mad anthony

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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Replay it again no more...

Well, I had to pull the plug on a dear friend last night... my RePlayTV DVR. It, and it's brother, who died too young of hard drive failure, have been time-shifting TV shows for me for the last 8 years. Alas, RePlay is ending the service as of next week. While there are some hacks to keep it going using a third-party scheduling system and running a Windows machine as a server, nobody was sure that work until a week or two ago when RePlay released the encryption keys that it depended on. Before that happened, I went on eBay and bought a lifetime series 2 Tivo with an upgraded drive for $170. I figure if it lasts me a year and a half, it will cost me the same as a year and a half of a Comcast subscription would have cost, but with more features and capacity (and a warm fuzzy feeling of not giving Comcast even more money).

I bought my first RePlay in 2003, when I was a fresh out of college grad working second shift. Which made it hard to catch prime-time TV shows. I picked the RePlay over the Tivo based on the fact that it had ethernet (I lacked a phone line and wireless wasn't yet common), the fact that it had some goofy features like commercial skip and show sharing (especially useful since my then-housemate bsom bought the same RePlay), and a deal that Amazon had after rebate on an oddball 60-gig model that was originally only made for Costco.

I hooked up the Tivo last night and am still getting used to it - the interface and how it treats things like conflicts is vastly different. I had to reprogram all my shows, which was annoying - especially since i have shows that aren't currently on, which means I can't find them in the program guide. I also have an almost-full replay that I'll need to hook up at some point to watch the shows on it, or export them using dvarchive, a neat utility that lets you grab shows off of Replays.

I'm still convinced that the RePlay was the better product, But Tivo did a better job of branding and advertising, was more consistent about strategy (at one point RePlay went from monthly subscriptions to lifetime and building it into the product, then went back to monthly - but ended up giving lifetime subscriptions to a ton of people who bought devices at subscriptionless prices that still had the lifetime info on the package and claimed to have been misled. They also added neat features (like commercial skip and internet show sharing) that pissed of the RIAA. They also changed hands a bunch of time, from SonicBlue to a company called DNNA that also owned Denon, to DirectTV.

I'm sure I'll get used to the Tivo, but giving up a system I've been using for 8 years and know exactly how to make do what I want is painful. Ironically, I find myself watching a lot less TV of late anyway - I've been trying to work out more and put more time into my eBay/Hamfest side business - so having a DVR doesn't even matter as much.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Killer ham and a little bit of money...

I recently finished reading Killer Stuff and Tons of Money", which chronicles the adventures of "Avery", who buys and sells at antique markets, mostly in the Massachusetts area.

The book was interesting because there are a little parallels between his world and mine. I do some selling at hamfests - basically electronic swap meets originally aimed at ham radio enthusiasts, but broadened to include computers and other electronics. There are a lot of similarities between the worlds - dealers who go to shows to buy more than to sell, buyers who flock to amateur sellers who don't know what stuff is worth, and vendors grumbling about how there aren't as many customers as there used to be. It's also reassuring to hear that even pros make mistakes, because I have a few albatrosses, some rather expensive in my house - and a list of things I didn't buy or didn't buy enough of and regret. Some of my buying experiences are similar too - at auctions I've had people try to read the notes on my bidder card, I've suspected people have bid against me just because they figured if I was bidding on something it was worth something, and I've seen amateur bidders bid way too much for stuff. I've also found myself buying a large lot of items to get one or two good things in the lot.

There are some differences, though - most of what I buy and sell is pretty much a commodity, which makes it easier - but also more competitive - than the antique trade, where it often takes some work to identify if an item is real and how old and rare it is. I've noticed more and more people looking stuff up on their smartphones at auctions, and many of those people are bidding against me on stuff that normally almost nobody looked at.

Avery and I share another common thread - houses full of crap. My collection of computers and other stuff has outgrown the basement storage area and has crept into hallways, family room, and pretty much every other room in the house. Unlike Avery, I don't have a significant other to keep me in check, either.

There is another difference - I'm not doing this to pay the bills. Avery is a full-time dealer whose profits feed his family. For me, hamfests and eBay are a little extra income, money I can save up towards things like renovations or a new truck.

Which makes me think it's time to back off a little bit. The last few months I've been striking out - there haven't been many good auctions, and many of the ones I've been to have been a bust (which may be a good thing, since I often trade on misery - bankruptcy, failed banks, closed businesses). I'm thinking it's time for me to start backing away a little big - to continue buying, but only when it's something I can make a ton of money on, and to focus on smaller items. That's tough, though - while it's easy to be more selective in what I buy, being successful at buying often means going to some auctions, yard sales, swap meets, ect that are a bust - because sometimes the ones that seem the most promising aren't, and some of the best ones are the ones you least expect to be good.

But barring something good popping up at the last minute, I think the next few months are going to be slow for buying. But I'm hoping they are good for selling - I've got 4 or 5 hamfests coming up in the next 3 months or so. They are probably not going to be very profitable, because I've sold most of my high-end stuff and will be selling cheaper items. But I'm hoping I sell a lot of them, so I can clear a lot of space. I'm also hoping that after I've sold a bunch of stuff, I can get a better idea of what I have left and dump or donate some of it.

Before this weekend's fest, I dug around my basement looking for a couple specific items that someone at a previous fest had been looking for and that I know I have somewhere. I didn't find it, but I found a ton of other stuff, including 2 broken ps2's and an entire case of computer exterior cleaner, that I didn't know I had. Which is probably a good sign that I have too much stuff, and that I need to sell or otherwise get rid of it before I'm on an episode of Hoarders, screaming that "I'm not a hoarder, I'm a reseller!"

Or maybe someone will write a book about me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The eternal struggle between present and future...

I was reading a book that included a quote from someone who was in the twin towers when the planes hit, who told his son that he should live his life in a way that he wouldn't have any regrets if someday he saw a plane coming at his office window.

It's good advice.. or is it? It's tempting to suggest that we should live in the moment, do the things we want to do so we live with no regrets, ect. At the same time, there is evidence that people who can defer gratification tend to be the most successful. Doing the big things in life that people want to do - marriage, kids, owning nice things, training for races - often means making short-term sacrifices to achieve larger long-term goals.

I've been thinking about that a lot of late. I've been less than happy with certain aspects of my life, especially my being single and where I am career-wise. And in general, my response to both of these things has been that I need to work harder - that I need to devote more time to working out and making more money, in the hopes becoming more attractive and desirable, and that I need to put more time into work. i've generally figured that I can relax - that I can think about things like vacation - later in life, after I have found someone to share it with. But as I get older, and that seems more and more like a goal that for some reason is completely out of my reach, I wonder when I should relax.

For example, i don't take vacations, and usually end up losing most of my vacation days at work. I'll take a day off here and there to visit the family, or to attend an auction, but I can't bring myself to take a bunch of days off just to do nothing, and i can't bring myself to spend a bunch of money to travel somewhere. Even when I've thought about traveling, I usually wanted to center it around an auction or something where I could possibly make a few bucks to offset the travel costs. I posted this on a forum I read, and the general response was that I am a moronic loser who will die alone. Which may well be true, but I'm not sure how sitting on a beach somewhere is going to help me - I'm still going to be the same awkward and not particularly attractive person on a beach somewhere as I am in the real world. And i can sit at home and read a book much cheaper than I can sit on a beach and read a book. But I can't really justify sitting home reading a book when I could be at work - if I'm not there, I might miss a meeting or a chance to make an impression on someone that could make or break my career.

I don't really know what the answer. In a way, I feel like if I'm relaxing and enjoying myself, I must not be working hard enough. It's like when I finish a race - if I don't pass out at the finish line (and i never do) then I must not have pushed myself to my limits. If I have free time to read or watch tv or write on this blog, it's time I should be using to try to chase love or money.

I don't want to die having never enjoyed myself. But I also don't want to die wondering if I could have achieved the things that have seemed out of reach if I'd put a little more time into it.