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Founder of long-running MIT electronics flea market dies

Michael Crestohl reports Steve Finberg of Cambridge, who started "Swapfest, the Flea at MIT" in 1985 and ran it for 35 years, died Friday.

That was 35 years, 8 shows a year, always the third Sunday of the month, April through October. I don’t recall it ever being canceled. An outstanding accomplishment! "The Flea" produced many amazing treasures over the years, things you would find nowhere else. You never know what you will find at "M.I.T.", an event that was highly popular with amateur radio operators and electronics enthusiasts in the Northeast.

Coronavirus meant the cancellation of the Flea last year, but organizers have tentatively scheduled one for Aug. 15.

Finberg, an MIT graduate, worked as an electronics engineer at Draper Labs.

More on Swapfest.

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.. never went to the MIT Flea but this article has no comments so I just want to say how sad for his friends and family. He sounds like he was a good guy.

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I'm really sad to hear this news. I think a lot of us suspected Steve had been unwell, but as Mike's posting said, Steve was a pretty private person.

At times he could be extremely...concise...in a way that those unfamiliar with him might mistake for brusqueness (which is pretty much the default for many engineers). And it's undeniably true that he often didn't suffer fools gladly. But Steve was also nigh-unflappable, able to keep a straight head even in the face of profound idiocy, and almost always had a smile and a respectful word for friend and stranger alike. He knew a great deal about an awful lot, but was always interested in knowing more. He had a loud and honest laugh.

We've bumped into each other a few times over the years at non-MIT-affiliated events, but for the most part, I knew Steve as the creator and sustaining energy behind Swapfest.

I've been going to Swapfest since it started up - about half of the serious tools and instruments in my workshop were bought there (and a very large fraction of the cruft as well). I've even been a seller a few times, completing the great cycle-of-technological-life by moving some of my 'treasures' on to the next generation. So just in practical terms, I owe Steve a great debt of gratitude.

But in truth, Swapfest has become much more than just a tech-heavy flea market. For decades it's been a monthly meeting place for members of the very large, very diffuse, but very important tribe of 'nerddom' that powers a great deal of the economic and cultural vitality of this region. Swap is one of the most demographically diverse events I've ever been to - I have met people of literally all ages, origins, interests, and walks of life there. And there's not been a single Flea (I've been to at least 150) where I have not met an old friend or made a new one.

Steve's legacy of Swapfest is a wonderful gift to all of us and he will be deeply and widely missed.

I just hope he remembered to bring a flyer for his $1 discount to get into heaven.

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We may not have seen an era pass with the death of Steve, but it certainly has seen a change. For years the MIT Flea was home base for electronics noodlers of all ages and educational backgrounds. Which is what it should have been: a resource for future technologists. I confirm--as elsewhere I am listed as the 'poster child for same'-- that real, new technologies have happened by the access afforded to cheap used stuff at the MIT Flea. It is absolutely true that fractal antennas and fractal electronics got their start in the late 80's and 90's from 'junk from the Flea'. So Steve created that environment. Hence now greatly missed. How shall we help the future makers and shakers?

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