Monday, July 29, 2013

I built some book-specific shelving.

I was trying to explain to Kristin why one-hundred Clive Cussler books were blocking access to our closet. I was fumbling my way through an explanation of why I thought this was an acceptable situation, but she beat me to it.

"Oh! You're making an art installation!"

Yes! (Does that make it okay, then??)

Today I used three saws and several old shelves to make this new set of shelves. My shelving units always end up crooked as hell. I sort of like it.

This shelving unit was designed for this exact purpose:

There's going to be much more of this.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Summer Saturday: Book Sales, Yard Sales, Goodwill Sales.

I got up at 7:30am after a few hours of sleep. I took a Modafinil and wrote down today's addresses on a yellow post-it note. When I reached a Wawa for my too-tall-coffee, my eyeballs were still hot and groggy. It's a summer Saturday, and that means yard sales and the like.

In my mind, the exciting part of today's plan was the book sale where I would scour cardboard boxes for more Clive Cussler titles. Tied into that was a half-sane mission to attend yard sales for more eBay flipping. The only reason the plan isn't full-sane is because I haven't been dedicating enough time to eBay selling. When I have one big project, then I can usually manage to work on it. If I have two or more projects, my split focus leaves me feeling overwhelmed. eBay stuff is piling up and I'm starting to feel overwhelmed. It's taking up too much space, but I must finish building the house, I tell myself. The number of hours it will take to sell everything I have accumulated is terrifying. But I still have to go out on Saturday morning to search for more treasure. What I really need to do is catch up. On everything.

I started the day buying a smartphone for $5. She insisted that I be the first to name a price. When I named one, she took it. I have to decide whether to use it or sell it. I'm currently using a crazy old flip phone with T9 texting, if you can remember back that far. The phone I just bought is worth about $35 on eBay. What I really would prefer is an iPhone, and I think I'll just wait a little longer. I got several other bargains, and if I wasn't under a tidal wave of product I would be feeling pretty good about myself.

Next up was the book sale. I'm on a book sale notification list, and today's was a pretty big one. I ended up with a modest haul of Cussler - maybe a dozen or so titles. I picked up a few other books that might do well online. Books are something I need to research the value of. I have no way of predicting the value of any book. If I could make a sure profit of $4 on any given book, I would buy it. Listing a book is quick and easy, and media mail is cheap. Book sales like the one I attended today have tens of thousands of books for $.25 - $2.00. Given the right motivation and purchasing algorithm, it's not hard to see that there is a lot of money to be made. For example: if you see a Betty Crocker cookbook, you can be sure to make more than $4 profit. Buy them all and some will do great, and you'll never lose money. With a current financial goal of $500 per week, books are looking like another avenue to cobble together an income.

Next was a stop at Goodwill, which was swamped. Clothing was half price, and everyone in Delaware knew it. I ended up with a couple bags of promising items, but no treasure. I put together a respectable stack of items that will definitely sell for a small profit per item. Added up, it's a good day's work - but there was no hidden prize to get my blood pumping faster. When the treasure does show up, I'll see it. My eyes are wide open.

Totals / estimated profit:

Verizon LG Vortex Phone - $30
Minolta Camera Lens - $25
Adidas Soccer Socks - $40  (10 pairs $4 profit each.)
Beer Trays - $20 (4 trays $5 profit each)

I got more that this, but these items are the surest bets. When I claim to have a goal of $2000 cash income per month, people seem incredulous. These numbers show that I'm not completely full of shit. Today was a lazy cake walk. Cake walks are easy, but you still need to walk to get the cake. (My understanding of cake walks might be mistaken.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Antique Trash That I Took.

You want to know something? I was in Ardmore with Kristin last week. We just missed the hours of a thrift shop that I wanted to check out. Behind the thrift shop were some dumpsters heaped with antique furniture. By "antique" I mean "old," and the defining characteristic in my mind is when solid wood is used instead of pencil shavings held together with glue. The furniture was broken and incomplete, but I saw a dresser with a couple drawers that looked interesting. I don't know if inanimate objects can have panache, but these drawers made me wonder.

So. I pulled out a drawer, and I was inspecting it when some guy showed up on the scene and told me I couldn't have it.

"But it's in the trash," I pointed out.

This guy was full of information. It's their trash and that's their rule and it's their policy that I can't have it. He used my favorite tone. He explained this as though his hands were tied. He made it seem as though there was no physical way to circumvent this rule which he had created. It was as if this rule had become self-aware and there could be no telling what fury my defiance might bring down upon us.  It was one thick piece of baloney. I was actually on the fence about taking the drawers anyway - I was only in the inspection phase when he interrupted - but the guy's pep talk was incredibly motivational.

"Right... that's fucking ridiculous, man." I went back to the car and pulled into a parking spot about ten feet away. The guy made it look like he might play the waiting game, but about two minutes later he seemed to remember some business to attend to. He got in his car and exited the parking lot. I walked over, got the drawers, and then followed suit.

If I ever tell someone they can't have something that I've already thrown away, please put a bullet in me. Make it two in the stomach, and shake your head slowly as I fade.

Today I got to work on those drawers. I'm using them turned up on their ends as wall-mounted bookshelves. I found a scrap board and ripped it on the table saw a couple times to make the shelves. I painted the little shelves with some weird old varnish so they match the old drawers better. The modification and repairs took about an hour so far. I attached a short section of a board on the back of the shelves / bottom of the drawer, and I will mount it on the wall by screwing through all of that and into a stud. Boss Hog.

The drawers still have the crazy-old locks and an interesting patina to boot. I can't figure out why that guy wanted them in a landfill so bad.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Just missed it!

I missed my opportunity to own a destination vacation location that could have made me millions.

Fessenden, ND land:

Town website:

Convincing text from the auction:
North Dakota:
In addition, the area of North Dakota is currently enjoying a truly impressive economic boom. Dubbed “The Economic Miracle” by American and Global Economists, North Dakota is currently America’s most successful state by every economic measure. While the national economy has struggled in recent years, North Dakota has quietly flourished, setting records in domestic energy production, job creation and state budget surplus growth. For the past decade, North Dakota has led the US in growth of both personal income and real state GDP. With no shortage of natural resources and a current surge in renewable energy development, the economic future looks bright for North Dakota, making it perhaps the single best location for land investment in the country.
North Dakota is becoming one of the more sensible choices in today’s busy, polluted environment.  The quality of life experienced by people in North Dakota is one of natural, clean and friendly living. North Dakota has an excellent education system and infrastructure. Property taxes are extremely low as well. People care about one another and no one is ever to busy to stop and lend a helping hand.  Recreational opportunities are endless.
There is snowmobiling, cross county skiing, and ice fishing in the winter and hunting, bird watching, fishing, horse back riding, rafting, canoeing and hiking in the summer and fall.  North Dakota has some of the best hunting and fishing in the lower forty-eight.  North Dakota is especially known for its plethora of bird species.

 Right... sounds perfect...

Land for Sale: Small Town USA. (A business proposal.)

Every so often, I will look at every piece of land in America. Between eBay auctions for the full-price on janky land and market research on, I could spend many hours. And I do. I'm also getting quick at finding relevant information about local building codes and permits.

I found a few interesting lots. I focused my attention on small building lots for $10k or less with an emphasis on "no reserve" auctions going for less than $1000 bucks. Of everything I looked at, here are the best three.

My favorite listing was for an acre of land in Klamath Falls Oregon for $10,000. An empty lot. Klamath Falls is in southern Oregon in the Cascade Mountains. I love the climate and topography. Love it. The land in question is 0.7 miles from an artsy coffee shop, and a mile from a grocery store. The land is placed perfectly between the boonies and a cute town. The Yelp reviews for every business in Klamath Falls are glowing with accolades about how friendly and wonderful everyone there is. I guess living in paradise makes people friendly.

A listing of interest was .12 acres on Pine Island beside Florida in the gulf. It's a coral island of considerable size, above Sanibel and close to Ft. Meyers, etc. The major drawback here is that it's in Florida. A careful study of the building code revealed no major obstacles preventing a 200 sq. ft or so house from going up. Relevant state and local building code does not restrict dwelling size. They charge plenty for permits, and you have to build to hurricane standards (lots of Simpson Strong-Tie products), but it would be doable. The plan here would be to make a small winter bug-out cabin disguised as a cute little home - bright white exterior clad in T-1-11; rustic cabin on the inside. Rent it out on AirBnB to pay the ongoing expenses and maybe make a little money. (Tourism isn't crazy here, but it is near by. This land is outside the tourism & big city zones, making it appear quaint and interesting. For under $2000, this lot would be a great place to start living the trike life.)

The third lot is probably the most interesting. It is a one-third-acre lot in Fessenden, ND. I know what you're thinking and you're right: awesome. I spent some time in a small town like this during the sugar beet harvest in 2008. Fessenden has a population of 492. There is a grocery store, a bar, and a smattering of small businesses. There is a thrift shop. The lot in question is an empty corner lot across a street from the courthouse. The land is lush and grassy in the photos and surrounded by trees. A Google maps inspection reveals that it is also across the street from the grain towers and the train tracks. All mid-western towns need these. During the harvest season, a long line of trucks will queue up at the grain towers and it will be a slow parade of diesel boom-battys for weeks. Old haggard farm trucks will sputter and money will trickle into town. You could watch it happen from the porch of a 150 square foot house. I wouldn't want to live there full time, but I could survive a nice slow week here and there. (This is where I would go to write my novel.)

The first lot is my favorite for living, the third is my favorite for a new project.

I would like a tiny house in Fessenden or similar to visit infrequently and rent out on AirBnB. If nobody wanted to rent it, that would be fine. But I would relish the chance to try my hand at marketing it. I think there are people who would be interested in scoping out the "real" America. Something like this:

"Have you ever been curious about daily life in a small mid-western town? Bring your books, folks, because you are visiting the vast grain fields of the "real" America. All amenities are available in town. Fessenden has a grocery store and you can belly up to the bar at Motorheads. This quaint little house is right on center field, equipped with everything you need. You can sit on the porch and watch the trains go by, or you can borrow the adult tricycle to make a grocery run. A small two-burner propane stove rounds out the kitchen area and there is a 32" TV for watching DVDs rented from the gas station in town.

With a population just shy of 500, and open fields in every direction, Fessenden is the perfect example of a small mid-western town in modern times. Come take a look! You can stay as long as you want and not a minute longer."

... something like that. I would have an adult tricycle available to renters arriving by bus or train. I don't know a good price, but I think something like $40 per night; $200/wk. The whole idea is mostly just a gag I came up with, but I do believe there is a small untapped market. With city lots going for <$1000, a destination-vacation type business could rent properties in various remote locations. People who are interested in living in remote locations - or just the casually curious - could get their feet wet without diving in head first. Other areas of interest would be Costilla County, Colorado; the Lost Coast of California; Iola, Kansas... just to name a few. A working business name could be "Town Watch: destination vacations in remote locations."

Thoughts or ideas? Who's in?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Brains and Books: More Correspondence About Cussler

My brain is made out of super-sticky butyl-backed tape. I used some of this tape today, so that's how I know. I've witnessed the properties first-hand; the chemical compounds are the same. Once you pull off the backing paper [from the tape], you have to be very careful what it touches. If it sticks to something you don't want it stuck to, you will have a hell of a time removing it. When you get it where you want it, it is effective indeed.

Once I get an idea in my head - for better or worse - it is stuck. Often the idea is a dead end or a distraction and I know it. This makes no difference. It is already too late. The tenacity of the bond will cause focus bordering on obsession and I might as well forget about sleep. This has worked to my benefit on many occasions. I've saved money, quit jobs, learned about bicycles, traveled by bicycle, and purchased a box truck on a credit card. In my youth I hunted and gathered a low-level-famous collection of Mad Magazines that would be impressive for the efforts of an adult, let alone a 6th-grader. Later in life, I created, and still my brain holds a giant catalog of information about portion control sachets (as the industry likes to call them.) None of this might have happened without a brain as sticky as butyl-backed tape.

The issue is one of control. I have little or no control over what my brain sticks to. If I could aim my focus at learning a language or studying the law, I might find a better return on investment than, say, spending hours per day tracking down tartar sauce packets in the Czech Republic and convincing somebody to send them to me.

If nothing else, I am happy to accomplish something rather than nothing. I am happy with who I am, even if I am sometimes frustrated that I am unable to deploy my go-go-gadget brain-tape with any semblance of aim. I'm already on this ride, so I might as well enjoy it. It is on this note that I bring you the latest installment from my growing files of Cussler-correspondence. I bring you now to my latest text-based bid to amuse myself.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Contacting the Cusslermen.

Do you know anywhere I can get a pizza? These stoned words were spoken into a phone succeeded by much laughter in 2002. Now I don't need a pizza. I need a checklist.

I have four copies of "Cyclops," each with a different cover. I can say the same about "Sahara," and I've seen many other cover variations for that as well. The German eBay site reveals that all Cussler books have been translated, and many have gone through a series of editions and printings there as well.

To me, this is a matter of interest, but not one of concern. I don't wish to pay more than $.25 - $1 on average for any of these books, and I am most satisfied at the bottom of this range. I am planning to build a guest house and I am considering Clive Cussler novels stacked and packed between the studs for insulation. Well-read copies are abundant enough to get a good R-Value-to-cost ratio (also known as a good R-value-value.) The term "fire hazard" is in common parlance exactly because of designs like this one. I will be sure to remind guests not to fall asleep with lit cigarettes.

I contacted Hyatt of the Cusslermen today for guidance on matters surreal and imagined:

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Deeper involvement with collecting Clive.

I've paid the dues to be in the inner circle. Once in, I will have a front row seat to a special kind of madness. There is an artistic endgame here, but it will require your time and patience before the big reveal. Hold your breath while clasping the pages of a Clive Cussler book for comfort.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Filling in the gaps.

Glorious morning. I woke up late and drifted toward a cooling cup of coffee poured from an hours-old carafe. So begins a typical morning in Harneland circa '13. I opened my laptop to catch up on business, but please instead picture me holding an unfolded newspaper with my glasses perched low on my nose. Thank you.

I boxed up seventeen items recently sold on eBay. I added those to the twenty-five other outgoing packages, and Kristin helped me haul the entire load up to the post office. (I neglected to arrange 'carrier pickup' before midnight yesterday, and thus must portage packages personally if they are to ship today.)

With the remainder of a morning to myself, I decided to go on walkabout. First, I visited the Kennett Area Senior Center Book Store. I was greeted warmly, and soon began to browse. The store gets a constant flow of donations in heavy boxes. The employees and volunteers are elderly. Witnessing this, I felt compelled to volunteer my services as a strong and able-bodied young man when a particularly challenging donation arrived by station wagon across the street. You might think that this was a nice gesture, but I assure you anybody would have done the same or they are evil. In appreciation, I was offered a discount of 50%.

I declined the discount twice for good measure, but was carefully not adamant enough to be taken seriously. I found four Clive Cussler books to fill gaps in my collection, and paid half of a fairly reasonable asking price. My total was $5.83 for two paperbacks, a hardcover, and a large-print hardcover edition. "Oh, I know... I like the large print editions."

I loafed around throughout most of the remaining daylight, springing into action only near dusk. I filled the gaps in the insulation in the tiny house loft ceiling with spray-foam expanding stuff, and considered the day a good-enough success.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Clive Cussler Collection: It Begins

Have you heard of Clive Cussler? I sure have. Clive Cussler is a paragon of the prolific novelist. With all of the various titles and editions, hardcover and paperbacks (trade and mass-market) available, there are a virtually endless number of variations. This is excellent fodder for the prospective collector. I am a perpetually prospective collector. Many sub-collection criteria can be chosen, and visually appealing display options abound. Perhaps most important, the books are generally affordable and there are many opportunities to hunt for a new find.

I've been considering a Clive Cussler collection for years, but other projects have taken precedence. I had ten or so mass-market paperbacks at one point, and the total dwindled to four as various copies went who-knows-where. A month ago, I attended a tag sale at the Kennett Area Senior Center and observed many Cussler books for sale. They were $0.50 for paperback, $1 for hardcover. I bought none. The decision haunted me.

I was still sore from this failure to act when I saw a sign for a Lion's Club book sale in Avondale, PA. I attended the sale ready to buy. A sign posted in the wide entrance of the large white barn read "Books. $5 per bag." Bags provided were of the plastic Acme Markets type. You can get a lotta books in that bag.

I took my first bag and proceeded to dip my dragnet into the sea of disorganized paper. After filling my second bag to a barely-fair overflowing, I was informed that the sign was incorrect. The $5 sale was last week, and this week was $0.50 per book. Perhaps to avoid flummoxing me, the senior-in-mesh-hat in charge told me they would honor the mistakenly-posted sign. I filled two more bags. I developed a method of bag-filling which involved both physics and material science. The size of books and order of inclusion were taken into account. When complete, each bag was a thin film surrounding a cube of tightly-packed Cussler. I could fit a thumb and the tip of a forefinger between the two looped handles while supporting the load from below. That is how I define a full bag.

The musty barn smelled of yellowing paper and the wide beams creaked under the weight of many tomes. I systematically scanned each row for Clive Cussler, passing over countless Kings, Crichtons and Pattersons. Dick Francis, John Grisham and Robert Ludlum were not on the menu. I passed over these as I assembled stacks of Cussler. I worked for an hour in the quiet barn as four senior Lions manned the bags and the cash box up front.

I completed my final bag of paperbacks and asked "how much are the hardcovers?" while gesturing to the side-room of alphabetized early editions. The response: "fill a bag." And so I did. I ended with six bags. A ten and a twenty changed hands, and I took four trips to my van.
Later inspection revealed that I had obtained all but three titles in the "Dirk Pitt Adventures" series. I had nearly complete series of the Numa and Oregon Files. I found several first editions and picked up many doubles (some as many as five copies.) In total, I hauled away 96 Clive Cussler books. The four at home made an even one-hundred.

Anybody seeking Cussler at this barn sale will leave severely disappointed.

More about Clive Cussler:
Clive Cussler has written or co-authored 60 books. He started in the 1970's and he has more books waiting to be published even today. Visiting a garage sale or thrift store will dredge up cache after cache of his dusty paperbacks. Clive Cussler focuses primarily on maritime adventure books written in a series. His original series of novels features "Dirk Pitt." Pitt does not have superhuman powers, but somehow remains unscathed from involvement in some pretty nasty situations. They aren't supposed to be believable. You're supposed to read them on the beach.

In addition to the Dirk Pitt adventures, Clive Cussler has created the Numa Files and the Oregon Files. These are the Rhoda and Phyllis to Dirk Pitt's Mary Tyler Moore Show. These series feature cameo appearances from the Dirk Pitt novels and focus on the adventures of an overlapping cast of characters.

Still further - (in his free time?) - Cussler has been working on two additional series: Issac Bell is a fictional hero of the early 20th century, and the Fargo Adventures tell the story of a fictional treasure-hunting couple.

Clive Cussler has also penned two children's books and four works of non-fiction.

Along with names like Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and James Patterson, you will find a staggering number of Clive Cussler novels in any given used book store or book rummage sale. My aim is to collect them all. Failing this, I will at least have a collection of note. (I have a policy of setting my bar of achievement ambiguously to ensure success throughout all of my projects.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

$600 buys a working Ford Festiva

I've been looking around at cars for awhile now. I've been researching (ie: not sleeping) and waiting for something perfect. I want it all. The car must be fuel efficient: 35mpg highway or better. It must be easy to work on: I want to perform my own repairs and maintenance. When something goes awry, I want to know why and I want to know how to fix it. Most important, the car needs to be inexpensive. Selling stuff on eBay has not yet made me my first million dollars.

Update: I bought a car. I was looking through Craigslist ads late one night when a Ford Festiva showed up for $500. "Runs Great!" the ad claimed. Manual trans with 81,000 miles on the engine. Consider my attention grabbed. Even if it didn't run "great" as the ad stated, it at least did run. If it wasn't a rust bucket, it would be a good opportunity to buy a repair manual and try to learn something.

I emailed the owner an hour after the ad was posted. An hour after that, I hit refresh and the price was now $850. Additionally, the owner had placed a series of asterisks before and after the title (which is what you do when your car is a real gem.) I emailed again to say I might still be interested at a higher price pending an inspection and provided the price didn't get crazy.

I didn't want to seem overly interested and I didn't want to let a good deal slip through my fingers. A delicate balance was in play. My well-timed and calculated persistence resulted in a test ride and an opportunity to make an official offer for $600. The person selling the car was not a very good negotiator, and managed to reveal all details of other offers, which allowed me to offer the exact price I knew he would take. After changing the advertised price to $850, I naturally assumed that he had an offer in that range. I was pleased that he conversationally informed me otherwise.

The car is now mine, and the associated Haynes Manual is also in my possession. It is running, indeed, but a bit loud and it surely needs a ton of catchup maintenance. In spite of it stalling a dozen times on the way home, and needing to be towed by Triple-A on the maiden voyage, I think I still got a great deal. The repair was cheap (loose connection at the MAF) and the reviews are stellar. There are gatherings of Festiva enthusiasts and there is a wealth of information available on the web. Let the fun and maintenance begin.

Hey. If it's good enough for Ghost Dancer, it's good enough for me.