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...