Saturday, February 24, 2007

It's an eBay world

I recently purchased my mom's bithday present on eBay (link provided, as if you didn't already know it), and the feedback I received from the seller was both bizarre and fantastic. It read:

"You are a golden God, enveloped in a veil of excellence"

My most unique feedback to date, for sure. Should you ever need to describe me to someone else, feel free to use that as the descriptor.

I've been on eBay for a while. I warn you that the following paragraphs are evidence of this, and of the fact that I sometimes put a lot of thought into seemingly inane topics. I like to think of it as homegrown sociology, or general societal observation.

My relationship with the site is going on 8 years at this point. A friend mentioned it to me as she knew I was a collector of female action figures. If you've ever tried looking, you'd know that it is pretty hard to find good ones, and back in the 20th century (oh, those ancient times!) it was even more so. To add to the difficulty, I was - and still am - particular about what I would purchase. I didn't want silly girly looking figurines; they had to be girls that could kick your ass should they choose to do so. They also had to have a good level of craftsmanship. In other words, I was less interested in frilly cartoon characters, and more interested in comic book characters. Like She Spawn or other Todd McFarlane creations.

These "toys" are not easily found in stores. And when a store does get a shipment of them, the more fanatical collectors (think: those who keep them in their original box, or buy glass display cases) immediately buy all of the good ones and then resell for a small profit. Once eBay came around, I could tap into all of those fanatics and feed my harmless habit.

When I first hopped into the scene it still had that yard sale feel to it, where people would just sell whatever crap they had lying around the house. Plus, of course, the niche markets including my action figure category. While it never quite had the touchy feely community feel of craigslist, it still created a zone where you engaged in temporary relationships during a sale. Feedback was personal. I like to think that I still come in to it with the same level of personal service and kindness, although a few things have clearly changed.

For example, it used to be that a seller would provide feedback as soon as payment for an item was received. Before the days of PayPal, this meant checks or money orders. Real, live envelopes and stamps were employed. Little notes accompanied the payment, often acting as a pseudo thank you note. It was a buyer's market, and if someone came across what you posted and actually wanted it, you were stoked that someone was actually interested in your stuff. You made money, they saved money, champagne toasts all around.

These days, sellers generally do not provide feedback until after the buyer has done so. And prices on many items are approaching prices in brick and mortar establishments. This, to me, is evidence of eBay tipping more towards a sellers' market. As so much empasis is placed on feedback as a means of garnering a reputation, you want positive feedback in your profile. If you leave negative feedback for a seller, do you expect that they'd turn around and leave you positive feedback? Doubtful. Thus, neutral or negative feedback is discouraged, and with it an honest rating of the experience for transactions that took a bad turn.

That criticism aside, as eBay has grown to the behemoth it is today, there is a culture behind it that I still find pretty fascinating. The feedback mechanism, while partially flawed, does provide insight into a member's personality. All you have to do is click through the other items that they buy or sell, and you begin to form an interesting picture of who is on the other end of the screen.

I came across one of these interesting profiles when I was trying to help a friend sell an old printing press. It was a huge press, and thus required a very specific type of buyer. I had no idea there were so many collectors of old presses, letters, and other printing memorabilia. Hunting through members' feedback, I found one woman who was an avid collector of marbles. That's all she had purchased in the past few months (and many of them). Where would this press fit into her marble-filled home? Would she use the marbles to help roll the press into it's new space?

I have also done a lot of poking around for cars and motorcycles (mostly research in trying to help others sell their vehicles, although partially so I can have an imaginary ride on lots of bikes I can't afford). There is a whole market of small-scale resellers out there, buying and selling cars like they were sneakers. Seems like a lot of effort for minimal profit, but if it's your thing, who am I to judge?

The marbles lady I judged a little.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Run, Forest, run!

In preparation for the Cherry Blossom 10 miler in April, I have set a small goal for myself: I will run at least 5 sub-10 minute mile runs in the next 30 days. I will likely make most of them 3 milers, but I will stick at least one five miler in there.

Today I did a 3 mile run with an average pace of 9:46. I was tired afterwards, in a good way.

One down, four to go!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Clear and reboot

Sometimes, you need to hit the reset button.

Sometimes, you don't realize just how much you need to hit the reset button.

This was one of those times.

I spent this past weekend with friends in an unhurried town in upstate New York. The type of town where you go to the supermarket and bump into friends and maybe make a handshake deal on that work you need done on your roof. Where the columnist of the local paper reports on her bridge games as news.

Two friends have a house there, which they have dubbed the Mouse House due to it being a series of smallish rooms. They bought it a couple of years ago as an escape from NYC, and have spent a lot of time lovingly renovating (some of it through those handshake deals as mentioned above). With the help of friends, professionals, and probably lots of pizza/beer (or maybe lovely home cooked meal/wine) paychecks, the have restored a previously unusable barn into a loft and music studio space. Thanks to a lot of paint and an eye for detail, the inside of the house is transformed into a warm and welcoming space.

There is no TV. There is no cell phone service. There is a brief sloping descent for sledding. It is a small slice of heaven.

The weekend consisted of the aforementioned sledding, eating really great food, sitting by the wood burning stove, making really strong coffee, eating some more, playing with one of the cutest babies on the planet, puzzle building, boggle playing, and general lethargy.

I made it out running early one morning - even when on vacation I can't help but wake up at 7am, and managed to go for miles with only one moving car sighting. Mostly it was rolling hills, a few dogs hanging out in their respective yards, and snow. It was a slow run, as I was more focused on looking all around and letting my mind go blank temporarily.

Our friends daughter, Baby E, is getting to be a real little kid. She is on the verge of turning 1, and on the verge of walking. She still likes to hold onto a finger or two of an adult to help with balance, but every once in a while she'll strike out on her own. She and I spent a lot of time examining sticks from the kindling pile. She was generous with her time amongst all the adults, playing with anyone that would pick up an instrument from her Be Bop Band playset, or make a funny face, or help her buzz about the house.

On the way home P and I routed through Scranton, PA to go to Wegmans. While 40 miles out of the way (which, in the overall travel mileage, was small, really), it was totally worth it. We *heart* Wegmans. The whole experience of it, really. Those who don't generally associate the word "experience" with the word "supermarket" have never been to Wegmans.

In particular, we made our way to the mighty Weg for their brand of crunchy peanut butter. I'll save that story for another day. In short, we are now happily restocked!

Man, transitioning back into the work world was a bitch. You have all of these memories in your head, but to your coworkers you are no different. Except maybe a little cranky for having to be there. :)

Our next extended trip is in a few weeks. I. Can. Not. Wait.

Friday, February 16, 2007

What a way to make a living

I have worked at the same company for just shy of two years. About 8 months ago, I switched departments. Since that time, I don't think I've worked on a single project for more than two to three months in a row. Constant change is the the only constant, it seems.

Whenever I am asked what it is I do for work, I tend to describe the company mission overall. That usually provides enough disctraction to avoid having to try and explain what I do. The astute ones know to ask further, and then I give a general "well, marketing and outreach, mostly" response. Which is mostly true, but doesn't actually describe how that fits into the general scheme of this weird company I currently call home.

Thus, when I received a meeting invite from my boss with the following goal, I couldn't help but laugh. And feel weirdly vindicated...
"The goal of the meeting is to develop a framework for what we do"

Thursday, February 15, 2007

So much, so early

I think there is a story a minute for everyone, if you take the time to notice. This morning was packed with little stories.

I went to a local diner before work to meet up with a friend. As it is Thursday, I picked up the free local paper (which comes out every Thursday) to see what was going on in town. Every time I read through it, I have hope for Manchester.

As I sat and read, and sat and read, and sat and read, it became clear that my friend wasn't going to show up. Normally this might make me a little sad. But I had my paper, I was in a great local spot, the people watching was fantastic, and I was happy to just be there. So much so that I pondered making this a Thursday ritual. I ordered some peanut butter pancakes and had a lovely solo meal.

About 10 seconds after getting back to my car and pulling away from the curb, a woman flagged me down. Upon rolling down my window, she asked if I could give her a ride, saying she'd twisted her knee and was having trouble walking. The fleeting thought of "what if she's an axe murderer or thief" passed through my head (I am so well trained), but it's really cold out, and she wasn't carrying anything like an axe. She didn't even have a winter coat on. So I told her sure, I'd give her a ride (I guess I'm only so well trained).

She got in the car, favoring her left knee and gave me directions on where she needed to go. It was just up the street, and I pretty much knew off the bat that she simply didn't want to walk in the cold. Can't blame her. She smelled of stale smoke, and hopped from one topic to another, trying to both make small talk and justify the need for a ride. I small talked back. It wasn't altogether unpleasant, minus the stale smoke smell, which clings to everything.

Getting out the car, she favored her right knee, and commened that she'd lost 20 pounds. I guess that is one way to say goodbye... And off I went, back on my way to work. The whole exchange took maybe seven minutes. I have a feeling I am not the first to act as her taxi.

And now I am at work. Trying to get enthused, with a modicum of success. A colleague actually thanked me today for one of the projects I've been working on (which, to my wife's chagrin, has been the subject of many dinnertime conversations). Thank you is used all too sparingly around here. It's more about trying to avoid blame, which seems like a fairly toxic way to interact.

So that is my morning thus far. This evening I'm heading to the gym to run, as it is too windy outside to hit the streets. I got new sneakers recently, which are sort of a bright pink/orange (hey, they were on sale, and they were exactly the style I wanted). So I'll neon my way through a few miles. I have a 10 mile race coming up in about 1.5 months, and my entire goal is to beat a 10 minute mile. In the short term, I'm trying for a few sub-10 minute mile runs in the next month. They won't be 10 miles long, but it'll be good practice. I'm defninitely a bit of a turtle. A happy turtle, but a turtle nonetheless.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

First of the (long) season

This morning I had the opportunity to attend a small house party for Hillary Clinton. This was her third stop on her NH trip, stopping first in Berlin, then Concord, then Manch. I think she has another engagement or two prior to leaving the Granite State. Reason #1 I will never run for President: the schedule.

I'm sure she started in Berlin due to the recent paper mill closings up there, and used this as a platform to speak to the point that new jobs that could be created if the government actively supported more environmentally sustainable industries. The crowd at this morning's event wasn't hard to convince...

She was better than I anticipated - less soundbite and more substance. Even her sense of humor was on (ex: "why we can't find the tallest man in Afghanistan is beyond me").

One of the ideas spoken about both in her introduction by our host and during her schpeal was the reminder that this country is not an inevitability, but rather a fortuitous set of events. history really is the outcome of one decision following another. That concept is so often lost in the debates. Before things get too negative along the campaign trail, I'm going to keep reminding of this notion, knowing that we are large enough to be resilient from even the worst of decisions. If we ever want to have friends across the globe, we'd better be!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Bananas for Traveling

I am in Florida for a meeting. Quick trip – less than a day total.

I am in another cube farm, in another city, in another company. Still, it has that same sterile feeling of hushed voices and white noise. I was borrowing someone’s desk for a minute, but then my colleague suggested I leave the otherwise vacant cube, as the actual occupant is “temperamental.” I am guessing that it is not the occupant but rather my colleague who is the strange one, given what I know of my coworker. Still, I followed my backpack as she dragged it out into the aisle, rolling out into the walkway. So here I am, sitting in the aisle, with free desks all around me.

The other highlight is that one of my coworkers said something about a Fee Estimator, and I thought he said Fiesta Meter. No one laughed.

I think that pretty much sums up the morning.

I got in around 9:30 last night. My first order of business was upgrading my rental car, as I was initially assigned a PT Cruiser. Oh, no. No, no, no. Je refuse! The $12 spent on getting into a Dodge Charger (whose front end looks as if it is growling at you) was the best $12 I’ve spent in a while.

My car was in parking slot 1, prompting the customer service rep to say, “that’s because you’re number 1!” Can’t blame the guy for trying.

It was late to think about dinner (this is not NYC, after all), but I was ravenous. I expected to pick something up at my layover in DC, but that plan was dashed when the flight out of Boston left an hour late. Something having to do with the plane not being able to start on its own accord, and needing a jump start. Terribly reassuring.

Anyways, the two restaurants I found were Waffle House and Wendy’s. WH seemed a bit heavy, so I hit the Wendy’s drive through, looking forward to a baked potato, bad TV, and bed. Sadly, no potatoes left. I got a salad that was ok, but not as good as my favorite Mesclun Hazelnut yumminess. That’s perhaps a high bar… Perhaps more accurate to say it wasn’t very satisfying. But it was food, and my belly was thankful.

Later on…

One hour meeting is over. Did I mention that I flew to Jacksonville for a one hour meeting? In a corporate way, it was well worth the trip. Good interaction, and with all due respect to the myriad ways we communicate, nothing beats face to face conversation.

I had to maintain a straight face when one of my colleagues consistently gave my boss credit for all the work I (and my team) have been doing. I would have preferred he stressed the team effort involved, as I think that makes an even stronger case, but he’s a bit old school and hierarchical in that way. Whatever – in the journey of picking battles, this is not one I’m going to fight. Bottom line is that I think the conversation will achieve what we hoped.

I am flying home now, on a Southwest airplane. That means I get to grab a copy of my favorite in flight magazine, Spirit. P always thinks it’s a little strange that I love this magazine so, but whenever I bring it home there’s always something of interest to her. This issue is no different – a little note on Occum Pond, some cool off-beat museums, and a variety of events that seem interesting.

How else would I have known about the International Banana Club (and why didn't I know about this already??!!??). Oh. My. Heavens. I already have my Banana Club title picked out!

There’s even an article on Killerspin, a company focused on table tennis that sponsors tournaments. It’s one of my few remaining connections to the table tennis world… Oh, how I wish I could play more. In high school I approached the level of a really good player, and at this point I am quite rusty. We have a table in the basement, but that’s currently covered with yard sale items. Half the reason I want to have a yard sale is to clear off the table and start playing again.

Until then, maybe I’ll just get myself a Killerspin t-shirt or racket cover.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

All fixed!

Ted Haggard, the evangelical minister who was outed by a male prostitute after a long time relationship, has been cured. Phew! So sayeth a minister who oversaw the process (that ust have been a sight): he's "completely heterosexual!" Look out, Missouri and Iowa - there might be a new - and hetero - sheriff coming to town.

Now he can get on with his normal heterosexual lifestyle. Speaking of those pesky heterosexual lifestyles, it seems that being heterosexual can make you a little mentally unstable.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Metaphors run wild

I have been meaning to post for days... Lots of little things going on that are worth pausing and writing about. No excuse aside from laziness. I am heading on a sub-24 hour trip to Florida tomorrow, and hopefully I'll find some peace and quiet on the plane to gather my thoughts.

In the interim, I thought I would post a small essay I put together a while ago. It is related to running, which is one of the reasons I started this blog. I think it explains some of why I like the activity. If nothing else, it underscores the fact that it is one of the few places that I can follow a single thought for an extended period of time. Definitely something to be said for that!

On the running note, I ran 10 miles yesterday. In the snow, on one of my favorite trails. It was totally great, even if my left hip is predictably sore today. Oh, and I forgot to apply Glide to the chafe-prone parts, which was a mistake. Ouch.

Thus, without further introduction, some things I have learned from (or while) running:

1. It’s never too late to start: I hated running as a kid, even though I was a multi-sport athlete. It always seemed boring and lonely. I didn’t start to consider it as an option until I was well into my 20s, and then I wondered if I was too old to start. I finally let all of that go and went out the door.

2. I can do anything: When I first started running, I only ran after dark, as I was embarrassed at my lack of speed and endurance. I also started in the early winter, as I knew less people would be around. I had to work hard to run for 30 minutes without stopping. I knew that if I just kept at it, I would eventually get there. I came to believe that if I could achieve this small goal, I could achieve anything. I think about that every time I pass the 30 minute mark, which at this point is routine.

3. No one else is going to run for you: Even if they did, it would be of no benefit to you. There are many things in life that we can task out, but there will always be things we must do on our own. These are generally the things that impact us most personally.

4. If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see something new. Something always happens that makes it worthwhile. I can’t predict when it will happen, but inevitably it does. Usually it is something small – seeing two ducks pair in the spring, watching a new flower bloom, smelling the trees. Even when I run indoors there is something unique. With practice, you start to stay alert to see what the world will offer up that day.

5. Use what you’ve got. I am not a fast runner. I do not aspire to run a marathon. I’ve tried these things and hurt myself. Only after pushing myself to the point of injury did I allow the possibility that setting limits and sticking to them is just as good as running the Boston marathon with a sub-8 mile time.

6. Even a task I don’t enjoy can turn into something good: I always dislike the first five minutes of a run. This hasn’t changed in all the years I have taken to running as a regular activity. I often think I should just give up, that this isn’t a good day to run, that I am to tired, etc. etc. Then I remind myself that I always hate the first five minutes, and I just try to stay patient until – before you know it – I am past the initial doubts.

7. If you can’t stay still, then move. Regardless of how distracted or stressed I feel prior to tying my laces and hitting the road, I always feel calmer and happy afterwards. Knowing this has saved me from myself on a number of occasions.

8. Sometimes, it is all in your head: Inevitably, some of your energy is depleted on any given run. Many times I tell myself I should stop for a minute, even though I know that this will only make it harder to start again. However, if I take the time to listen to my body, I can tell whether it is my muscles that are tired, or just my mind that wants to give in. I often find that my mind doesn’t give my body the credit it deserves, and I can continue without much effort. Being mindful about what is really going on makes the difference.

9. Effort takes effort: I may have improved my skills over the years, but running still makes me tired. As obvious as it is, it didn’t dawn on me immediately that running should make you expend energy every time you do it. The very act of running takes energy. Understanding that fatigue happens, and that you can still keep going regardless was an important factor in helping me to enjoy even the days that didn’t seem all that fun.

10. Persistence pays off: The simple act of one foot in front of another, when repeated, gets you far.

If you have any others you think I should add, please share!