Thursday, September 30, 2010

Life

Well I've done it again.  This is the 2nd or 3rd time I've bought this book, and I know I read it all the way through once awhile back.  I plan on reading it again, but I know, once again, I'm in for it.

The basic setting is an apartment building in Paris, and the story jumps around from apartment to apartment, so you can see all the events happening simultaneously.  It is narrated in the 3rd person, by a person who apparently sees all and knows all about the occupants.  There is a lot of minutiae in this book.

In a traditional class bound European society, the residents of the apartment building probably would be considered middle class.  From my point of view, most of them seem very well off financially, but the distinction I guess is that most have some sort of employment. They have to work for their money, except for maybe Bartlebooth, who is apparently a wealthy British ex-pat. 

As the stories unfold and things begin to take shape, you begin to notice that jigsaw puzzles play an important role in the "plot" such as it is.  Not the cheap machine made cardboard ones you can buy in the toy section of department stores, but handmade wooden ones, made by a craftsman, the kind where there is no picture on the box.  The kind made to order.  The kind where several pieces may fit perfectly with several other pieces, but only one is correct.  The kind with traps and tricks, where everything fits perfectly together and you're left with one last piece and it doesn't fit in the only remaining space.

I'm pretty sure I missed stuff the first time I read it.  But I do remember saying OMG as I approached the end.  Only this was in the days before texting and stuff so I said it out loud.

The only other time I've experienced an emotion of pure surprise and shock like that from a book was when I was reading the "World According To Garp" by John Irving, when Garp smashed into the back of a car parked in his garage, while his wife (I think) was engaged in an "act of adultery" in said parked car, resulting in just a little bit of castration to one of the participants.  I was reading this while sitting in a car in a parking lot waiting for the Killeen Texas public library to open, perhaps in a slightly altered state of reality, can't really remember, and I looked up and stared at the bricks, in unbelieving horror.

Well, this book is completely different, but it was the same feeling, except for the horror part.   This time I know what's going to happen, but I want to remind myself of the details. 

It's not Kafka hard, but not really an easy read, at least not for me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My trip to Wal-Mart

Today I took a field trip to Walmart (Walmarts as they say back home) in Morganton.  It was uneventful.  Nothing odd happened.  Kinda boring.

I needed to get some prescriptions refilled.  I had called them in yesterday, and a recording kindly said, if I had no objections, I could pick them up today.  Fine with me.

I have these prescriptions filled for 90 days, so this is a once every 3 month trip.  I could not face going to Walmart in Morganton every month.  The parking lot alone is a daunting place.   I wouldn't even get my prescriptions filled there - but they are cheap.  So I brave the parking lot, brave the aisles & all those people & all that stuff that's in there and go get my medicine, so I can remain my normal medicated self at a reasonable price, more or less.

I suppose I could have them mailed to me, but there's a little person in the back of my head that says a trip to Morganton every now and then is a good for me.  

While I was there I decided to look at some fun stuff, which to us guys means electronics.  Walmart of course is famous for censoring music, or more accurately of forcing people to censor their music if they want to sell it there, so I never buy any Walmart music, but I figure a TV is a TV, a computer is a computer.   So I went and looked.  And then left.  It wasn't that fun after all.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Does free shipping really work?

Things never remain the same, especially not eBay, and as sellers we find we have to adjust to reflect eBay's changes. We mostly sell old postcards and antique photos, and sometime around the middle of this year we made the decision to offer free shipping on sales of "single" postcards - no matter how many of those singles a buyer may purchase at any one time.  For large lots of cards and our photos we did not change our policy. This was just one of a few adjustments we made in reaction to eBay's changes last March 30th.

We didn't jump into free shipping all at once.   We tried it out first on a couple of specific categories, I believe art postcards and RPPCs, with mixed results.  What we found though was it didn't seem to hurt anything, so we jumped in with both feet during the May/June timeframe. 

When I first stared eBay, I would not consider free shipping.  No way shape or form is shipping free - it is a major expense, in fact, and postage is just part of it.  Envelopes, tape, little plastic postcard sized sleeves, printer paper & ink etc all are an expense.  Our only business expense that is consistantly higher than our shipping costs are the direct fees associated with selling on eBay.

eBay encourages sellers to offer free shipping.  All things being equal, an item with free shipping with appear higher in search results than the same item without free shipping.  And there are other incentives, but these incentives would not cover our cost of shipping, should our sales not increase.

So the gamble is, if we offer free shipping, could we increase prices enough to cover at least part of the loss of the shipping & handling charge, and would our sales increase? 

Apparently the answer is yes, to both questions.  We were able to increase our price a bit and still remain competitive with other sellers.   On some cards we could increase more than enough to cover our old s&h cost, on others we could not - it just depends.  Our sales of "single" postcards have increased in the previous 4 months over the first 4 months of 2010 by about 22%.  That is significant. September is right on track, not quite as much as August, but significantly more than earlier this year.

I don't know if there are other factors involved.  Our photo sales over the same period have also increased & we made no shipping changes with them.  The increase is smaller however, about 12%.  And only time will tell if this trend will continue.

For now, I suppose we'll continue with what we're doing.  The increase in sales seems to have made up for not charging a shipping & handling fee.   We just have to keep and eye on eBay, make sure whe know what those crazy kids are up to next.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Snowchief

Snowchief the cat died yesterday.  He was between 18 & 19 years old.  The picture of him is from several years ago, a different place & different life, sitting on his favorite carpet scrap watching the goings on of the world.

I hate it when pets drastically alter their habits, it's frequently not a good sign.   About a month ago, Snowchief moved into the kitchen - more specifically into the dark cabinets under the sink.  He made a comfy place for him on a little shelf next to a bag of unions.  Patti moved the onions & moved out all the cleaning supplies, kept the area clean & I moved the litter box down to the kitchen.   A kitchen is really not a good place for a litter box, but we didn't think Snowchief would be able to make it to where we normally kept it.  So we brought it downstairs, and put it just a few feet from where he began spending most of his time.  He didn't seek out the sun anymore.

He ate, drank, used the litter box, slept and got weaker and weaker.  He vomited a lot.  He was loosing weight, losing patches of hair and was developing scabs on his back.  He was having trouble walking and one of his eyes did not look right, it looked cloudy.  We think he was in pain, but who really knows.  He seemed to be losing control of bodily functions.  It was obvious he wasn't going to live much longer.  We felt he was suffering & rather than let that continue we took him to the vet so it would end peacefully and painlessly.  We're both very sad about it.

Snowchief was a cat of course, and much of what he did was instinct.  He had no idea what was happening to him, he didn't know he was old or sick.  He had no conception of death (even though he'd killed enough mice in his time), and probably not even life.  Snowchief had been taken care of all his life, and had no idea that he was a lucky cat.  He was an animal, and he lived in the present, and had no knowledge of any different possibilities.

I was working for Electronic Data Systems at the GM Plant in Baltimore when the account admin brought in some 8 week old kittens that had been born under her deck.  That was the spring of 1992, the kitten that became Snowchief fit in he palm of my hand.  He grew to be a bigger than average cat.

I hate it when pets get old and die.  But if you have one long enough, that's what happens.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Postcards Prices Increasing?

When it comes to our little eBay business, I don't like making decisions based on feelings.  I like to know.  That's why I keep track of a lot more things than normal, healthy, sane person my age or anybody else's might keep track of.   I have, because I've been keeping these detailed records for years now, the ability to spit out a lot of things, which may or may not mean anything.  

I track 90 different postcard subjects & categories, and I can tell you which has sold the most for us this year.  I can tell where we've shipped to internationally, and which country spends the most in our store.   I can tell you the average price we've received per item sold and compare that to previous months or years. 

Sometimes though I just don't know, and then I have to fall back on feelings.  I've found that my perceptions of how things are have about an equal chance of being right or wrong, so I don't like relying on perceptions.  But in this case I have to, because I've not kept any records.

I (and when I say I, I mean we)  sell postcards (& other stuff, but for now let's keep it to postcards) on eBay, I've gained a lot of experience over time & I've gotten better at it.  When I first started, I based pricing and such on my perception of another seller's practices, a seller who seemed to be having success.  I've moved way beyond that.  And I've become very aware of the competition and I do my best to compete.

I have noticed, or at least I have the "perception", that as a whole, with a couple notable exceptions, the competition has raised their prices.  That's good for me, because that means I can nudge mine up a bit, I guess.  I'm not sure why this is happening, or even if it is - I've not kept records on postcard prices on eBay. I'm not even sure how to. 

If true, it could be because these old postcards are finite, there may be several of the same card floating around right now, but no one is making any more of them.  Also it's more expensive to to business on eBay these days than it used to be, so that could be a reason.  And it was my perception that buying postcards at some non-eBay sites was frequently a LOT more expensive than on eBay.  

Maybe somebody knows if postcard prices are rising on eBay.  I've not really done the research.  It's just a feeling.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Made a command decision and changed a link

I've changed a link on the sidebar.  The image of our eBay store logo used link to another blog in which I posted about what's going on in our little eBay business.  The blog still exists - click here to go to it - but I've decided not to maintain it anymore, so I'm not sure why anyone would want to.

In one of those command editorial decisions people make from time to time, I decided to change our logo image link to go directly to our store.  I had another image which I linked directly to the store, but I removed that.

Any thing I have to say about our eBay business I'll now include in this blog.  I'm sure there will be some stuff.  I have stuff on my mind.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Goodbye Sissy Coco-puff

I have never known a pit bull before.  They have a bad reputation, but the reality is the only ones I've have come face to face with have been calm, friendly dogs.  Pickles and I ran into an unleashed, unsupervised pit bull on Pineburr the other day - I had seen it before but it had been chained.  I put on my best, happy, "what a good dog" act and stood there while the dogs investigated each other's scent.  I looked away for a few seconds and when I looked back they were staring at each other.  I thought, this isn't good, so I gave Pickles a tug and we continued on our way.  The nameless pit bull trotted back across the street.  

There is a white pit bull down South Avenue who pretty much ignores us when he sees us. 

Man, are they big dogs - deceptively big.

Well Sissy Coco-puff is a pit bull puppy, not quite 3 months old, so ugly she's beautiful.  She has a beautiful chocolate brown coat with a white chest, green eyes and huge puppy paws.  In the last few days I became very good friends with her.  She belongs to our neighbors & she'd come over and drink water we sat out on the porch, she'd get up in my lap (with help) chew on my finger & lick me to death.  She's a friendly, outgoing dog without a fear in the world. 

The neighbors are moving, and could not take her where they are going.  It was tempting to say, "We'll take her", and the emotional part of me wanted to very much.  But we have Pickles, and we weren't sure how that would play out between the two of them.  Not to mention the expense and work involved with bringing up a puppy.

However, we were instrumental in finding what we hope is a very good home for her.  Some people were doing some work trimming some trees for us and one of them, who had recently lost a dog & still seemed to be grieving over it, took her.  They seemed to bond right away, and he still had a little dog whistle that he carried around.   He sat there on our porch and was teaching Sissy to come at the sound of the whistle, and she was learning, right before my eyes.  She'd walk off a little bit, he'd blow the whistle to get her attention, then call her & she'd come running and was rewarded with pets & praise.  I think Sissy is immensely trainable. 

None of us really know this person, but we got a personal reference from his boss, and he seems like he really bonded with the dog.  He doesn't seem like the type that will breed her to death, or try to turn her into a fighting dog.  He wants a pet, and a dog who'll ride with him in his truck. 

I never got a picture of Sissy.  Ratz, how'd I let that happen.  I never heard Sissy bark.  Gonna miss ya Sissy.  I wish you all the best.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Death Penalty Part 2

Put this in the co-incidence file. 

Last weekend we took a quick trip to Kentucky (over and up, as European oriented maps go) and while there I picked up a copy of my father's Lexington Herald. 

For some reason the Lexington Herald has replaced the Louisville Courier-Journal as the paper of choice - I don't see how either of them get to Knott County in time for morning delivery, but that's a whole other post.

Anyway, on the front page of the Lexington Herald was a headline that a judge had halted the scheduled execution (scheduled for today), of a person who was going to be executed with the last dose available in the whole state of one of the drugs used for lethal injections.  Two other people were given temporary reprieves. I wrote a post last week, in which I think I remarked on how arbitrary it seemed, and what a general bummer it would be to be the last person executed before executions were halted for awhile.

The judge halted the execution because the "protocol" for executions did not match state law.  I'm not exactly sure what that means, but  I think it means that their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) manual for lethal injections needs to be updated.   Specifically mentioned in the article was how to handle condemned inmates who may be pregnant, and how to determine who may be mentally retarded, or criminally insane.  In Kentucky, it is, in theory, illegal to execute a mentally retarded person, tho prosecutors seem to go to great lengths (from what I read) to not allow tests to prove someone is or isn't retarded.  Apparently the reality of how these types of inmates are handled is not matching state law. 

So the conviction was not over turned, the sentence was not changed, it was just halted until the state crosses it's T's and dots its I's.  (Lower case I's, of course).

Gregory Wilson was scheduled to die today.  He was convicted of a terrible crime, involving a rape and murder in Northern Kentucky back in 1987.   He had an accomplice who was female, and she is serving a life term.

Same crime, different sentences - part of what I consider the arbitrariness and capriciousness of it all.

I don't think I'd want to know these people, especially not the people they were back in 1987, and I doubt that 23 years of prison has done anything to help their disposition.  I don't know.  But I'd feel perfectly safe if people like Gregory Wilson had life sentences, without parole, in some high security prison.  If they're guilty, put them in a cell and throw away the key, I really don't have much sympathy.   

What bothers me though, is that mistakes have been made, and occasionally, a totally innocent person is executed.  It has happened, and it will happen again.  Gender, quality of legal representation, race, wealth, all sorts of things play into who is sentenced to death and who isn't, things that have nothing to do with the law or the crime committed. 

Early in my school years - very early - I remember being taught the principle that it was better that "10 guilty persons escape, rather than 1 innocent person suffer".  I looked it up because I could not remember who said that - it was William Blackstone in the 1760s, and the principle is ultimately biblical in origin.  I think that principle has been turned on its head these days.  A small number of people who drive cars will die in car accidents, everybody knows that, but still consider driving an acceptable and even necessary risk.  I think it's the same attitude states with the death penalty have - they know it's possible an innocent person may occasionally be executed, but they consider that an acceptable risk for society as a whole.

Well what about the victims?  If a family member or someone you know is murdered, you want someone arrested and imprisoned for that.  But what if you had nothing to do with it, but you were arrested and convicted on circumstantial evidence?  Because you had opportunity, perhaps a motive could be construed, what if you were in a certain place at a certain time, made phone calls at a certain time, who knows?  What if an eye witness says they saw you somewhere, and you don't know what they're talking about because you were never there?  Or you were there the day before & they got their dates mixed up? I don't know how often things like this happen, but it's certainly possible. 

I walk ol' Pickles thru a grassy patch between some railroad tracks and some woods most days.  What if one day a dead body turned up there, and one of the construction workers working on the new city hall across the road said they saw a tall goofy looking guy with a ticked-up almost hound dog walking out of there?  Next thing I know I'd be talking the local Barney Pfife & who knows what would happen. 

It's a stretch, I know.  But I want all those T's and I's crossed and dotted.   Too often they arent.  People get really upset when someone is acquitted on a "technicality".   I'm glad those technicalities are there.  They're called laws, .

I don't know where I'm going with this.  I don't want dangerous criminals in society, there's enough walking    around already.  But people are not infallible, life is full of random events and co-incidences and I'm uncomfortable with the death penalty.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ford County: Stories

Ford County: Stories, is a book of short stories by John Grisham, and I finished reading it a couple of days ago. 

Some of these stories are 50 or 60 pages long, and to me that's not a short story.  That's a long story.  I'm not sure what the cut off for a short story should be, but after 10 pages, you're pushing it as far as I'm concerned. 

Anyway, these were interesting, & compared to Kafka, very easy stories to read.  Refreshingly easy to read. They were completely linear, and contained no airborne dogs, nobody who turned into a bug, no one who spent their life building a wall.  One of the stories took place over a period of 3 hours or so, others over a period of weeks or months, but they all were linear.  They started out at one point in time, and ended at another point in time, with the end of the stories always later in time than the beginning, and no time was lost anywhere along the way.   Some of the characters were decent people, some maybe not so much, but none of them ever seemed confused about what time it was or how long it was taking for things to occur.  None of them seemed to be out of touch with their surroundings.

The stories had plots that were pretty straight forward.

I wonder how Kafka would have written these stories.  But I'll never know, because a) he didn't, and b) if he had, I probably would not have finished them.

Now I need another book to read.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Death Penalty

Somewhere online today I read an article that one of the drugs commonly used in executions in the United States is in short supply, and causing some executions to be rescheduled.  The article specifically mentioned Kentucky, because there are three execution warrants on the governor's desk, but the state has only enough of this drug for one execution.  So the governor signed one of the warrants - for the one who had sentenced the earliest (22 years ago, apparently), and postponed the other two until next year sometime.   I thought, how random is that?  Executed with the last dose of one of the drugs available in the whole state.  His execution is scheduled for September 16th.

I'm from Kentucky, so I found myself looking at the pictures and brief synopsis of the crimes of the 37 people on Kentucky's death row.

I believe the USA and Japan are the only remaining industrialized democracies to execute people.  Executions in the USA are normally carried out by the various state governments, it is extremely rare for the Federal Government to sentence someone to death - Timothy McVeigh was the last, I believe. 

Currently 36 states have a death penalty, 14 states & Washington, DC do not have a death penalty. 

All of the states which have capital punishment either require that lethal injection be used, or offer it as a choice to the condemned prisoner.  Most states use a "cocktail" of 3 drugs - Sodium thiopental, Pancuronium, and Potassium chloride.  Sodium thiopental is the one in short supply, nation wide.  It is a barbiturate, used as an anesthetic and causes unconsciousness in a matter of seconds.  Pancuronium causes respiratory paralysis, making the recipient unable to breathe.  Last but not least, potassium chloride causes a quick cardiac arrest.  The drugs are given in the specific order listed.  I think the idea is the condemned prisoner will be put to sleep and as far as he is concerned, that is that.  But it is the other two drugs that actually kill him. 

Lethal injection was implemented because it was deemed to be more humane form of execution than electrocution, gassing or hanging.   Some say it is actually very painful, especially if done even slightly incorrectly, but I'm not sure how they know that.  Also there is apparently no reason why these three drugs are used, except that's how the first state to use lethal injection did it and the Supreme Court said it was ok.

I don't know how I feel about the death penalty.  I personally would never want to be a part of the chain of people who decided to put a person to death, I wouldn't want that responsibility.  I don't have much sympathy for most of the people who find themselves awaiting execution though - to say they aren't nice people would be an understatement.  They are extremely dangerous, and society is better off if they are not part of it. 

But what if a mistake was made?  It has been known to happen.  10 years ago a Republican governor of Illinois imposed a moratorium on executions within the state after DNA evidenced cleared a dozed death row inmates of the crimes they were sentenced to death for.  I think he eventually commuted the other death row inmates sentences to life in prison. 

Also I know how life works, and lots of times things are arbitrary - for example the person in Kentucky being executed with the last dose of Sodium thiopental, while two others scheduled to be executed get a reprieve, however temporary, seems arbitrary to me.  But that's the least of it.  A person frequently ends up on death row because of his gender,  his race or the race of the victim, his geographic location, his financial status, his (lack of) intelligence, his standing or lack of standing in the community and the effectiveness of his defense (which frequently depends on his financial status).  Two people can be found guilty of similar crimes and receive completely different punishments.  There have been instances where the person who killed someone received a life sentence, while another person waiting in the "getaway car" so to speak received a death sentence.

One of the prisoners on Kentucky's death row was convicted of murder and sentenced to life, eligible for parole after 25 years or so.  He appealed his sentence and won a new trial.  At his second trial, he was convicted again and sentenced to death.  Same person, same crime, same circumstances, two different sentences. 

No one can convince me that of all the people awaiting execution in the USA (I dont know how many, but it must be hundreds), or of all the people ever executed in this country, there has never been a mistake.  Apparently in 2000 there were a dozen wrongful convictions in Illinois leading to death sentences, and that is a lot.  I'm glad I wasnt the last person executed in Illinois before the governor decided there was a problem.

Most of the people awaiting execution in the USA are guilty as sin.  Most are very dangerous people, and I would not want them anywhere near me.  It's like they have a sense of entitlement that tells them it's ok to kill other people to get what they want or to deal with their problems.  They need to be in prison, and they need to be there forever as far as I'm concerned - I dont have too much faith in rehabilitation.   But the whole death penalty situation seems very random to me, when considered as whole across the whole country. It does seem "arbitrary and capricious".  And very, very final.  No chance to correct a mistake.

Life without parole, in some terrible prison, decades of a lonely and probably dangerous existence with people just as dangerous as they are seems a good enough punishment for me.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

By special request - Farmers Market Vegetables.


During summer & early fall Valdese has a farmers market a couple of times a week.  It typically consists of a handful of people selling produce they grew.  Their stalls are the back of some pickup trucks parked in shady spots in a small field behind Mrs. Powell's old buildings, and across from the current (soon to be former) town hall, near the corner of Faet & Janavel.   What is available varies, but usually you can get basic vegetables and possibly some home made bread. 

Last Friday, Patti Anne bought these, and a few other things.