Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cleaning The Garage

So, my next big project is cleaning the garage. I've got so much stuff out there accumulated over twenty years that it's just time to make most of it go away. While some of it will just get thrown away or given away, I'm hoping to recover at least a small amount of money for some of the stuff, particularly a few collectible items.

After poking around the various options, here's my current plan:

  • Amazon
    I've set up an Amazon Storefront. This will be used to sell books, CDs, and DVDs which have moderate resale value. Anything I post will be the lowest value used item currently available when I post it, or it gets moved into one of my other "liquidation" piles.
  • eBay
    I'll be using eBay to sell some more notable collectible items, like an original Thunderhawk model in the custom hardwood case. Also, if I can make bundles of items, like my set of L5R miniatures and rulebooks, those will go up on eBay as well. More on those as they show up.
  • BoardGameGeek
    BoardGameGeek specializes in board games. I'm going to remove the part of my collection I never use, and hopefully trade for some games that I do want. Probably a 2-for-1 sort of deal, 2 of my games for 1 that I want, to help the inventory move faster. Click here for my current trade list. I'll be adding more to this list soon.
  • ComicBookRealm
    ComicBookRealm is where I track my comic books. I'm hoping to liquidate a couple thousand back issues. Click here for my sell list. Prices aren't really set there yet - if you're interested, assume half off list price, and make an offer if you want to pay less.

Anything that falls through the above filters will turn into garage sale fodder, or donations.

Got any useful experiences trading or selling stuff online? Leave them in the comments. I'll post updates on any experiences if people are interested.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks

Today's Thanksgiving, the holiday of giving thanks. Even with all the crazy stuff going on around the world, I've still got a lot to be thankful for - right now, it's raining, and I love the rain. I want to say Thank You to all my friends out there, for all you've done for me over the years.

Along with Thanksgiving, there's another "holiday" called Black Friday. This is a commercial event/tradition of sales kicking off the holiday shopping season, so named because it's anecdotally the day where many companies turn a profit - being "in the black" as it were. I expect Black Friday will not be quite as profitable this year, as many people are feeling the pinch of an economic crisis.

So I have a suggestion.

This weekend, as you consider all you have to be thankful for, visit the Kiva website. Here's a blurb from their homepage.

What is Kiva? Kiva lets you lend to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world - empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.

It works like this. Kiva partners with local micro-lenders, typically offering loans of less than $1000. These lenders identify people in their communities who will use this money to support themselves. The loans are typically repaid over a few months, with repayments starting after just 30 days. The money might be used to buy wheat to make bread, or repair a car to deliver goods. A small amount of money can make a big difference in the ability of many less fortunate people to support themselves.

Here's where you come in.

From the Kiva site, you can read the opportunities to help, and choose any you would like (they are all worthwhile). Contribute a small amount, typically $25, and when the full total required has been collected, the money is loaned directly to the individual or group of entrepreneurs. As the money is repaid, it goes right back into your Kiva account. You can then either take your money back, or reinvest it in another entrepreneur.

The only cost to you is that there is no interest repaid, and if the loans are faulted on, then you will only get a portion of your investment back - proportional to how much money was collected. The risk levels for each investment are clearly marked, but most loans are repaid in full, as the field partners work closely with the entrepreneurs.

So, if you're thankful this holiday season, consider investing in your fellow human being. These are hard working people who just need a little nudge to materially improve their own conditions.

Thanks to Rand for turning me on to Kiva.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Even More Customer Abuse


I was hoping to have an end of my phone bill problems, but this story, regrettably, has a sequel.

New month, new phone bill. This one's even higher than the previous month. And not only that, the extra fee which was allegedly waived last month, as it turns out, wasn't. So they said they took care of it, and they didn't.

And the new charge? Well, last month, I reviewed all the subscribed services, and made sure nothing was turned on. It seems the web site neglects to include an extra internet plan (which we don't use, and specifically asked them not to enable when we signed the contract), to the tune of 15 bucks a month for two of the phones. There is no way to see that you are subscribed to this (automatically when you start a new contract) when you visit the website, except for the bill.

On the phone again, sorting this out - they will now (allegedly) take the new fee off, but I'm going to have to pay it first (it's not even due for another week), and have a credit show up the following month. Why? According to the service person, because "it's really complicated" to do with an immediate credit. In the meantime, Verizon gets to sit on 50 bucks and collect interest for another month (20 from the previous month, and 30 from this month). Multiply that across several million subscribers, and it's not a small amount of money.

Verizon, you should be ashamed.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

How to Abuse Your Customers

Here's a lovely example of how not to treat your customers.

My son, a typical teenager, is a text messaging fiend. His plan was set up for unlimited "in network" texting, and 500 "out of network" messages. About six weeks ago (two weeks into a billing cycle), he noticed he was approaching his 500 limit. So, he decided to upgrade to the 1500 out of network for an extra five bucks a month. Through the rest of that billing cycle, he ended up with about 950 out of network messages.

Come billing time, we've got a $20 fee for 200 messages over the limit. No matter how you slice it, that doesn't seem to make sense - we paid an extra five bucks to get 1,000 more messages.

Here's how the phone company justified it: when the plan was upgraded, they canceled the old one, and pro-rated the time. With half the time, he only was allowed 242 messages, and hence was 192 over. Those were billed as overages instead of rolled over into the upgraded plan (which ended up alloting another 823 extra messages, only 518 of which were used).

So, somehow upgrading our service to cover more minutes (surely the desired goal of the phone company), turned into a penalty for doing so mid-month.

The only silver lining is that after calling the phone company and explaining the issue, they did eventually waive the extra fee, although they tried hard to convince me their billing was correct first. As I said to them, "I understand why a computer would do such a thing, but surely people can be smarter than that."

Friday, April 18, 2008

Amazon Love

Nothing breeds customer loyalty for me better than free money. I just got this delightful email from Amazon:

You are receiving this e-mail due to your purchase of an HD DVD player from before February 23, 2008. As you may know, manufacture of HD DVD players ceased February 23, 2008, and major studios in the U.S. have ceased production of HD DVDs. In recognition of this development, is providing all customers who purchased qualifying HD DVD players a credit for $50...

This certainly eases the pain of having bought one of the devices on the losing side of the format war (which may still turn out to have more than one loser...).

Kudos to you, Amazon.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Official Scorched Earth T-Shirts

Thanks to the mad design skills of my friend Richard, I'm happy to introduce the first ever Official Scorched Earth T-Shirt.

Echoing a popular sentiment, this all-black classic features an exploding funky bomb and the slacker slogan

I wasted my education playing Scorched Earth

(also available in military green, naturally)

This shirt is now available at the Official Scorched Earth Cafe Press Store. If you have ideas for shirts you'd like to see, let me know in the comments. We have a few other ideas, but we'd like to know what you want to wear.

P.S. As an official Scorched Earth product, you are hereby absolved from any guilt of having never registered your copy of Scorch, once you buy a shirt. Doesn't that make you feel better? :^)

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Are You An Overachiever?

Late last year, I introduced my notion of an A,B,C rating system to determine how much value you're getting from the games you purchase (or rent, for that matter). After building this system into my own personal database (which I hope to blog more about at some point), I've found a few areas which deserve revisiting.

First, some games get played well past their C lifespan, and it seems fair to note this fact if I'm using the data to draw any conclusions. Thus, the obvious notion of an extended D rating (played the game to death). This covers games which I continue to play well after they've earned their C ranking. In fact, a decent ballpark metric for a D game is that I've at least doubled the playing time since the game was marked as a C. This includes my recent favorite, Rock Band (which I hope to review soon).

Second, some games have a notoriously difficult to mark C goal. In my earlier post, I defined C as "completed", while leaving that term loosely defined as "getting the core entertainment value." In practice, I've often been linking it to the credits - if a game has an ending, with credits, that marks the C point. Or if I beat all the levels, or reach the "standard" ending. For Burnout Paradise, I've chosen the Burnout License as my C goal, even though there's an Elite License to be earned after that (a possible candidate for a D goal).

The most difficult edge case for me lies around many XBLA games - these tend to be shorter, arcade-style games, often with no clearly defined ending. In something like Galaga, you can try to get all the achievements, but there's no real ending as such (at least none that I know of).

A possible solution now enters in the form of MyGamerCard, one of the mashups I mentioned in a much earlier post, and which brings us to the title of this post. I quote from their home page, describing a new feature they've just launched.

Recently, we added indicators that gave an at-a-glance view of whether you were ahead or behind the curve based on the Community's average GamerScore.

If you have more achievements than average, you are given an overachievement rating. An in the opposite case, you get an underachievement rating. This nicely indicates when you've played a game more than the average person, and are either madly in love with it, or the game simply sucks so badly that no one bothered to play it very much. This gives me a new alternate goal for achieving C rank - when I pass the overachiever threshold, the game changes status.

Regrettably, a rigorous approach to this method would mean that a game might drop from a C status to a B status if the community collectively starts getting more achievements - in practice I'm not really worried about this. Once a C, always a C. As always, my own judgement prevails when rating my own games.

Some quick examples before wrapping up this post - you can see my full overachievement list at My biggest overachievement so far is for Overlord, and I was definitely achievement farming that game for a long time. Next up is Rock Band, unsurprisingly, assisted by the marathan Endless Setlist, which pushed this game into D, and threatens to introduce the E ranking for "endless" gameplay. My most recently overachieved game is GripShift, which would otherwise have a very difficult C definition. (beating every level? unlocking every vehicle?)

The underachievements indicates games where I probably have lots of interesting things left to do. My list has over 30 of those, although some of those are games which I'm simply no good at, and am unlikely to make much more progress (I'm looking at you, Bejewelled). Such games will perpetually remain B's unless I come up with a new definition.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The $50 USB Port

With the recent death of HDDVD, Microsoft's add-on drive for the Xbox 360 has now dropped to a scant $50, which includes six free movies. And hey, if you don't need the HDDVD drive (cause who does, anymore), they nicely point out

Provides an additional USB port for your Xbox 360 and includes USB 2.0 cable

So, there you have it - for just $50, you too can get an extra USB port for your Xbox 360. And a USB cable.

The historic HDDVD drive is just there for the ride.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


The new iPhone firmware (1.1.3) came out today. While I generally applaud the new features (although the faux gps can frequently provide highly dubious results - many miles off course), I luckily ran across a notice of one key change which is easily overlooked.

Gmail accounts which were set up to use POP will be automatically switched over the IMAP. This seemingly obscure technical detail means that users who are used to deleting messages harmlessly on their phone, are now also deleting the originals on Gmail.


Luckily I found this out before doing any irreversible damage, and recovered the files from my Gmail trash. For more info, check out this tech note from Google.