General

26th May
2011
written by Randy

On my minimalist path to owning 100 items or less this year, I have sold a lot of things on Craigslist — a lot! — and I’m starting to get kind of good at it. I’ve figured out a few tricks to getting good results, quickly.

The most important thing to do when selling something on Craigslist is to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. Ask yourself “would this ad interest me?” If you were looking for this item, would this price interest you? Would these details interest you?

Often when people list an item on Craigslist, they write a simple title, and an uninformative one-sentence description of the item. Many times they don’t even include a photo. I don’t know about you, but I want to know about an item before I buy it.

Photos are a must. There is a box on the search that lets people see only the results with photos. Don’t let your ad be filtered out before it ever has a chance. It takes a few minutes to snap a photo and attach it to your ad. Do it.

Use a descriptive title. List important details: manufacturer, model number, color, size. You’ll get more people to look at an add for “Apple iPad 16gb WiFi only” than you’ll get for “ipad wifi”, just like an ad for a “Canon EOS Rebel XSi digital SLR camera” will attract more attention than an ad for “Canon Rebel dSLR”.

Give a detailed description of the item for sale. Far too often I see people write a short, one-sentence description of the item for sale. Ads like that scare me off. Knowledge is power, give people knowledge and let them feel powerful.

When I list an item on Craigslist, I begin with a descriptive sentence, usually formed by copying the title I used, and adding “in excellent condition” to the end. Then, I add a bullet-list of information about the item, telling the important features and what is included with it. Details like “in original box”, and “includes original manual” do a lot to attract responses.

Check your spelling. Read, re-read, proofread your ad. Make sure you’ve spelled everything correctly, especially the important details like brand name and model number. These are details that people are searching on, if you misspell them, you may never show up in a search. But even if you do, spelling is still very important. People feel safer buying from someone who writes properly.

Set a reasonable price. Let’s be realistic. This is Craigslist. You’re probably not going to sell a used item and get back what you paid for it. If there’s not much difference between your price and the brand new cost, people will prefer to buy new and get the warranty.

As I said above, put yourself in your buyer’s shoes. Would that price attract you? If a new camera is $250, I probably won’t buy a used one for $200, but at $175 it might be a good deal. A new iPad at $500 (plus tax) doesn’t cost significantly more than the used one at $450, and it’s guaranteed to have never been dropped, but I might take the chance on a used one for $375.

Expect attempts to negotiate. People want to feel like they got a bargain. Whatever price you set, make sure you’ve left room for the buyer to try to talk you down. If you’re willing to take $375 for that iPad, list it for $400. If you’re willing to take $175 for that camera, list it for $190.

Use the rule of give-and-take. Most people play their cards too soon. They will try to get you to reduce the price during the email or phone call. When they do this, they give you the upper hand! You’ve already priced the item with room to come down, so you’re not losing anything. When they ask you to take a reduced price, tell them “I can do that if you come today. If I have to wait, I know I’ll get what I’m asking.” Now this person will feel the pressure to come right away lest they risk losing a great deal.

Never deal with someone you don’t like. You don’t have to respond to every email you get. If you get offers you don’t like, just ignore them. If you don’t like the way someone writes, or you think they seem rude, don’t respond. Don’t worry… if you’ve written a descriptive ad, used a photo, and set an attractive price, you’ll get another response soon enough.

When I sold my iMac, it was more than three years old, yet I sold it in one day and got more than 70% of what I had paid for it. When I listed my original 16gb iPad for $375 (price firm), I got more than 25 responses to the ad in just the first hour!

Over the past few months, I’ve sold furniture, lamps, tools, DVDs, video games, cameras, film, lighting gear, darkroom equipment, video gear, and computer equipment… and I’ve continued to pay my rent every month, without a job, while I traveled all over the world. When you know what you’re doing, you can get a lot on Craigslist.

2nd May
2011
written by Randy

The term organic has become somewhat of a catch-all label, used by the food industry to attract easy sales (often at a significant markup!) from people who want to eat better, but who just simply don’t know how. These corporate interest throw out terms like organic, and its cousin green, and uninformed treehuggers come running to spend their money.

Like so many of my complaints these days, this organic food trend is huge in the United States, and practically non-existent when I travel. Are we the only responsible country? Actually, no. The truth is, we’re the only country that is so utterly irresponsible that we need to invent a market sector to promote responsibility.

But what is responsible food, then?

First and foremost, it means actually preparing your food using fresh ingredients, rather than opening a package or box or can. It means shopping around the outer edge of the grocery store, and avoiding the things in the aisles.

This is an important change, and it’s an essential first step toward improving your diet and your health. Not only does freezing, canning, dry-packing, and processing foods rob them of nutritional value, but it also requires the addition of preservatives, and chemicals whose sole purpose is to maintain an attractive color, or to prevent mixtures from separating. And that’s before you think about the artificial sweeteners, flavor, and colors.

After making the emphasis on fresh ingredients, the next major concern for me is that it must be healthy. There is a lot of talk about GMOs (genetically modified foods), but on first thought, I actually can’t think of a particular reason why this would necessarily be bad.

For me, it’s much more important that vegetables be free of pesticides, and that meat is free from antibiotics and disease. You can usually count on this being reflected in the term organic, but not always. Where possible, I prefer specific terms like “no pesticides”, “grass fed”, “free range”, etc., though even still, I would rather see even more specific language, such as “no antibiotics.”

And one last issue of extreme importance to me, when it comes to food being responsible, is the effect a food has on the economy and on the environment. They seem like seperate ideas, but I find a high correllation between products that are economically responsible and products that have a low carbon-footprint. Shipping food all over the world not only uses a lot of fossil fuels, but those resources cost money, as does the labor involved in moving the products. Those costs are often not reflected in the cost of goods at the store.

Common sense says that it should be cheaper to bring in food from the farm next door than it is to ship food over on a boat from South America, load it in trains and send it all over the US, then send it on trucks to the stores that will sell it. It doesn’t take a genius to imagine that! So how are those goods available at lower cost than their more responsible counterparts?

The reason bad foods are cheaper is… subsidies. The huge multinational corporations responsible for all that food have a lot of lobbying power and they get enormous tax breaks and government subsidies, which allow them to operate a higher-cost operation while selling their products at a lower-cost, and still earning a profit.

Buying subsidized foods is not economically responsible. Every dollar I give to a company that outsources food production and jobs to another country is the same as a vote: it’s me telling the government and the food industry that I don’t care. But I do care. I care about the economy, I care about jobs, I care about the environment, and I also care about the health standards that growers in America must meet, which aren’t imposed on growers in other countries.

Therefore, when buying food, the most responsible thing you can do is find small, local farms from which to get your vegetables, milk, meat, poultry, etc, or try to do as much shopping as possible in local farmers markets. Failing this, you’ll have to spend a lot of time investigating labels in places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, but it’s still better for everyone if you do this than it is to keep supporting the corrupt system we have.

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28th March
2011
written by Randy

I recently read an article online somewhere, written by a professional knife sharpener. Due to the nature of his job, this isn’t a guy who is going to have a blog, with weekly posts about the latest news and insights in knife sharpening. There’s just not that much to say about it, that couldn’t be summed up in one article.

He said that two simple things, above all else, could keep a sharp edge on a knife, and save people from having to pay him for his services: stop tossing your knives into a drawer, and stop putting them in the dishwasher, both of which are activities that result in the knife being banged into other objects, brutally affecting the sharp cutting edge.

I’ve been thinking about this simple advice almost obsessively for much longer than I want to admit. Why isn’t this obvious to people?

I started to see a connection, though, after recently spending an extended amount of time in Italy. I stayed in dozens of hotels across the country of Italy, and only two of them had washcloths. I wondered “without a washcloth, how does one clean himself?”

But all these hotels had soap. Soap was never forgotten. And it started to become clear that the idea was to rub the soap all over your body, as if the innate “cleanness” of the soap would magically pass on it’s “clean” properties to your skin upon contact. Absurd. (I will note that everywhere I went in Italy, people were sick, but I’m sure there’s no connection!)

This soap situation began to give me insight into the knife situation. And it also reminded me of another, similar phenomenon that I see: pills.

Pills are, frankly speaking, the most ridiculous form of witch-doctor science I can imagine. When you ingest a chemical, it first goes into your stomach, where it begins to break down. Depending on the type of pill, it may dissolve quickly and rapidly enter into the blood stream, or it may first take a detour through the small intestine where it must be broken down further. (Various types of pills are broken down by various digestive chemicals in the human body.)

Eventually, though, the chemicals in that pill are passed into the blood stream, where they are distributed to the entire body. That is, after all, how the circulatory system works, right? Or did you think that when you take a headache pill, there was some instruction set encoded on the pill that magically sent it straight to your head, bypassing the rest of your body?

This is why we have things called “side-effects,” because what you do to your body affects your whole body. Yes, sure, I know that there are some chemicals which have more notable reactions in localized places and insignificant effects everywhere else. But those are far fewer than you think.

The point is this: objects are not innately endowed with certain abilities as a result of their name. Neither are people. Calling something a knife does not magically make it a good cutting instrument. Calling something a pill does not give it the ability to cure certain things. Soap is not inherently clean.

This kind of thinking is dangerously ignorant, yet it infects our society at an alarming rate. People don’t stop at using this simplification to label knives as sharp, or soap as clean. People presume that a professional is better at something than an amateur, even thought the only difference is that one uses that activity to earn a living. People assume that because I don’t use soap I must stink, when actually they’re more likely to stink because they do use it!

“The world is not black and white,” people like to say. A knife can be dull. Soap can be dirty. A pill can cause more problems than it fixes. It’s dangerous to label things. It’s much more important to understand them.

17th March
2011
written by Randy

I pretty much have nothing to hide. I can think of very few things that I think are too personal to share with anyone who asks. And if I think those details might be of interest or of help to someone who reads my blog(s), I don’t see any reason not to share them publicly. Because, you see, I really have nothing to hide.

The person I am online is the person I am offline. I’m not acting. I’m not pretending. I may limit the subjects I talk about to only those which seem to interest the readers of a particular blog, or the people in the group I’m standing among, but I’m not tailoring my behavior or personality to fit the crowd I’m in at any given time.

What you see is what you get.

But even though I’ve been living in this relatively open, relatively public, online manner for more than 6 years now, I never stop being surprised by the reactions of others. People discover “oh, you have another blog?” and they act is if they’ve caught me at some kind of lie, or discovered some kind of hidden secret about me. I find this reaction unbelievable, perhaps even crazy, because if it were really such a secret, it wouldn’t be online!

From time to time, people take an interest in me as a person (I can’t guess why anyone would be interested in me, but it happens) and they start digging. Oh, and there’s so much to find! I have a lot to say about language learning. I am a programmer, with lots of opinions about my career. I have plenty to say about goals and adventure. I also have a great passion for photography. I have a lot to say about photography (NSFW). And I’ve made my fair share of artistic photos (also NSFW).

I say a lot of helpful things. And also some amazingly controversial things. And some funny things. And among the right people, I also say some rather personal things. I am passionate about being phoneless. And since I have a lot of foreign friends, I also try to share some of the more interesting details about being in America.

I have done many interesting things, and there are many more interesting things I want to do in my life, and not all of them are on my bucket list. I have been to a lot of places, and there are many more places I want to go.

Wanna see me acting like a retard? I’m on YouTube. Wanna see my error-filled attempts at writing in other languages? That’s public too. So are my stupid attempts at being funny to Italians. You can see what I reading on Google. You can look at my Amazon wish list. Hell, I even share what music I’m listening to.

None of this is a secret.

It’s all right here, in the open. I don’t care if you’re a potential employer, or a potential girlfriend or wife, or just some random person who, for whatever unthinkable reason, finds me interesting — it’s all right here. I don’t hide. Judge me if you want, it’ll just save me the time I might have wasted trying to be your friend.

The only thing I do not share is other people’s business. Getting involved in my life does not automatically mean it’s open season on someone else’s life. So I won’t write about my father’s business, or my friends’ business, or my brother’s business, or (when I have one) my girlfriend’s business. That’s not my place. And if you’re one of those people, I expect you to appreciate that I keep your privacy in your hands, not mine. Don’t come to me upset because I didn’t mention you… just be glad that I left as your own issue to manage. If you want to share something, share it on your blog. I’ll happily link to it.

But me? I’m an open book. You think you’ve discovered some secret about me? I’ll bet you there’s a lot more, right there, publicly available to the world, in those links above.

What about you? Are you honest about who you are, or are you pretending, like everyone else? Do you have the balls to put your entire life online? If not, the rest assured, you don’t have any room to judge me for what you find.

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22nd December
2010
written by Randy

As you can see from the name I chose for this site, this has truly been an amazing year. In fact, my life has changed dramatically this year. With the year coming to an end, I want to look back at how much I’ve seen and done, and share with you some of the many things that have made this such an amazing year for me.

It all started when I created a popular language blog. I started it as a way to share language learning advice with a few friends, to save me the work of typing the same thing several times. But it rapidly grew into something very popular, much faster and more successfully than I could have ever imagined or hoped it would.

The commitment to learn a new language every year has led to some really incredible meetings and opportunities in regular life, too. It has given me unique things to talk about with people I don’t know, and it has resulted in me being told on many occasions, “you are by far the most interesting person I’ve met in a long time.” I can’t tell you how nice it feels to hear things like that!

At the end of winter, I reconnected with a good friend, who I hadn’t seen or heard from in almost 20 years, thanks to Facebook. We were emailing our hellos on a Tuesday, and by that Friday I had flown to see him. It was great catching up, and for a gypsy like me, it was also quite meaningful to connect the present with something from that far into the past.

This spring, I visited Uzbekistan, which was also my first ever trip outside of the country. While there, I met a friend who I’d previously only known over the internet. I survived on my own in a non-English speaking part of the world. Oh, and I at horse… that was memorable. And delicious.

By summer, I paid off the last of my credit card debt, a sum that at one time had totalled almost $50,000. Being completely debt free has absolutely changed my life. And doing it the honest way — by working hard and paying it off as agreed — gives me a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

At the end of summer, I spent a week in Barcelona, seeing the sights, meeting new people, and even hanging out with some really great Russians. I ate tapas and paella, I went to a topless beach, and I slapped a hooker for touching me on the ass.

This fall, I cancelled my cell phone, and I have been completely phoneless ever since. I have lived happily for four months without a cell phone or a home phone, and the difference I experience in my quality of life is unbelievable.

Shortly thereafter, I threw away my alarm clock. I haven’t owned a clock of any kind for two months, and I haven’t woken up to the sound of an alarm in even longer than that. My days start out so pleasantly, I can’t imagine ever having another clock.

In a process which took almost a whole year to complete, I had my photography published. I was contacted by someone who had seen and liked my photos, and I was invited to be part of a collection including some of the best names in photography today. It’s nice to be published, but it’s even nicer to be discovered.

As I promised at the beginning of the year, I learned to speak Italian fluently. There were a few times when I wondered if I would succeed, but one evening, sitting at a pizza shop telling my Italian friend a story from my past, the moment hit me when I realized that I had just reached fluency. That’s a new tool that will be with me for the rest of my life.

I’ve completed several of the tasks from my bucket list, the most memorable of which was that I bungee jumped for the first time. Standing in a high place, looking down, and making the conscious decision to jump head first, trusting in some piece of stretchy cord to protect you… well, that kind of changes your perspective on life.

I have set foot in all 48 of the continental states of the US. I fell short of all 50 states by two: Alaska and Hawaii, which are admittedly the most difficult. But I’ll be sure to visit those next year, and then my task will be official and complete.

I travelled a lot, and I saw several important and/or historical sites for the first time, including:

  • the Space Needle
  • the Gateway Arch
  • Mount Rushmore
  • the Crazy Horse monument
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Old Faithful
  • the Alamo
  • Taos pueblo
  • Oklahoma City National Monument
  • the site of the JFK assassination
  • Little Rock Central High School
  • the Hollywood Boulevard “Walk of Fame”

Many of the things I saw affected me in a really deep way, especially those I saw in the first half of December. More than anything else, seeing the entire continental US has given me a really clear understanding of what this country is, and where it has been. I feel that I can honestly say, I know what it means to be an American.

But perhaps the most significant of all things is that throughout my travels this year, I have met with dozens of truly amazing people with whom I’ve connected online though my blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and other social networks. In meeting these people, I’ve had several really profound experiences, and it has all taught me the most valuable lesson of all this year: possessions don’t matter, things don’t matter, money doesn’t matter; only the people you meet and the experiences you share… only the memories you carry with you can truly make you happy.

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28th November
2010
written by Randy

The recent ado surrounding Wikileaks has got me thinking about this new world we live in.

The internet has really changed everything. It’s too easy to communicate. Information spreads quickly. As soon as something happens, it’s distributed to the corners of the earth. And once it’s out there, it’s almost impossible to take it back.

This stretches into all aspects of life. In recent years, I heard a lot of stories about people losing their jobs as a result of things they said on their blogs, or on Twitter or Facebook. But that hasn’t stopped people from using social media.

Instead, we’ve all been forced to learn and accept the fact that what we do and say will be witnessed by everyone. And this isn’t some Orwellian Big Brother fantasy of the government spying on us, it’s us, willingly sharing ours lives with the world.

From the bigwigs in the governments whose secret communications are being distributed around the world as you read this, all the way down to your friends and coworkers whose comments are on your “wall”, we’re all being forced to change.

Secrecy doesn’t work any more. Lies don’t last. It’s no longer reasonable to try to manage people’s perceptions. Today, authenticity is the only ticket to success.

The ruling class — the people in power — haven’t figured this out yet. That’s why there’s such a backlash right now. The CEOs and the politicians and those ruling the world today are products of the old way, and they’re still trying to suppress media and use propaganda to manage perceptions. In fact, if you look, they’re trying harder than ever — the propaganda is thicker than it’s ever been. But this is nothing more than an extinction burst. It’s the last screaming tantrum from a group of people whose old ways aren’t working any more.

The way to success in this post-internet world is authenticity. You can’t hide who you are any longer. You can’t paint a picture of who you want people to think you are, because your words and your actions and the evidence of everything you are will find their way into the public eye.

Authenticity is important because people are going to find out the truth anyway. No matter what you tell people, they are going to find out the truth. And when they do, they’re going to compare what you said to what you did. Whether that comes by Facebook and Twitter, or by an concerted international conspiracy to leak your private memos, the bottom line is that you can’t stop it.

A propaganda campaign requires everyone’s participation to work, but thanks to the internet, the ability to spread the truth requires only one person. Under those odds, propaganda can’t win. Perceptions can’t be managed forever. Information can’t be suppressed.

Authenticity rules in this new world.

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17th November
2010
written by Randy

We’ve been cheated. We were promised something and we’re never going to get it. We believed in something that isn’t true. We’ve been robbed, swindled, cheated, lied to. We’ve been had.

Most of us grew up believing that if we do well in school, pick a good career, work hard, get married, raise kids, and be “productive members of society”, we could have a good life, and one day retire and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

We’ve been taught to think of people as human resources. Most of us learned to define ourselves by our jobs. We perceive our value in the world as relative to our income, our consumption, the size of our houses, our cars, the prestige of our job titles.

We’ve been taught to believe in democracy, and capitalism, and the invisible hand of the free market, but we were never taught how to be citizens. We’ve only ever been taxpayers. Consumers. Nothing more than cogs in the corporate profit machine.

And we believed. We bought into it. We went to school. We went to college. We chose good careers that were in demand. We bought those big houses and those fancy cars and convinced ourselves that this was the good life, and that we were happy.

But in 2008, the bubble burst. Some call it the real-estate bubble, a few call it the banking bubble, but it was something bigger. In reality, it was the consumerism bubble that burst. It was the end of capitalism.
It was the end of the world as we know it.

Now, we’re left with the self-delusions of recessions and recoveries and stimulus and tax-breaks; delusions that we feed ourselves to avoid admitting the truth: we have no idea what comes next.

The world we grew up in is gone. The truths we thought were true aren’t true any more. The things we took for granted are gone. We live in a new world. The world as we knew it ended in autumn of 2008, when the world economy collapsed. This thing we’re in right now — it’s not a recession, it’s a correction. This is the new world.

A century of technological progress and innovation has raised efficiency so that much more work can be done, and better, by fewer people. And with free-trade and outsourcing and offshoring, we’ve spread the limited resource of “jobs” all over the world, to the people who would do them for the lowest wage.

And now we’re unemployed. Unemployment isn’t just a problem in the US, it’s a problem throughout the developed world. And it’s not going to go away. Why would it? Nobody’s going to hire first-world talent to do work that they could have performed for pennies in the third-world.

It’s the great normalization. The result of the “world economy” will be to make the working class equally poor, no matter where they are in the world. This change is already happening, and it won’t take long. We can’t afford to hang on to our delusions any longer. There is no such thing as “creating jobs”, no matter what the politicians tell you. Capitalism is over.

It might take 50 years for the dust to settle. But that’s just because we all need to get old and die off, so that we can get out of the way with our old world way of thinking and let the youth grow up and show us how to survive and succeed in this new world.

It’s either that, or wake up and figure it out for ourselves. Which would you prefer? Would you rather slowly rot away in poverty and die, wondering what happened to your American Dream™, or figure out how to adapt and overcome, and survive happily in this new world?

In the new world, there is no place for consumerism. In the new world, there is no place for big cars and big houses. In the new world, we don’t have the luxury of being so careless and frivolous.

Here in the new world, less is more. Rather than earning more, the key is to spend less. Here in the new world, the minimalist is king. Possessions get in the way. Experiences are the new currency. And really, that’s how it should have been all along. The end of the world as we know it is a good thing.

Instead of living like slaves and using excessive consumerism to numb the pain of that life, we are on the edge of freedom. We’re standing on the edge of an awakening. We’re close to the realization — either willingly or by force — that capitalism isn’t the life we were meant to live. It’s not the good life. It’s slavery. But we’re not free yet. First, we have to unplug ourselves from The Matrix…

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1st October
2010
written by Randy

Today is my last day at my current job. And instead of being worried or sad, I’m excited.

It’s not a big dramatic ending. I’m not quitting, and I wasn’t fired. I have been working there under contract, and today is the last day of that engagement.

Most people tend toward permanent placements at jobs where they will stay for several years, so when someone leaves it’s a big deal. But for the last ten years I have worked mostly as a contractor, so I’ve grown accustomed to seeing things end and new things begin.

What makes things really different this time, however, is that because I’m completely debt free, I don’t have to hurry out and find a new job. And I’m not going to.

My monthly cost of living is already very low. I don’t have a car or any of the associated costs of owning one. I recently had my cable tv turned off and found that the free broadcast HDTV signal is even better than what you get over cable. And giving up my cell phone is going to lower my expenses even more.

So while so many people right now are unemployed and worried about how they’re going to pay their bills, I actually have the freedom to be unemployed by choice! With only three months left in this year, I am very tempted to simply not take a new job at all.

Instead, if I replace the time I would spend every day working for others with time spent working for myself, I am confident that I can make my web sites grow. And I have one in particular (which I can’t tell you about just yet) that only needs a few more weeks of work before it is ready to share with the world.

After that, I’ll work on the e-book. As you may know, I’ve been learning Italian this year, and writing about it at my web site Yearlyglot. My plan is to release an e-book at the end of the year, with an easy, step-by-step description of how I became fluent in Italian in one year… without traveling to Italy. I will include links to free learning resources, and video of myself speaking Italian so everyone can see that it really does work.

And finally, during all of this, I will continue to travel. Mostly within the US — I’ve already been to 34 states, and there’s no reason I couldn’t get to the other 16 in the next three months. Especially since I’ll be visiting five more next week when I go to Salt Lake, Mt. Rushmore, and Yellowstone National Park.

My year just continues to get more and more amazing. I’m not sure how I’ll top it next year, but I’ve already got some great ideas. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what they are.

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