.

So for human development, it is not the amount of shiny new stuff you have, but the amount of stuff which makes you a more effective and contented human being.

A friend of mine was given a modest equipment budget of $50,000 and tasked with equipping a medical electronics lab. He asked the administrator if there were restrictions on the source of the devices he specified. There really weren’t any because he would be the main user anyway. So he bought the equipment on eBay and wound up with a lab far better equipped than the budget would suggest was possible—in fact, a dream lab—and in less time, too.

But this article is about neglected places to shop online that I have found to be astonishing sources for gifts and general geek-ware. I have to confess that our Science Editor, John McCormick, didn’t think it was a good idea to encourage other bidders to use “our” secret auction sites. But I think everybody wins. Anyway, you’ll have a chance to bid on all my crap and John’s, too, someday. We just rent the stuff temporarily.

I suppose this could be entitled: amazing things I saw at the flea market or online but neglected to buy, like that $25 Apple 1 computer in the wooden case. I was too lazy, perhaps too stupid (and way too damned cold) to find a screwdriver to open the case. But after some later research, yeah ... I’m pretty sure I blew it.


The first Holiday buying site is not an auction site (and is hardly unknown), but rather a regular shopping site: DealeXtreme. They sell cheap stuff from China, and I do mean cheap. But several distinguishing features set it apart:

• They ship everything free by airmail.
• They have buyer reviews for most items.
• Most things are so inexpensive it boggles the mind.

I bought a 4×USB-2 expansion card for my computer for $3 or so. It’s fine. And (remember this) the airmail shipping was free!

A certain wisdom is necessary when purchasing from DX. One learns that their batteries are an extremely good deal. Their LED flashlights are excellent if you don’t buy the cheapest ones. Occasionally, something received doesn’t work or fails in a short time. But you paid so little for it that you shouldn’t sweat that sometimes. And you can’t actually afford to return it at the price they charged. Caveat emptor, Bubela.


A second favorite of mine is Government Liquidations. This is where the government gets rid of its junk. And the government has a whole lot of junk. I have purchased many amazing items from them, such as a DVC-8500 voltage calibrator which delivers an accurate voltage of 10.0000 +/-.00001 volts. The price tag for this sweet piece of technology is $4,500 but I paid $50 for it.

I have bought microscopes, oscilloscopes and various cool geek stuff from them. Much is offered in very large lots such as pallets, big cardboard boxes (called triwalls), dumpsters, shipping containers, and even railroad cars. I once saw (and seriously bid on) a large pallet full of Macintosh audio amps once used to keep the Air Force missile silo guys from going insane (presuming they aren’t insane). Somebody else beat me.

Part of the reason for poking around on the site is just pure entertainment. I happily avoided bidding on the large selection of Deuce-and-a-Half trucks which were “mildly radioactive.” If you want to get “off the grid,” this is ygun barrelour store. The military takes civilization with them, so there are generators, portable buildings, machine tools, and everything you need.

And—then there was this—to put into your holiday stocking:

Approximately 3,600,000 lb., 16-inch bore Iowa class Mark 7 gun barrels. The shipping cradles and railroad rails comprise fifteen barrels, each 66.6 feet (20m) long ... but regulations required that they be made unfireable before removal ... Hah! This lot (at right) was sold for only $550,000. Shipped from Hawthorne, Nevada. (That location is definite proof of alien help in transportation if you ask me!)

Government Liquidations has made many people rich, but it is mainly for the dedicated reseller. Often the size and quantity is daunting. Shipping is fairly easy to arrange, but having your own truck would be better.

Before the Internet, two high school boys had a business selling government surplus. They bought a large container labeled “aircraft parts” for $500. Their bid won them a complete F104B fighter aircraft (no weapons). Better than mowing lawns. Merry Holly Jolly, kids.


But I spend the most time on the internet site of Goodwill industries. Everything you buy from them (or donate to them) is tax deductible. Unlike eBay, Amazon, or Etsy, where you search for something specific, Goodwill has only a relatively small number of items in each category. It’s strictly a bidding site. You can’t sell your own stuff. You can search for “telescope” and you will find a surprising variety of telescopes, even some great Dobsonians and, more often than not, you’ll see something amazing that got donated by God-knows-whom. Surprise has nearly vanished from the big auction sites, but at Goodwill surprise is around every corner.

Goodwill is different from other websites in that the store managers apparently pick items that they feel will bring better profit online than they would in their stores. So they offer their luscious low-hanging fruit. Such as barely worn Christian Louboutin Shoes ... in somebody’s size I’m sure.

I routinely peruse the site (“Miscellaneous” is my favorite category, of course) to find weird and wonderful objects. They recently had a leather pouch of gold nuggets (about $15,000 worth), with the somewhat disparaging description, “We don’t think this is real gold.” Within hours someone was smart enough to carry it to a local jeweler and it disappeared from the site. It looked real to me and I suspect it was. Goodwill uses volunteer labor for their site, and the descriptions usually show it. Items are frequently in the wrong category. Wind-up watches are captioned “might need new batteries.” Often they don’t know quite what it is they are selling, but they try to be helpful and respond promptly to inquiries. This is rare on the other auction sites, where the seller usually knows far more than you about the offering and things are run more professionally.

I once bid desperately on a matched boxed set of six (count ’em! six) 55mm, f2 Ultra-Micro Nikkor lenses. These were originally used to make integrated circuits, where they easily imaged 1,000 lines per millimeter. But today these lenses are simply incomparable for their ability to take ultra-high resolution photos of small stuff. Their deepest-secret-interior elements were made from hand-selected natural feldspar. Serious photogs know them as UMN’s. To give you a rough idea of the reverence these lenses were accorded—each lens was specially blessed by a Shinto priest. I bid frantically but someone beat me out. Current price on eBay is around $3,500 each, and they don’t fit any camera you can buy ... and you need to make an adapter. But I want one.

Another of my favorites is their “Vintage Electronics” category. Because I use some of this kind of stuff, I’ve grabbed the occasional Fluke digital multimeter. (Their notion of vintage seems strange.) But usually I just like to look. Apparently, collectors of antique radios and gramophones haven’t discovered the site yet. There is also a great selection of antique computers. Commodore VIC-20s or -64s and all accessories can be had for a mouse click.

They also have an “Art” category that is a wonder. Many times they have some painting with a signature, but they claim “... illegible signature ...” This is an opportunity for anyone with access to collections of artists’ signatures to make a bundle. But if you just like art, it is a pleasure to peruse. They tend not to put cheap amateur art on the website. The deals abound. I bought a panoramic photograph from 1895 which is unique, and I plan to sell copies in the future.

I've assembled an impressive collection of giant insects from Goodwill. They seem to get lots of them. It’s not hard to understand why. This makes for an easy time of it when I buy birthday presents for my wife (who, thank heavens, likes monster bugs). “A really nice 30cm long Phasma gigas for you dear ...”

I buy my digital cameras and computer hardware from them. If you know how to read between the lines in the descriptions, it is relatively easy to find astonishing deals on the site. I buy some and then sell some on eBay, and otherwise perform my charitable and environmentally-conscious part by telling them they can’t ship old devices with mercury in them. I also send clarifications and identify fakes when they pop up.

Both purchases and donations are tax deductible. But beware—the West Coast buyers will frequently trump your bid by a dollar if you don’t stay up late. When someone asks what I want for the holiday, I tell them, "Peace on Earth, ShopGoodwill for all.”

And the economists never saw it coming! How could anyone have imagined a world where giant transportation companies move stuff from consumer-to-consumer via auction websites and “brick and mortar” stores are on the edge of vanishing?


Giving some cash for holidays is always a realistic alternative to giving tchotchkes and junk. Besides, one size fits all. Yet cash, for some reason, is often considered gauche. Why gift certificates are thought to be less crass is beyond me. At right is a collection of classic science gifts. Giving cash or an Amazon gift certificate lets the recipient select the perfect gift. Seems thoughtful enough.

What might genuinely be tactless is giving lottery tickets, because they are low in cost (essentially “stocking stuffers”) with potentially high rewards. But you have to win it to spend it, and we know how long those odds are. Many of the science gifts at left are inexpensive and provide hours of enjoyment.

Lastly, if you subscribe to the notion that giving gifts is not about buying plastic junk to be thrown out soon, just to keep factories churning it out, you might be interested in gifts that show you care, and have given some thought about how to express your caring for the recipient. Science gifts that educate, entertain, and last, do all of this and more. END

Eric M. Jones is the Associate Editor of “Perihelion.” He is an engineer, designer, consultant, and entrepreneur, working in the experimental aircraft community, NASA, space transportation companies, and the International Space Station.