Monday, September 28, 2009

A little dishonesty

Sigh.  I had this situation on eBay last week, and it involved a little dishonesty.  

A buyer won an auction for a postcard - a very inexpensive item.  The card only cost $.99, and since the buyer lived in China (People's Republic of), I charged a flat rate $1.50 shipping & handling, so the total cost for the item was $2.49.   The auction ended & I sent an invoice for the total amount.

After I sent the invoice I noticed I had a message in my inbox from this buyer.  He said he was from China and had decided to open an eBay store.  Although is grammar was not great, it was crystal clear what he wanted.  He wanted to pay me only the $.99 - in return I could keep the card (he didn't really want it), and I would give him positive feedback.  In other words he wanted buy a positive feedback from me.

I had three immediate thoughts:  1) this is dishonest 2) this is irritating (just pay me the stupid $2.49 & I'll give you feedback & send the card) & 3) if I do this I'm just as dishonest, and whats worse, should he get caught and it was found I knowingly participated, eBay could shut down my account.

I did not respond, but I did check his feedback - it was only 4 at the time.  eBay requires new users to achieve a certain positive feedback score before they can do certain things - such as open a store and start selling.  I'm not sure what the exact requirements are, I'm way beyond that point in my eBay "career".

This was Thursday (Sept 24th), on Friday I took a weekend trip to Kentucky (more on that later, maybe).  At some point I received another message from this buyer, saying that if I insisted on charging the s&h that he wanted to cancel the transaction.   I checked his feedback, and it was up to "21".  I looked at some of the items he'd bought, and they were all $.99.   I have no way of knowing if he just bought their feedback, or if they actually sent him the items.

I still didn't respond.  I could have easily cancelled the transaction, and that would have been that.  I would have lost the final value fee eBay charges, but we're not talking big bucks here.  

So on the way back from Kentucky Patti Anne and I discussed what we should do, and somewhere between Kentucky & Tennessee (perhaps in Virginia?)  we decided to report it to eBay, instead of simply cancelling the transaction.   Good ol' eBay.  

Sunday evening I did some research and found that artificially increasing your feedback score is indeed a policy violation, it can lead to all kinds of sanctions up to & including shutting down your account, and there is a specific mechanism for reporting it.  So for the first time in my life, I reported what I thought was a policy violation, and included copies of the emails that I had received.   I received a form letter back thanking me, then today received another letter from an actual person who thanked me again and said this was being investigated.  eBay will not tell you the results of the investigation.

However, that user-id is no longer a registered user on eBay, so I think I know the results.

I did not like doing this.  It did not make me feel good.  I've never done it before.  But frankly, I didn't want anything to do with this person.  


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Lightbox

It started raining here on Tuesday the 15th, and didn't completely stop until yesterday.    Well, I lived awhile in Germany & I remember there were times when it would rain for weeks, so a week shouldn't seem so bad.  But this is North Carolina, and I'm no longer used to weeks long deluges.   Apparently it's still not over, but it is winding down.  And further south, in Georgia, it's much, much worse. 

The week long rain also forced my hand, forced me to do something that I had avoided doing for a couple of years.   It made me realize that I cant count on natural light to take my pictures for my eBay listings.  I didn't realize how much I did depend on it, until there wasn't enough for a long period of time.   I cannot use a flash to take these pictures - most of the time they reflect & obscure the subject.   I cannot use regular lights, because it casts a yellowish glow which the camera picks up.  Sometimes I can fiddle around with photo editing and get it looking pretty close to normal, but the more you have to do that the worse it is.   Also, if there is not enough light, all the photo editing that I have available to me will not do any good.   The item will not look normal.

For 8 straight days now, there has not been enough light, and there probably won't be tomorrow. It makes it hard to add new items, something I'm used to doing everyday.  So, I thought a lightbox may be in order, and I found the cheapest one I could that I thought would do the job & placed an order.  It arrived yesterday, in a very large UPS truck, down the very same driveway the post office won't come down in their much smaller vehicles because they say there's no place to turn around.  Right.

You can actually build a simple lightbox fairly easily, but you have to get special light bulbs.  The kind that don't emit yellow light I suppose.  I'm not very good at building things - even simple things.

So I practiced a little last night, and used it for real this morning.   It's a simple, portable contraption, came with 2 lamps and terrible instructions.   And I'm finding that there are a lot of permutations.  For example, there are 4 backgrounds - white, red, blue and black, so the first choice is, which one to use.  Each of these backgrounds have 2 sides, one is kind of flat, and the other is a little reflective - you can use either side, so there's another choice.  And then there is the placement of the lamps, how the light is cast and/or reflected.  

If I were a mathematician, I'd figure out how many possibilities there were for each picture.  If I were methodical, I'd keep notebook entries for each picture I took of an item, then determine which of the possible permutations was best.   If I were a frog and had wings, my tail wouldn't bump the ground.

So, I just play around, and I manage, and as time goes on I'll get better at using it.   It has potential, I got some good pictures this morning.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

When is a quote just something you say?

I had a dental appointment the other day & I picked up a copy of Time magazine while in the waiting room.   I opened it up and found myself reading the "quotes" of the week.  This brought back a flood of memories and aggravations.

Memories, because it's the first time I've read a Time magazine in a long time.  Aggravations because I never did like their quotes.  It's the worst section of the magazine.

In my mind a quote or quotation should illustrate a broad truth, with no further explanation needed.   Here's one:  "You'll keep growing until you stop".  No greater truth than that, on more than one level.  You don't need to know anything else about it.  

Your typical "Time" quote is something like this:  "It's a security issue".   Then that statement is followed by several sentences explaining who said it, why he/she said it, the circumstances surrounding it,  a brief history of whatever it was referring to, and on and on.  

In my opinion that's not a quote.  It's just something somebody said, and I'm not sure what warrants its printing in a national news magazine.  That section of the magazine should be called "Some things some people said this week".   You can quote me on that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Facebook & Twitter

I've been on Facebook for less than a week now, and on twitter since yesterday.  I don't really know what I'm doing yet, but already I've made contact with a person I havent seen in 25 years or so.    

Not sure how it will work out - especially twitter, we shall see.  In the mean time, I have a little button if anyone wants to follow whatever I post.   Looking back on the things I've posted so far, it seems  incredibly boring.  Sheesh.  

I've learned that you have to give things time tho, so I'll give it awhile.  We shall see.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Difference Between Cats and Humans

One of the differences between cats and humans is in the way they solve a problem.
For example, lets take a simple problem, getting from point A to point B.   Frequently there's lots of different ways to get from one point to another, and a straight line is not always the easiest or more efficient.  Sometimes the best roads go around the mountain, not over it.   As humans, we'd analyze our options, perhaps very quickly, but we'd do it, and make a decision base on whatever parameter was most important to us.  It could be speed, distance, safety, who knows.
Cats on the other hand, will walk right across your face in the middle of the night when you're trying to sleep.
That's right Snowchief, I'm talking about you.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In case you don't want to read the book......

This is a postscript from yesterday's post.

There is a very good movie about the Civil War in North Carolina, specifically the mountains.  It's called "Cold Mountain", and is about a deserter's attempt to get home, trying to avoid the "Home Guard" and unorganized bands of fighters supporting one side or the other.   There's good music in it too, as well as academy award winning stars.   Well worth a rental.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bushwhackers: The Civil War in North Carolina: The Mountains

I just finished reading this book by William Trotter, and it was just full of details and things I'd never hear of before - the biggest one being a little place in Madison County, high in the mountains close to Tennessee, called Shelton Laurel.  More on that in a sec.

I don't like book reviews.  I don't really care to read them and I especially don't like writing them. I think that's because in my mind I can never get it quite right.  I never express myself to my satisfaction.  And the reason for that is not because I'm not capable, but because it takes a lot of effort and work, and I just don't want to do it.  It's not easy to express thoughts clearly.  I want to read the book and enjoy it, sometimes learn something, and that's about it.  But I do feel the urge to put down some thoughts about what I read sometimes, and it's one of the reasons I have this little blog.  But it won't be good enough.  

Anyway, I already knew some of the history.  I knew, for example, that the central and southern Appalachian Mountain folk did not develop what is thought of as a "Southern Culture".  I already knew that many people in the southern Mountains, especially the poorer ones, were as likely to support the Union as they were the Confederacy.  I knew that a person living in the mountains of North Carolina probably had more in common with a person living in the Mountains of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee & Pennsylvania etc, than he would have with a person living in the North Carolina piedmont, and the coastal area would have been a different universe.   The mountains are divided between several states, but it is a culturally similar region, and culturally quite different from the rest of the state they were a part of.   This is stuff I already knew.

However, the book brought home the anarchy and cruelty of the war in the mountains - where the war was mainly a guerilla affair, where it was very personal, and the person you killed, or whose barn you burned, or the person who stole your horses, who raped your daughter or wife, was probably a person you had known all your life.  A person who's children you played with when you were a child.  It was very dangerous to pick a side, and equally dangerous, virtually impossible, to be neutral.

There is one incident described which seems very modern, but which has probably happened in every war ever fought.  I can't remember the year, but it was winter time, and the people of Shelton Laurel (who were predominately Unionists) were starving.   A group of them raided a location in the town of Marshall, which I believe is the County Seat of Madison County, and stole salt and other supplies.  Salt was absolutely vital to preserving meat, and it was basically all going to the war effort.   In addition to stealing salt, they raided the house of the Colonel of the 64th North Carolina, a regular Confederate Army unit stationed in Tennessee (just across the border).   This put in action a series of events which lead to the 64th marching from Tennessee across the mountains (and believe me, it is very rugged now, imagine what it was like in the 1860s), to Shelton Laurel on a punitive raid.   It was a very hard march, in brutal winter time conditions, and as the 64th North Carolina got deeper and deeper into the mountains, they found the people becoming more and more hostile.  They took sniper fire from people they could not see, had no idea where they were.   A couple people were killed, several wounded.   They suffered frostbite.   Trotter wrote that there was just enough physical exhaustion mixed with moments of mortal terror to keep the marchers from ever relaxing.  

Shelton Laurel was not an easy place to get to, but they got there, and of course, by the time they got there, they were exhausted and very angry.  The people who had committed the deed that sent them there in the first place were long gone, deep in the mountains somewhere & never found.   Members of the unit basically tortured the women who were left (and probably raped a few, though no one wrote about that) to get them to tell where the raiders had gone.   They rounded up all the men & boys they could find, about a dozen or so who for the most part were too old, too sick or too young to be fighters, lead them a couple of miles out of the village and killed them.   They tried to bury them, but the ground was frozen so hard they could only dig the shallowest of graves, and all the bodies were found the next day.

As I was reading this I remember thinking: Vietnam.   It sounded very familiar to things that sometimes happened there.  But why pick just Vietnam?  It certainly happened in Europe during the World Wars - WWII has hundreds of documented instances where things like that happened. It probably happened in Napoleon's time.  It certainly happened in the religious wars of the 17th century.  It happened during the Crusades.   It happened on the British Isles, in all those wars between England and Scotland.  It happened during the Arab invasions of Europe in the 8th century.  This certainly happened when the Visigoth's (or Vandals or whoever they were) sacked Rome, and when Rome conquered Gaul.  It happened in the mountains of North Carolina in the 19th century - hundreds of times. It has always happened, and will continue to happen whenever wars are fought.  

So.  I find that interesting. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Apparently We've Been Discovered In Sweden

We sell stuff on eBay.   A few days ago we sent our first item to Sweden this year, and tomorrow, we'll send off the 3rd item in a week. The first couple of items were postcards, and that's no issue mailing wise.  We send out hundreds of them monthly, a sizable number go to Canada, Europe & Asia, and we've got it down pat.   But, we sell things other than postcards, and the item we'll package up and send off to Sweden tomorrow is a pair of women's eyeglasses.  They're very vintage, very cool, and very nice.  You know the type, from the 1950s, look kind of like a cat's eyes, thick plastic with a little bit of gold thrown in.   A little guady, probably expensive and stylish in their day & very interesting.

I always worry about sending packages overseas.  Postcards are no problem - we package them up securely, mail them in a regular envelope and they'll get to France as quickly as they'll get to California.   But packages are a different story.  I once sent a pretty nifty Porsche key ring set to South Korea. It took so long that the buyer & I both assumed it was lost and I refunded his money.   It apparently showed up a week later (about 6 weeks after I sent it) and he was honest and kind enough to refund my refund.

So this will be a package, going first class international (I'd much prefer priority, but it's very expensive overseas), and I don't know how long it will take to get there.   I don't know if it will be subject to extra tarriffs, or customs handling because it is a package.  And it's a bit fragile, so it'll have to be packaged carefully.   And I really hope I charged enough for shipping - the easiest way to lose money on eBay is through shipping charges.

It'll be fine.  We've never really had a problem.  I just wonder about this little spike in sales to Sweden.   Interesting.  

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oh by the way......I'm married.

Yes, to all the legions out there who may have been wondering, and who probably exist only in a corner of my brain, I'm married.  Patti Anne, the person to whom I am married, pointed out that I had never once mentioned in this blog that we're married.  She's probably right - I havent check to make absolutely sure, but I'm a good husband so I assume she's correct.   So I'm using this forum to officially "out" myself as a married man.  

Seriously, though, I never know how much to divulge about myself in this blog.  If any friends, acquaintances, or neighbors in my little town were to read it, and it's quite possible some have, they'd know who I was in an instance.  Pickles the Dog and I are a common sight traipsin'  about the neighborhood on our daily forays.  If any of my family were to read it, they'd know immediately who I was, just from the things I've written about.

But if someone from the next town over happened to be an avid reader of the blog, and I was to run into them on the street somewhere, they would not have a clue.  Even if I knocked them over and yelled Moo-Ha-Ha right in their face.  Even if I was to stand with one foot on their chest and poke a finger in the air, and hold on to a lapel with another hand and haughtily proclaim, "I am Jacques Bontecou! The greatest blogger in all of France!" they still would not know who I was.

I've not posted a good, absolutely recognizable picture of myself, and I've not used my name, or much other personal information that could be traced to my house, the vehicle that I drive, or my social security number, or other stuff like that.   If someone wanted to, I suppose they could find out this information - but that's the point.  They'd have to want to, they'd have to have a reason.  Anyone with a reason can find out a lot of information about anyone else.   

So anyway, I'm married to Patti Anne.   Just another in the shadowy world of flaming heterosexuals.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

English Lesson: Favor

This is another in a series of lessons concerning word usages I learned growing up, and still hear frequently back home, in the hills of eastern Kentucky. 

The word today is favor.

The standard English usage of the word is to indicate a preference for one thing over another.  

However, back home, and maybe other places too, it can have other meanings.

I've been told that I "favor" my mother.   The person who told me that did not mean that my mother was my favorite parent, he meant that I resembled or looked like my mother.  I've heard favor use that way all my life.

And here's another usage.

If a person injures his right leg and as a result walks with a limp, people might say he "favors" his right leg, which does not mean he prefers his right leg to his left leg.   What it means is that his right leg probably hurts right smart and he can't put all his weight on it.

If you've been following my English lessons, you know what right smart means.

Favor.  It's a good word.  Go forth and use it well.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

10 Observations About My Blogging Experience

I've been doing this for a while so I ought to be able to come up with 10 observations about Blogging.  I'm thinking these up as I type, so here goes.
1.  I have no problems with Entre-Card.  They can do what ever they want, I don't care.   I've visited more blogs than I would have without them, and certainly my blog has been seen by more people than it otherwise would have been.   
2. I'm not trying to make money by blogging.  If you don't believe me, take a look at my blog.
3.  Sexually suggestive pictures on the EC widget frequently irritate me.  Not because I have anything against sexually suggestive pictures on an EC widget, but because when I click on them, they usually link to a business oriented blog.  I find the false advertising irritating.
4.  I (almost always) read the blogs I drop on.  So if I've dropped on your blog & your latest entry has changed, I almost certainly read it.
5.  I've found I'm drawn to different types of blogs.  I like blogs people write about what's going on in their lives, because I'm drawn to the minutiae &  routines of it all, and the similarities and differences to what I've experienced.  I also like blogs about life in other countries - I've been exposed to a lot of different cultures in my life (some more than others), and it just seems natural that I'm drawn to it.  Also humor blogs, the occasional pet blog & writing blogs.
6.  Just because I drop on your blog, does not mean I agree with it or endorse it.  There  are people out there with very strong opinions about this or that, ESPECIALLY politics. No one should try to recruit me to the cause just because I dropped on a blog.  All a drop from me means is that (usually), I've read your latest & greatest post.  Don't draw any other conclusion than that.
7.  I rarely comment.  I suppose this is a failing of mine, and I should try to do better.  But I just don't comment very much.  I like receiving comments as much as the next person, so I should do better.
8.   To date, I haven't participated in any organized blogging activity.  This includes the well intentioned but mind boggling "Wordless Wednesday".  Nothing seems so odd to me as a Wordless Wednesday posting with a bunch of words describing the picture.  I see that over and over, and to me, it's just wrong.  Maybe I'm too much of a purist about such things.  Other than that, "Wordless Wednesday" is a concept that is actually quite attractive to me.  It appeals to my non-meticulous nature, I suppose.
9.  Blogging (like fiction writing, especially) usually tells us much more about the author than it does about the subject the author is writing about.  Frequently a lot more.  I'm not sure what this little observation means in my personal situation, other than it frightens me a little.  I just like to organize my thoughts and throw them out there for the world to mostly ignore.  I like to write, tho I'm not too good at it.  It's an outlet.
10.  I don't usually create lists.  I think this is the first list I've created since I've started this little blog.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Alaska" & "Mr. Spaceman" - a literary comparison. Of sorts.

Life goes on.

During the past month I've finished reading two books:  Alaska by James A. Michener, and Mr. Spaceman by Robert Olen Butler.  I've been thinking about their similarities and differences.  

Alaska is a big book - literally.   It measures 9.5 X 6.5 X 2 inches, has 868 pages, and weighs 3 pounds, 1.9 ounces.   It has a dust jacket, with a large picture of James Michner on the back, looking very no-nonsense in his plaid shirt.

Mr. Spaceman is much smaller.  It measures 9.25 X 6.25 X .75 inches, has 223 pages, and weighs 1 pound, 1.3 ounces. Also, the printing is much larger, so it has much less than 1/4th the total words that "Alaska" has.  It too has a dust jacket, but with a small picture of Robert Olen Butler on the back inside flap, who looks for all the world like he got beat up a lot in school.  The back has quotes from various newspaper book reviews.

Alaska is an epic, starting with continental drift & the movement of continental plates.  It is told through literally 100 characters or more, not all of them human.   This is a historical novel, and covers the history of Alaska (fictionally of course), in pretty great detail, especially from the time of the Russians until statehood and beyond.  All of the characters, whether Athapascan, Chuckchis, Ttlingit, Eskimo, Siberian, Russian, British, Canadian, American, or even Mastadon or Salmon, are brave, strong, hard-driven, adventurous goal oriented people.  Not all the goals were admirable or good, but the characters (good and evil) knew what they wanted and they strove for it.   There is not a tremendous amount of introspection in this book.

Mr. Spaceman, on the other hand, is a book full of introspection.  It is approaching the year 2000, and the main character is an alien who has been orbiting earth undetected for many years.   The alien abducts people, then gets their stories while they're in sort of a trance. Afterwards he sends them on their merry way.   The book opens with the abduction of a bus load of tourists.  The alien's name is Desi, a name given to him by his wife, Edna.  Yep, the alien married one of his abductees.   Edna, who is from Alabama,  acts as sort of a social director on the spacecraft, making sure the abductees have some good southern home cooking.  The spaceman gathers their thoughts and stories in order to draw conclusions about the human race and prepare him for his mission, which is to make himself known to humanity.   This mission and the fact that he's pretty much alone in this fills him with all kinds of angst.   Anyway, he decides to complete his mission as the clock counts down to New Years day in 2000, at Jackson Square in New Orleans.   Thousands of people witness his appearance, then pretty much ignore him - they were too busy partying.  Not quite the response he was expecting.  So he sent his spacecraft away, told his species not to bother for another couple centuries or so, and became one with the street performers.  He continued putting people in trances and getting their stories.

These books are as different as can be.