Anachostic

My tagline, let me show you it.

Tag Archives: competitive

Authenticated

Whenever you go to an local art or music exhibition, there is a greater than normal chance you are going to be faced with disappointment.  Further, you may be slightly offended that such works of art are foisted upon the unsuspecting public.  And they have the audacity to proclaim themselves as art!  Whenever you encounter one of these events where you must provide your feedback and insight into the quality of the presented medium, there is a simple compliment that you can give that softens the blow.  The art/music is authentic.

I am one of those artists that will offend your finer sense of artistic quality (doing it right now!), but you cannot deny the artistic integrity on display.  And here is a point I want to make about how I approach art.  I create ignorant art.  That is, I do it using my own inherent skills and skills I am able to pick up organically.  In other words, I don’t want to be taught – or more accurately, told – how to do art.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year because, you know, I can write, and moreso1 because AK is the great persuader.  What’s the first thing I get in my email when I sign up?  A bunch of help resources.  Thanks, but no thanks.  I’m going to succeed or fail on my own, you just watch.

And the help never seems to stop.  It’s kind of the same thing with music.  There’s a never-ending list of resources for how to do something.  It’s the case for anything creative, really.  Here’s how to be creative.  You know what?  You either have it or you don’t.  If you don’t have it and all you do is follow how-to’s, you are simply a clone of your teachers.

I’m not saying there’s no room to learn and grow.  I’m saying you can’t be taught how to be creative.  I know that no one can teach me how to have an eye for visual design.  It’s not an ingrained skill for me.  I could have sworn I’d written on this topic before, but I can’t find it.  My memory is a post about how my music compositional style is unique and that uniqueness owes itself to not being formally trained.  The memory also made a point that many musical icons had no training and became genre-defining because they broke the norm.

So, in that spirit, I am beginning a novel with only a plot concept and a couple of characters.  I have no idea how it’s going to end and what will happen between the beginning and end.  At a minimum, I expect it will cause me a lot of trouble with pacing, since I don’t know what will happen and when.  It would suck to unexpectedly get to the end of the story at 20k words.

But, as bad as it may potentially turn out, I can say that my work is authentic.  It will have no influence from “better, more knowledgeable” people whose writing credits are filled with how-to articles.


  1. Moreso: from http://grammarist.com/usage/moreso – “…continues to appear despite the disapproval of usage authorities and of spell check.”  Yeah, fuck you, authorities, and you too, spell check.
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Farewell Half.com / Dream On

Yesterday, I learned half.com is closing.  I had one day of notice, essentially.  I had just purchased two things the previous day.  How did I not know this beforehand?

Today, I’m searching for news stories about the closure.  There aren’t any stories of significance.  Maybe 2 or 3 in second-tier tech news sites.  Then there’s a few stories about 6 months ago when the announcement was first made.  Included in those stories is a posting about someone who only found news of the closing in the help section of half.com, and no contacts at half or eBay would confirm the closing.  How weird.  Supposedly, the sellers were notified of the closing, but for whatever reason, the users and buyers were not.

So, the expected plan is for everyone to move their listings to eBay.  But as far as I can tell, eBay is not designed for the sale of media.  The whole design of half.com was that you searched for media, then you see who is selling it.  On Ebay, you would search for media and you get a bunch of listings selling that media.  Every listing would be created by each person, so there would be little to no consistency between them.  Amazon is better suited for sales of that nature, since they have a product, then they have sellers of that product.  It’s the same way that Amazon is not well suited to sell things that eBay excels at, like collectables and one-off unique items.

At some point in the future (not near or far future, somewhere in-between), I was planning on opening an online presence to sell my excess CDs.  Half.com was the frontrunner.  Now I have to choose between eBay and Amazon.  Or maybe Discogs, but I think the buyers would be more discerning there, which would require more effort.

Well, in the meantime, I have plenty enough going on to not worry so much about it, but it is sad to see one of the few physical media marketplaces close down.  You know what would be cool?  What if… Barnes and Noble, who isn’t doing all that well themselves, resurrected the Borders brand (which they bought in bankruptcy court) and re-launched it as a used media outlet. (I hate the word outlet in this instance, but juggernaut is a word that has to be earned).  I’m going to call this idea “Boarders” to prevent any confusion or lawsuits.

So here’s how I would see it operating.  We have to recognize that used media, whether it be books, CDs, DVDs, VHS, or cassette, has a low value – except to collectors.  So, understanding this, margins will be low across the board, no one is going to make a real killing at this.

So you’d start with an online store, structured mostly like half.com.  That’s the cheapest way to get things started.  People make their listings, sell their products and life goes on.  Admittedly, getting the momentum started so it looks like you have lots of items will be difficult.  To help in this, the tools to create listings will have to be top-notch.  Something like having a pre-populated database of UPC codes with product descriptions and stock photos.  Maybe have automated imports of structured files to batch add items.

That’s all well and good, but it’s just another vanilla ecommerce platform.  How’s that going to be an Amazon?  So let’s go to phase two.  Amazon is already at phase two, so nothing earth-shattering here.  Phase two is having Boarders warehouse the inventory.  The sellers use the site’s control panel to create a shipment of product to the Boarders warehouse.  This submision includes the item and the price at which they want to sell the product.  Then they box everything up with a printed submission sheet and send it.

When the shipment arrives, the warehouse worker scans the code on the submission sheet, then begins scanning barcodes on the incoming products.  The items get added to the sellers listings immediately.  I’m no logistics expert, but I’d assume the warehouse manages the inventory in the most efficient way.  The warehouse also gets notified when items sell and would ship them out efficiently as well.

I’m not going to downplay the expense of shipping and processing hundreds of books or CDs or DVDs for both the seller and Boarders.  That’s something that would need to be overcome by the beancounters.

Since we’re still having fun with this, let’s move on to phase three.  Phase three is physical storefront.  These could be built into existing B&N stores or could be standalone.  Stuff that was sent to the warehouses is bundled up and sent to various locations.  Why would the seller care where the product actually is?  All brick and mortar stores become warehouses.

Since these are low-margin sales, you need low-margin maintenance.  You also need to know your potential customers.  So for CDs and DVDs, what is needed is a clamshell container that holds the CD/DVD case and the disc separate, so they can both be inspected for condition without needing an associate to assist.  I would have to think about how books would be handled because buyers would want to see inside the book.  But anyway, back to disc-based media.  You also don’t want to have cashiers deal with opening clamshells and ringing customers up, so you would have a self-checkout machine that accepts the clamshell in a slot, scans the barcode, completes the sale, then releases the unlocked clamshells for the customer to remove and bag up their purchases.  The money goes off to the original seller and life goes on.

It’s just kind of a pipe dream.  Realistically, there isn’t enough potential profit to engineer a checkout machine like that, plus manufacture tens of thousands of cases to hold media that is selling for $1.00 or so.  Not to mention the cost of processing other people’s inventory and shipping it to storefronts.

Or maybe there is, somewhere.  Or maybe, there can exists a company that makes enough money to survive, and doesn’t have to make its owner a multi-billionaire.

Coming Soon, Housing Crisis 2.0

This guy I know, well, I know him because he’s the one who used to own my house, but anyway, he keeps me around to do computer work for him.  And I do it.  And I get compensated handsomely, despite me telling him I don’t really need the money.  Well, anyway, I was at his house the other night doing computer stuff and he and his GF were having a conversation in hushed tones.  But I was right there beside them, and I was the only other one in the room, so I don’t know exactly why they were talking like that.  Except, I kinda do.

But let me first say this about the guy.  He’s successful.  Quite so.  He runs his own business in a subset of an industry where there is little to no competition and he is sought out for that skill and expertise.  He’s down to earth, but at the same time, he’s got plenty of money to spend.  You name it, he’s got it.  Boat, Corvette, camper, truck, huge house on a large plot of land, huge TVs everywhere.  Just got a divorce and is swallowing multi-thousand dollar alimony payments without slowing down.  Has someone who runs over right away when he has a computer problem and pays them much more than necessary.

And he’s pretty business smart.  I mean, he has a very successful business of his own, but he also had the sense to buy the land his house was built on when it only had a couple of trailers on it.  He now rents out the trailers and that pays his mortgage and then some.  So, I guess you would say he’s a successful landlord as well.

But now, in whispers, he’s talking to his GF in front of me about an opportunity to become a house flipper.  He has heard of an opportunity to buy a distressed house and he thinks he can flip it without investing any time or effort and learn how to do it correctly.  He may be right or he may not be.  But when I hear, “I just want to be the middleman”, it kind of rubs me the wrong way.  Maybe he’s been watching too much Flip or Flop.  Maybe he’s been inspired from stories from his GF (who’s a property appraiser).  Maybe he’s just got too much cash lying around (what a problem to have). 

The thing is, experts say that when the rabble starts acting like experts, it’s time to make for the exits.  I’ve been reading stories about the increase of flipping and I’ve seen the HGTV shows that are promoting this more and more.  It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that we were here.  But here we are.  I’m going to have to get myself prepared for this.

In Memoriam, In Advance

I stopped by my local pool place last weekend for some chlorine.  At the checkout they had a sign stating that as of August 1st, they will no long accept credit cards – cash or check only.  I asked for more clarification, no debit cards either.  So, I give them about 2 months to live.  Definitely won’t see 2017.

This business had recently tried implementing a “cash discount” and that didn’t seem to work, because I don’t see those signs anymore.  I’m very confused as to what their logic is.  Accepting a check is probably more risky than accepting a credit card.  No one carries $500 around with them to buy a chlorine generator.  It’s unlikely businesses would set up accounts with them unless they can do monthly invoicing and hold out the net 30 terms.

I thought this would make their online sales unworkable, but a quick check shows that their website cart uses PayPal.  This raises even more questions.  Why not get a PayPal mobile card reader and use the same account for store sales and online sales?

I mean, if they are getting hammered with CC swipe fees and TX charges, they need to renegotiate.  Or they need to look at their margins.  I’ve always known that the ones paying cash were getting shafted because a store’s prices had to assume that CC fees would be included.  I’m puzzled by this in the same way I’m puzzled that gas stations can survive with Cash/Credit pricing.

But in the end, my guess is they won’t be sticking around much longer.  Here’s the important thing.  They’ve made a decision they can’t easily take back.  They may get one more transaction out of each customer (they already got mine).  But after that, customers like me aren’t going to return.  If they realize their decision has now brought the business into a death spiral and they want to start accepting credit cards again, who’s going to know?  All the former customers have written the business off.  They could put a banner out front saying “We fucked up and we accept credit cards again!” but that’s some serious crow to eat.  Maybe the banner will be “Under New Ownership!” which might invite old customers back to see if the payment options have returned.

It’s sounds like another case of small-business America dying, but sometimes that death is caused by a self-inflicted injury.

Gas Runners

A few days ago, I was driving home and saw a couple of gas stations with different gas prices.  The one station’s prices were “cash only”.  It got me thinking about a couple of things.  First off, I thought that there isn’t any incentive to go to a cash-only station if the prices are practically the same.  I wondered if it was a desperate concession for the station owner to implement surcharges for credit cards.  This led me to consider gas stations as a whole business.

With any business, you have income and expenses.  You can play with these elements in any possible way to create profit, that is, more income than expenses.  When you are selling gas, you have one income source – gas sales.  You would have many, many expenses – licenses, maintenance, labor, taxes, utilities, and on and on.  One of those expenses would be credit card processing fees.  Like I said, play with these sources to create profit.  Eliminate CC fees and you may make a profit, or more of a profit.

With larger gas stations – ones with integrated convenience stores – you would have multiple sources of income, including food/merchandise sales and possibly lottery ticket sales commissions.  Your other expenses may go up too, but we all know that buying anything from a convenience store is not the cheapest choice.  You are paying dearly for the convenience.

So, by having the C-store, your profits from one sector can offset the expenses from the other.  You can absorb the CC fees because your C-store sales are subsidizing them.  This made me wonder how gas stations could even survive without solid c-store sales.  Maybe this is why they have to sacrifice CC processing.

So now, on to my idea.  You have a gas station with customized gas pumps.  The pumps have a large touchscreen that performs as a kiosk.  After you swipe your card to activate the pump, the screen allows you to purchase items in the store.  Within the store are one or more “runners” that will pick and run the items out to you at the pump.  That’s it.  A simple idea.

But more than just simple, this is an improved form of convenience – you don’t even have to go inside the store.  You don’t have to run your credit card twice – your gas and purchases are combined on one receipt.  The store doesn’t even have to be customer-accessible.  It could be optimized for quick-picking.

The ordering kiosk software could remember people by their credit card numbers and provide frequent, recent, and favorite item lists to choose from.  As with everything modern now, you could tie it to an online profile where the customer could review purchases and create lists of favorite items to be shown on their next visit.

If you haven’t determined it by now, this is how a small station could compete with a large C-store.  You have the extra income stream of the merchandise sales, but a much lower overhead of running a large store, including maintenance, taxes, cleaning, utilities, and more.  And, in some ways, the service level would be higher.  With so many people in a rush, saving the time of going in, shopping, and standing in line to pay (again), all that time is saved.

I’m a Gamer

I’m actually the worst kind of gamer, the casual gamer.

On my Windows Phone, I recently installed the Microsoft Solitaire pack and naturally, I’ve been non-productive ever since.  What a stupid game and why must I spend so much time on it, trying to get a “high score”?

And the scoring is the really horrible part.  I mean, yeah, I can finish the game, but maybe I’ve taken too long, or I got distracted and let my timer count up too far so I don’t get crap for a time bonus.  So I abandon the game.  Why?  Like finishing the game just isn’t enough.  I have to finish and get a high score.

One of the interesting quirks I found is that if I finish a game in a decent time, I’m getting a score of something like 3000 or 4000.  However, if the game is shot right off the bat and I run out of moves, I end up with a score like 190.  What stupid scoring model is that?  It’s bad enough you were unable to finish, but not only that, your score is so low, you don’t even want to mention it to anyone.

But anyway, I am really one of the least competitive people I know.  I don’t really see a need for it.  It’s just for bragging rights and what’s the point of bragging?  I gave that crap up a long time ago.  And yet, I challenge myself to get a better score?  Is this going to get to the level where every time I see myself in a mirror I have to point and yell, “Fuck you, I’m going to kick my ass!  In Solitaire.”