Sunday, April 14, 2013

Laziness and the Unsprung Spring

There's no denying it: I've been downright lazy when it comes to blog posting. Here we are in the middle of April, and I can count all of my 2013 blog posts on one hand...sadly, even a two-fingered critic could do the same.  But in my defense, both posts were pretty great.  This blog has been neglected for nearly three months--February and March flew by without any activity to speak of.

So what happened?  I think the grad school application process destroyed my motivation.  After all, that was the primary reason that my blogging streak ended in the middle of last summer.  When I graduated from college back in 2006, a similar fate befell my motivation to read.  Over the previous three years, I may have been the only guy on campus who read 99% of all the assigned reading in all of his classes.  When I left campus, I was so burned out that I didn't touch another book for a solid four years. If something couldn't be communicated in a series of entertaining and easy-to-understand pictures, I refused to learn about it.  "Reading for fun" became the most oxymoronic phrase in the English language.

Working on all those grad school essays and applications last summer and fall had a similar, though less extreme, impact on my writing.  I still did some writing here and there, but I couldn't convince myself to commit to the daily blog posting that I sustained in the early part of 2012.  After enduring so many evenings and weekends packed with un-fun writing of the worst kind, the prospect of sweet, sweet nothing was just too tantalizing to pass up.

I'm going to try to get the blogging started back up again.  No, I'm still not motivated enough to go back to the post-a-day schedule, but I'm going to ease back into it.  Why now?  With this "spring" weather here in Minneapolis, the better question is "why not now?"  Normally I would be spending my time outdoors in the sun am warmth, but at this point the mere thought of going outside makes me want to vomit.  It's April 14th, and this is the view from my patio:

Did I mention it's April 14th!?  It's still @%$# snowing!  This looks like November or December...or January...or February...or this past March, for that matter.  I heard on the news this morning that Minneapolis has had measurable snowfall for six consecutive days, which is the first time on record that's happened in April or something along those lines.  It's downright depressing.  The outdoors needs to take serious note of the calendar and get its act together...I just can't take this.

So here I am on a "spring" afternoon in mid-April, sitting at a keyboard instead of running outside or playing tennis.  My pasty Minnesota complexion isn't going anywhere in the near future.  The highest temperature in the seven-day forecast is 48°, so that layer of white covering the ground is going to stick around for a while.  April showers supposedly bring May flowers, but I'm guessing April blizzards kill May flowers.  The good news is that I'm leaving Minnesota in a few short months, but I could do without winter sticking it to me one last time before I leave.

Speaking of leaving, that brings me to my next topic: school...and the end of this blog.  I'll be starting school this fall--definitely a major life change, which should provide me with an incredible variety of new and exciting things to write about.  Unfortunately, I'll probably be too busy to actually write about them.  That's the way it always seems to go...when I have something interesting to write about, I just can't find the time to make it happen.  That's precisely why this blog's readers have been so consistently disappointed in the fourteen months of its existence--my writing has been a product of abundant free time!

However, despite the impending craziness of grad school, I'm going to at least try to maintain some blogging in the coming years.  But it's going to be on another blog.  I want to re-monitize my writing, which means switching to an AdSense alternative and bringing ads back to the borders around my writing..and I learned the hard way that I can't do that on a blog that blatantly talks about ad revenue, which Away From the Cubicle most certainly does.

So, as I move farther away from the cubicle (pun intended) than ever in the coming months, subsequent blog posts will be published on a new site.  There, I intend to provide the same type of random crap that you've come to expect here, along with riveting coverage of my move across the country and the transition back to life as a student.

With a future that combines two income-free years with writing lots of giant, financially-crippling tuition checks, I'll be going broke in rapid and spectacular fashion.  Fortunately for my weather woes, I'll be doing that in Berkeley, California.  And I've decided that there's no better place to read about a guy going broke in Berkeley than a blog titled Brokeley.  Check out the new blog!  It's not much to look at yet, but it has lots of potential...and no direct mention of ads.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Go Bid Or Go Home

I've been selling crap on eBay for more than a decade now, and something often perplexed me: gift card sales.  Specifically, I've noticed that gift cards sometimes sell for more than their face value...but why?  Just a few months ago, I sold a $10 Starbucks gift card for $11.50. 

As the seller I was thrilled, yet terribly confused.  Was this just a stupid bidder--someone who was surfing eBay for bargains and thought that the opportunity buy $10 worth of Starbucks coffee for $11.50 was a steal?  If so, I wish I could meet this person and talk them into becoming their exclusive gift card supplier...sounds like an incredible career opportunity for me. 

This was no isolated incident--I've seen hundreds of gift cards sell for more than face value.  But I think I've solved the mystery.  Here's the trick: eBay has a program called "eBay Bucks" that lets buyers accumulate points for purchases on the site, which they can later apply toward future purchases.  There may be a few stupid bidders out there, but I'm guessing most of these people are spending eBay Bucks and are still actually paying less than face value for gift cards.

Two weeks ago, however, my sense of understanding of the eBay gift card sales market took a serious blow.  I listed two iTunes gift cards on eBay two Saturdays back--one $50 gift card and one $25 gift card.  With four hours to go in the bidding, the $25 gift card had been bid up to $26, and the $50 gift card was hovering around $40.  I didn't check the final sales prices until after the auctions had ended and I'd received emails from eBay telling me that my items sold.

I checked out the $50 gift card first, and it sold for  around $45...not bad, but not spectacular.  Then I clicked on email for the $25 gift card auction, knowing that it was already selling above face value when I last checked .  Something seemed a  I had to do a double take.  My $25 gift card sold for $1,542.00:

I don't think any bidder is that stupid, and I'd be shocked to learn that someone accumulated $1,500 in eBay Bucks and decided to make such an unwise purchase.  Was my iTunes card made of real silver?  It was pretty shiny, but nope, still made out of ordinary plastic.  Could this be one of my fans and loyal Away From the Cubicle followers who somehow knew my eBay user ID and wanted a piece of memorabilia for their personal collection?  Possible, but also unlikely.

As I continued to investigate, the plot thickened.  I compared the names and addresses of the two bidders who won my gift cards, and both were foreign-sounding names, and both had addresses in Springfield Gardens, New York.  It would seem my two bidders were in cahoots...but the $45 bid seemed legitimate.  Was I somehow being scammed?

I've heard of plenty of crazy schemes on online auction sites.  One of my favorites is a scam where a bidder pays with what appears to be an authentic Western Union money order, then informs the seller that they "accidentally" added an extra zero or two to the payment amount.  For example, you sell an item for $5.00 and receive a money order for $500.00.  The bidder asks you to send back the extra $495 by cash or check, and by the time the bank has informed the seller that the money order is a fake, he's already funded a Nigerian prince.

The rise of PayPal and its integration with eBay has pretty much wiped out such outdated scams, so I wasn't sure what was going on with my spectacularly overvalued gift card.  Sure enough, the winner of the $50 gift card sent me the payment through PayPal, and we completed the transaction without a hitch.  And, not surprisingly, the other bidder who placed a $1,542 bid for a $25 gift card has not yet sent a payment.  Interestingly, when I looked through the bidding history on the gift card, there were not one, but two bidders going wild for my $25 worth of iTunes glory.

That second bidder placed a bid of $1,517.00 two days before the auction ended.  To this day, I'm still puzzled.  If I had to guess, I'd say someone (or someones, perhaps) just decided to spend a wild evening on eBay, bidding outrageous amounts for various auctions with no intention of ever paying.  I'm not the only one puzzled, however.  Just yesterday, I received a message from some random eBay user inquiring about my now two-week-old auction: "Just curious, why would anyone pay $1,500 for a $25 iTunes gift card???"  A fine question, indeed.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Here We Go Again...

I had mixed feelings when the clock hit midnight last night.  On the one hand, New Year's Day is one of very few bright spots in a Midwest winter, right up there with Christmas and Thanksgiving.  But 1/1/2013 also happens to be the last of my 13 consecutive days off, and today also included the annual Most Depressing Drive of the Year: the return to Minnesota after the holidays.  Traveling on one of the few winter holidays just isn't fair...

The drive started out sunny, but traveling forty miles north in I-35 brought back the standard layer of thick, disgusting winter clouds.  Who knows when I'll see sunshine again...could be April.  Once again, the world around me looked like it had been painted with a palette that I can only describe as "Shades of Death", featuring brown, dark brown, dead grass, gray, dead leaves, off-white, and winter filth.  Fantastic...but I suppose that transition from sunshine into dreariness was a perfect visual metaphor for the way I feel about leaving vacation behind and going back to work.

The next ten weeks are my least favorite of the year.  Starting with the return to work tomorrow, the immediate future holds nothing but five-day weeks, bitter cold, and short, dark days. The only holidays between here and Memorial Day aren't even real holidays!  We've got Valentine's Day, which is a nationwide candy and flower sales scheme, and St. Patrick's Day, which is little more than an excuse for people to justify excessive many cases despite a lack of true Irishness.  Throw in a few absurd bank and post office holidays, and there's absolutely nothing to look forward to until way beyond February.

It's back to reality tomorrow--a return to waking up to an alarm at a ridiculously early hour, and back to spending the majority of my time around coworkers instead of friends and family.  Not to mention, of course, the official end of eating delicious food prepared the way I like it best: by someone else.  A chunk of my New Year's evening was spent preparing remarkably flavorless food for work tomorrow:

On the bright side, the days are getting longer, and I guess there is a light at the end of the cold, dark tunnel...summer will eventually return, but it seems so far away...

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Final Countdown

Believe it or not, there are mere hours left in 2012.  It was a big year, chock full of newsworthy and unexpected events.  Personally, my selection for the top story of 2012 is a recent development: Grandma has embraced the internet!  Somewhere across the country, Al Gore is smiling without fully understanding why.  Here's Grandma  learning about her iPad earlier this week:

It was a shocking development--for the past 80 years, Grandma and the internet always stayed at least 500 feet away from each other.  Granted, that wasn't very difficult for the first 60 years.  But here we are closing in on 2013, and Grandma now owns an iPad and a wireless router.

I see good things in her future--she won her first game of solitaire on her iPad.  Even more surprising, she decided to drop her land line telephone!  Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?  It's like Grandma embraced some kind of pre-New Year's resolution.  I must say, I'm inspired.

I'm not one to make resolutions, but maybe 2013 will be the year that I try something car washes or reading for fun.  Then again, I already switched from boiled to baked chicken in 2012, so I don't want to overdo it with the spontaneity.  What will 2013 bring?  We'll just have to wait and see...

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


The local YMCA was closed for the holiday, which meant that I was able to spend Christmas the way it was meant to be spent: lots of eating and absolutely no rigorous physical activity.  The morning started with an unusually lifelike, cat-looking ornament in the tree.  It managed to leap safely from the tree after some worried glances around the nearby branches:

An incredibly large portion of the rest of Christmas Day was spent completing a game of Settlers of Catan that began last night and carried through until almost 5PM today.  I didn't technically emerge victorious, but I was so tired of the full-day game that by the time it finally ended, I've never had so much trouble discerning defeat from victory.

The more experienced players in the family claim that this was the longest, most closely-contested game they've ever seen...I'm not sure if I feel proud, unfortunate, or just plain exhausted to have been a part of history.

All in all, it was a great Christmas.  The sun was shining all day, though I would have preferred unseasonable warmth over the single-digit temperatures in the afternoon.  You'd think Mother Nature could do better than that for Santa's birthday...

Opening most of the presents on Christmas Day successfully delayed the post-Christmas letdown for another 12 hours as I'd hoped, but with Christmas coming to a close, it's hard not to feel the disappointment of a holiday gone by. I'll have to focus my attention on the second jab of the one-two holiday punch: New Year's.  Another chance to eat big and exercise little for a day.  In the meantime, I'll be devoting most of my writing efforts to the family Christmas letter, which is sure to entertain a few and offend many.  See you next year, Christmas...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Santa's Birthday Eve

I can't believe Christmas Eve is already upon us.  That's the downside of Christmas falling on a Tuesday--I feel like I'm jumping straight from work right into the holidays, and that's never an easy transition.  I completed my annual newspaper gift wrapping session yesterday and pre-stretched my favorite eating pants earlier today, so I'm all set to let the celebration begin.

The greater the number of people who learn that I wrap Christmas gifts in newspaper, the more I find myself explaining the benefits of a black and white Christmas.  Luckily, I can simply send people to last year's holiday blog post on Passionately Apathetic, where I detailed the benfits of eschewing traditional wrapping paper in favor of old school media. However, I feel my wrapping skills may have regressed a bit this year--for some reason, I even found myself struggling with standard rectangular gifts.  But buried deep within my shoddy wrapping lies an important lesson.

The holidays are all about appreciating the things in life that truly matter, right?  I've seen people so skilled at gift wrapping that they can wrap a gift brilliantly while only using two pieces of tape.  I'm not one of those people. What better way to teach people that it's what's on the inside that counts than handing them a gift that looks like it (barely) survived World War II?  Tattered newspaper, exhorbitatnt amounts of scotch tape, and a desh of holiday spirit are the key ingredients in my annual holiday gift wrapping sessions. 

Nothing says "don't judge a book by it cover" like a brilliant gift ensconsed in scraps of hideous paper and a quarter pound of scotch tape.  Well, brilliant might be stretching it a bit on the gift department.  But don't let the lack of color fool you--my holiday spirit is alive and well.  Those black and white gifts look just fine under the tree, especially when they're mixed among the traditionally wrapped gifts from the less progressive members of the family:

We're also trying something new this year and saving the vast majority of the gift opening for Christmas morning.  It's a bold experiment, but I'm warming up to the concept.  I feel like Christmas Day should still be at least a week away, so putting off the main event is a step in the right direction.  And there's always a part of me that goes to bed after the Christmas Eve festivities a little disappointed, thinking "I have to wait another year to do this again?"  Now I can delay that disappointment for twelve more hours! 

That said, waiting won't be easy. I'm hoping that the anticpation of Christmas morning doesn't overwhelm me.  After all, there's nothing I love more than seeing the look of disappointment and confusion on the faces of my friends and family as they open my gifts.  It warms my heart every year.  Festivus may be over for 364 more days, but I still have Santa's birthday to look forward to tomorrow.

A second lesson also came from my gift wrapping this year: when you wrap gifts in newspaper, it's critical to immediately label the gifts.  If you wait a full day to bust out the Sharpie and apply the labels, it's nearly impossible to remember what's inside every package.  Then, of course, the unsolved packages end up with labels like this:

I'm not sure who's going to open this one, but I'll be just as surprised as the receipient, whomever that may be.  I love Christmas morning surprises, and now I'll even by surprised by the gifts I picked out.  Fantastic!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

It's Not The End Of The World...Or Is It?

Well, the Mayans were wrong again.  December 21st came and went, and the world is still intact.  It gets hard to follow all of these end-of-the-world predictions from ancient civilizations.  It seems like every few months I hear that the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incans, or whoever has predicted that the end is upon us.  I didn't read the details, but I do wonder if the Mayans specified what time (and time zone) the apocalypse would strike.  Chances are, it would be December 20th or 22nd somewhere in the world when things started to go south, right?

From what little I did hear about the doomsday predictions over the past few weeks, they made little sense.  Apparently the Mayans didn't specifically predict that the world would come to an end on December 21st.  It turns out that their calendar just didn't extend beyond 12/21/2012.  By that logic, my VCR is predicting that the world will end next week, on 12/31/2012, when the timer  defaults back to 1996. (Apparently Sony didn't anticipate that anyone would still be using VCRs in 2013.  I showed them!!).  To make matters worse, I also heard that the Mayan calendar didn't take leap years into account, so it was actually off by a good six months anyway.

Regardless, the fortunate news for all of us is that these predictions are always wrong.  That news is a little less fortunate, I suppose, if you're one of the paranoid fools who's now sitting on a 20-year supply of Spam and Tang.  Even if a few crazy people thought they could escape the end of the world, I don't know why they'd want to go on living in a world where those are the only viable food options...that certainly can't do wonders for the life expectancy.

Leave it to America to turn the world not ending into another excuse to eat--I received this email offer from Red Robin when I woke up on December 22nd:

So the world goes on.  But interestingly enough, my days of life as I know it in Minneapolis are numbered, as I found out earlier this month that not one, but two MBA programs suffered serious computer errors and/or major lapses in judgment and issued me acceptances.  That's why I'm back to blogging again--that nightmare known as the application process, which ended my blogging streak back in July, is behind me forever.  I'm waiting to hear back from two more schools in January, but no matter where I end up, the one thing I know for sure is that I'll be leaving Minneapolis this summer.

More on that later...moving away and starting school will surely provide years worth of blog-worthy content.  But then again, not having anything interesting to blog about never stopped me in the past anyway.  The end is also near for Away from the Cubicle. With this Ad Sense nonsense, I'll have to retire this blog and start again from scratch.  But more on that later, too; I'll explain the details when I officially write this blog's final post and make the switch to the new one (suggestions for new names are welcome).

Before closing, I should point out one thing did come to and end recently: James's streak of exercising in public with his dignity intact.  Since returning from Africa, it's becoming harder and harder to admit that I know him when we're around heavy objects...or, for that matter, light objects.  Here's a shot of him from earlier today as he prepares to struggle with 65 pounds on the decline bench press.

It was embarrassing for both of us, but at least he made that squad of middle school cheerleaders that was working out on the next bench over feel good about themselves.  They seemed really proud of themselves and offered James lots of encouraging words during his workout.  Happy Festivus everyone!