mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The power of negative thinking...

It's a self-help cliche that the way to be successful is to remind yourself how good you are, how capable that you are, that you are good enough and can accomplish what you want to.

I look at things the opposite way - I try to berate myself at any opportunity. I figure if I look at things positively, I won't have any incentive to improve. So I look for the cloud around any silver lining. I think of myself as overweight because I am - by about 2 pounds, if you take the BMI as gospel. I refer to myself as a college dropout because I decided, after taking a couple classes, to not pursue getting a second master's degree.

I try to remind myself that the only difference between successful people and myself is that they worked harder than I do, so they deserve to succeed and I don't. When I see someone rolling around the beltway in a shiny new Range Rover, I remind myself that the reason they are surrounded by wood and leather while I'm surrounded by the plastic and fabric of my 5 year old Ford is because they are smarter than me and work harder than me, and if I want to be successful like them I need to work harder. When I see an attractive woman, I remind myself that if I worked harder at being a more fit, better looking, more interesting, smarter, and wealthier person, I could date someone like her, but since I don't, I don't deserve to.

So does it work? Should I start writing my own self-help book? Probably not. It does work in the short term - I can usually guilt myself into a few extra minutes on the treadmill or into not eating that bowl of ice cream or getting out of bed early to hit up some yard sales to make some extra money by reminding myself that I need to make sacrifices and endure some temporary pain if I want to achieve my goals. But long-term, it also makes me more bitter and frustrated. In some sense, I feel like I work pretty hard - that I'm pretty good about doing my job, but don't seem to be promoted, that I work out more than most people I know, but it hasn't translated into making me any more desirable. Am I not working hard enough, or am I just doing everything wrong, or is my life just a modern Sisyphus - no matter how many times I lug the boulder uphill, am I just doomed to see it roll back down and have to push ad nausea?

And despite the Range Rover lust, what I really want in life should be more achievable - love, marriage, kids, ect - but it seems to be out of reach, and no matter what I do, I can't seem to figure out what I need to do - what I need to spend more time on, what steps I need to cross off my to-do list - to achieve it.

Or maybe I'm just too fat and stupid to, and I need to get off the internet and get back on the treadmill.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On the run, or can something be worth doing, but not worth doing well?

Today I "ran" my second road race, the Baltimore 10 miler. My first one was the Baltimore half-marathon last fall. I signed up mostly on a whim, after a friend mentioned that it was something I might want to do. I figured it would be a good test to see how in shape I was.

The answer was not very - I finished, but way in the back. I didn't do any real training beyond my normal workouts, though, so it shouldn't have surprised me that I did poorly. I figured I'd try to do some actual training for next year's half, but when I saw the 10-miler I figured I'd sign up for that too.

I was planning on doing some actual training, but laziness and life got in the way, and besides a couple weeks of adding an extra 15 minutes of time late at night on my basement treadmill, I didn't do much. So it's not exactly a surprise that I did pretty badly today - my time was 2:10:03 - which puts me in 306th place out of the 318 men 30-34 who finished the race. Which is pretty sad. People have commented that "at least you finished", but that seems like setting one's standards too low, like being proud that you graduated high school with a 1.3 GPA.

I suspect at least part of this is statistics - if you are a numbers/stats nerd, the results page is incredibly interesting. One thing that's obvious - both from the page and from observing the race - is there are way more women than men. It's also interesting that there are way more women who are what I'd consider "casual" runners than there are men - the back of the race where I was was almost all women (note to self: come up with some running pickup lines). Yes, I realize women tend to be slower at races (the top male finisher was about 10 minutes ahead of the top female) but it seems like not only do fewer men run, but the ones who do tend to be pretty good.

But there is something to be said about finishing, and there is something to be said about me finishing. After all, it's fair to say that, say, 7 years ago, when I was about 100 pounds heavier, I would not have been able to finish a 10 mile race. In fact, I probably would have had trouble walking from the parking lot to the starting line. There is at least some personal accomplishment in finishing, even with a time as bad as mine.

And that's what makes road races kind of interesting - you aren't just competing against other people, but against yourself - against your previous time. I feel like unless I'm pretty much willing to quit my job and do nothing but train, I'm probably never going to be anywhere but at the back of the pack. But I also feel that if I train a little more and push myself a little harder, I can at least shave a few minutes off my time, and I suppose that will have to be good enough. I'm kind of a competitive person, and I usually do pretty well at things I do, so realizing that there are things I'm not very good at is kind of depressing - which is kind of silly, since there are clearly plenty of things, from football to poker, that I'm pretty sure I'm never going to be competitive at.

But there is something appealing about road races, as a way of seeing what you are capable of. It's also an interesting thing to be a part of - to see people cheering (favorite sign of the day: "Go random stranger, go!), to do something that at least some people -including the old me - aren't capable of.

Plus, I get a stylish vest out of it - perfect for those times when my chest is cold but my arms aren't!

Friday, June 10, 2011

The online auction format isn't totally dead...

Wired has an interesting article up about the decline of the online auction - how everyone thought it was going to create an economist's wet dream, a perfectly informed, perfectly liquid market in everything - until people realized that they didn't want to have to sit around watching auctions end every time they needed a small item, and until eBay kept raising fees and changing the rules for sellers to make it less profitable and less fun to sell, while still having buyers not feel secure about not being ripped off.

As regular readers probably know, I'm a part-time eBay seller - I've been buying since 1999 and selling since 2001. Over the years, my product mix has changed - I started out selling free after rebate items and clearance stuff from retailers, and have since switched to items from auctions and yard sales. I've also tried to focus mostly on business equipment, because I've found I can often buy it cheaper than things like consumer electronics because people selling it at yard sales or bidding on it at auctions often don't realize how much it's worth.

I don't make a fortune, but it's a hobby, and I make enough to pay for the gas to drive to interesting places and still make a few bucks. It's also a nice feeling to know that you were the smartest guy in the room - when you looked at something that a bunch of other people looked at and passed up the chance to buy for $2, and were able to buy it and sell it for $150.

As a reseller, that means that I need to buy inventory, and that means that I've come to realize a small but not insignificant chunk of the liquidation business has moved online to online auctions. Not eBay auctions, but proprietary ones, typically using software like Maxanet or services like Proxibid. Government auctions have also moved to online B2B auctions - the Federal Government now sells it's surplus at instead of at live, open-call auctions. Some previously live auction companies have moved everything online, while others sell some items online and others in live, open-call auctions.

As a buyer, I have mixed feelings on the online auctions. Prices often seem to go pretty high on online auctions, but I've still gotten some really good deals. It's also nice if the auction is a distance away to not have to drive a distance, stand around for hours, and leave empty handed. You can bid from home or work and only drive to pick up if you won something. Some online auction companies do have a bad habit of extending auctions or rescheduling pickup times, which is a hassle if you are a part-timer who has to work around a day job.

But my guess is that online auctions bring a higher overall price and are easier for a client in many cases, which is why places use them. I think when people look at eBay as all there is for online auctions, they are missing a pretty decent chunk of B2B commerce that has moved to online auctions.

The other, somewhat tangential, thing about eBay and B2B is that, since many of my sales are of business equipment, many of my customers are businesses. Some of them are obviously buying them to use themselves, but many are resellers themselves, and it seems like some have a business model that relies heavily on buying certain items on eBay to resell to customers. It's kind of surprising - you wouldn't expect it - and it suggests that eBay has at least made a significant difference for a lot of buisnesses, some of which probably wouldn't exist without it, even if it hasn't had the huge change in everyday customer purchasing that economists were predicting a decade ago.